‘Knowledge can speed up process of development’


Women from the Kalash Valley display handmade accessories at an exhibition held to mark the 35th anniversary of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme. — White Star
Women from the Kalash Valley display handmade accessories at an exhibition held to mark the 35th anniversary of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) celebrated 35 years of interventions to enhance the capacity of local communities in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral with a panel discussion and an expo at Serena Hotel on Thursday. The day-long expo included crafts and produce from the northern areas.

AKRSP was established in 1982 by the Aga Khan Foundation with a mandate to improve the quality of life for local communities through social and economic development efforts, AKRSP Chairman Aziz Boolani told participants of the event.

“We have three principles which are organizing communities, generating capital and enhancing human resource. The aim is to improve the quality of life of the underserved,” he said, adding that though a lot of improvements have come about in the target regions, a lot more needs to be done.

“Change cannot be brought about by a single organization and we are grateful to our donors. The AKRSP model of working with communities has been replicated across the region. As of today, we work in 10 districts of GB and Chitral. When are looking into how to mitigate unemployment, achieve gender empowerment and address the changes posed by opportunities like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” he said.

The keynote speaker, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz said: “My struggle to find a meaningful development model started in the 1960s when everyone was euphoric about the growth model. By the end of the 60s, people realized that with growth the bottom 40pc do not benefit. I visited China and saw a model where they were focusing on rural development alongside the urban development. I realized that someone had to do some political engineering to understand what needs to be done in Pakistan. In 1983 on a visit home, I went to see the AKRSP model Shoaib Sultan had started and saw that we had a viable rural development model and I returned subsequently to help create the National Rural Support Programme.”

He added: “The question before us is what about the future. We have to scale up, we have to multiply the coverage and even in terms of the activities we have to participate in opportunities like the digital economy and digitalisation could lead to a quantum jump in the reach of rural development through access to information and technology. When the knowledge reaches poor people, it will greatly speed the process of development.”

The panel discussion included development practitioner Shoaib Sultan Khan, European Union Delegation Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain, UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund CEO Qazi Azmat Isa and AKRSP general manager Muzaffar Uddin.

Mr Buhne said AKRSP is about the empowerment of people who do not have a voice while Mr Cautain stressed in the importance of believing in human capital.

“Social capital is the foundation of all our endeavours. The world is becoming more and more inequitable – the women don’t have voice, the poor don’t have voice, the disabled don’t have voice – and this disenfranchisement is painful,” Mr Isa said.

Hussan Bano, a member of the AKRSP community organization in Rahimabad, a village beyond Gilgit, shared her story with the gathering and said she could not continue with her education because her parents could not afford to educate her and that she was married off at a young age.

“A year later, my in-laws threw my husband and I out along with our newborn child. We had nowhere to go and we stayed in a cattle-shed where I started selling second-hand clothes even though the women in our community do not go out and work. I went to the AKRSP women’s organization and the manager helped me get a Rs20,000 loan to help by business. I also got a Rs25,000 grant with which I started selling new clothes. Since then, I have taken out a loan of Rs200,000 and my business supports my family and my seven children are getting an education as well. I dream of owning an even larger business,” she said.

The evening ended with music and dinner as seven impeccably dressed students from the Bulbulik Music School in Hunza performed a traditional song and musicians from Chitral played the sitar.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2018