ISLAMABAD: A tweet by Senator Dr Sania Nishtar, a former special assistant to the prime minister on poverty alleviation, claiming that Pakistan’s Ehsaas Programme has set itself apart and gained international recognition, led to an online frenzy, with supporters and critics choosing narratives that favoured their political leanings.

“Stanford University Intl Center @FSIStanford’s report: “Pakistan’s Ehsaas Programme has set itself apart as a world-leading anti-poverty effort to uplift the country’s most vulnerable”. Deeply humbling,” tweeted Ms Nishtar.

The report has been prepared by a private research associate for the Stanford University International Centre on the lessons from Pakistan’s ‘Ehsaas Programme’ which was launched by the PTI government.

The author is Sir Michael Barber, who is the chairman of consultancy firm ‘Delivery Associates’, which prepared the report for the Stanford University International Centre.

Mr Barber has previously served as the co-chair of the Pakistan Educ­ation Taskforce as DFID’s special rep­­r­esentative on education for Pak­is­tan, including serving as an adviser on system reform to Shahbaz Sharif when he was Punjab chief minister.

A number of social media commenters paid tribute to Dr Nishtar and congratulated her for her incre­dible work, while others have criticised it for being ‘flattering’ to the previous government as it was authored by individuals said to be directly associated with the Ehsaas programme. However, the structure, combined qualitative and quantitative method of research and the overall content of the Stanford report makes it clear that it resembles a case study as it is an in-depth study into a specific subject, in this case, the Ehsaas programme.

In addition, despite the known historical connection between Sir Michael Barber and other poverty alleviation programmes in Pakistan, the study is both approved and certified by authorities and experts who have vast experience in the field of anti-poverty programmes.

The report pointed out that the replacement of the government of Imran Khan by new political leadership at the federal level has raised questions over the future direction of ‘Ehsaas’. For its full potential to be fulfilled, ‘Ehsaas’ needs to remain a top priority for future governments irrespective of the political leadership, it suggests.

Constant support from the federal government is necessary to maintain ‘Ehsaas’ whole-of-government approach and the rapidly growing anti-poverty landscape of Pakistan, suggests the report.

According to the report, a key lesson from Ehsaas has been the importance of building a holistic and integrated anti-poverty programme. Rather than a rebrand of BISP, Ehsaas has been a comprehensive overhaul and reform of the overall anti-poverty landscape in Pakistan.

The report says comprehensive anti-poverty programmes are only sustainable if they are situated in an economy that can generate the revenue to support them. If the macroeconomy is weak, governments will continue to rely on external sources such as foreign aid, and will not be able to sustain their anti-poverty efforts over time.

Macroeconomic growth is hence one of the preconditions for a gover­nment to lead a successful anti-poverty programme. Unfortunately, where there is poverty, there is usually poor macroeconomic growth.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2022

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