Shoaib Sultan Khan is the chairman of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program and has been working towards the uplift of the Northern Areas of Pakistan for over 20 years. His inspirational statement “Eradicating Poverty through enterprise” (pdf) is a must-read:
The one million people I worked with for 12 years in Northern Areas of Pakistan through
the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme reinforced my conviction of the tremendous
potential and willingness in people to do many things themselves to come out of
poverty. All that they needed was a support organisation to help them unleash their
potential. Once organised the men and women took their destiny in their own hands.
They knew what would bring them out of poverty. They got thousands of villagers
trained as service providers, managers of their organisations, identified constructed and
maintained thousands of physical infrastructure works – irrigation channels, link roads,
sprinkler irrigation, flood protection works, school buildings etc., increased their
productive capacity, planted 50 million trees on land brought under irrigation range,
generated about six megawatts of electricity through village built and managed mini-
hydels which won two international awards one presented by Prince Charles and
second by Government of Japan as the most innovative project of 2005 and
accumulated over Rupees four hundred million as their savings resulting in setting up of
First Micro Finance Bank.
The book outlines a government career imbued with a spirit of public service, learning at the feet of the great Akhtar Hameed Khan, and the experiences of the Daudzai project in the NWFP (created in the image of Comilla Pilot Project in what is now Bangladesh), the Mahaweli Ganga Project in Sri Lanka and the South Asia Poverty Alleviation Programme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
But the real story for us is the success of AKRSP and its replication in the form of the National Rural Support Programme and its counterparts in the provinces. All told, some 5000 community organisations — the backbone of the rural support programmes — have been formed and nurtured across the country to demonstrate that development of the people, by the people and for the people is a realisable dream.
But it is only a demonstration. It needs scaling-up of a huge magnitude to cover a rural population of 105 million. A network of support organisations working outside the government will never have the resources to carry out the huge undertaking. Nor is it its mandate. Only the government has the resonly the government has the resources to reduce poverty. But it does not know how. Working in the government for long time has given Shoaib Sultan Khan this important insight. As a district officer, he made honest attempts to implement the programme blueprints handed down from the top. However, districts, even tehsils, turned out to be too big to serve rural communities in any meaningful way.