Oct 31, 2010

The power of ideas

It is vital to learn what makes an idea work and thrive in the development sector

By Dr Noman Ahmed

An event was jointly organised on 25th October by Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Centre, National Rural Support Programme, International Islamic University, and the Council of Social Sciences Pakistan to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan in the realm of social development.

From the discussions, it came out very clearly that the power of ideas generated and applied by Dr. Khan was one of the key reasons that led his models to success. Whether it was the Comilla Projects in former East Pakistan or the Orangi Pilot Project, the strength of ideas was a key factor in acquiring success.

It is vital to learn what makes an idea work and thrive in the development sector. Lessons learnt from many experiences inform that knowledge and foresight are two denominating factors that play a vital role in the evolution of an effective idea. It may be noted that knowledge does not only confine to conventional assemblage of information; it has to be acquired through observation and experience.

Characteristics of communities, their compositions, interaction amongst each other, potentials, handicaps, social and cultural attitudes and the overall approach to life are few variables which have to be established in an accurate manner. And successful development practitioners always learned about such features of peoples by engaging and mingling with them. After they would win the trust of their fellow beings, various formulations of development projects would work successfully.

In addition to knowledge and observation, sincere application of work plans, maintaining absolute transparency in all transactions and communication, record keeping and accounting as well as readiness to respond to the objections by any member or group in the community have been the other desirable attributes.

Not all approaches in the country have failed. There is a rich repository of ideas that have contributed immensely to their respective contexts and sectors. The idea of incremental housing for the urban and semi-urban poor has been tried and found useful. Instant access, compatible affordability, relevance to socio-economic profile of target groups and ability to transform in different localities caused this model to generate results.

For this reason, locations in Karachi, Gharo, Gulshan-e-Shahbaz (near Hyderabad) and Kala Shah Kaku (near Lahore) have demonstrated the worthiness of this approach. This idea needs to be scaled up from its incubation to mass level application. Rural support programmes are organizations that facilitate development in almost all the areas in the country. With financial support from donor agencies and partial assistance in the form of public endowments, these organisations have been able to expand the various components of development to some of the remotest locations.

Though criticised for being aid-driven and costly institutions, they have enormous potential if allowed to self improve their working deficiencies. A healthy approach shall demand critical appraisal of the functioning of these institutions to improve them for their respective objectives and recipient communities.

Extending the benefits of capital to the poor sections of society is another idea. The wide realm of entrepreneurship of the working classes has been effectively supported by micro credit institutions. Interestingly, there is a wide range of approaches that have been applied in this domain.

Credit programmes have been devised on the basis of gender, vulnerability status, skill and product promotions and identified locations. It has been found that where technical advice and assistance is facilitated and monitoring of disbursement is done in a professional manner, results have been outstanding.

Even the difficult terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan and deserts in Tharparker has shown worthwhile consolidation of livelihoods of the people. Experts in the micro-finance sector found small scale enterprising class as bankable and enthusiastic towards the prospects of progress. Group and community credits have also helped in the development of community infrastructure for mutual benefits. Works under the auspices of Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) are cases in point.

Some pre-requisites have to be fulfilled in making development ideas nurture and flourish. An environment of hope and promise is essential. People should be made to dispel the belief that nothing positive can work in our context. This can be done by a pro-progress media campaign which can lead the ordinary people to restore their faith in themselves. It can change the mindset towards avenues of enterprise and productivity.

The next step is engaging the political decision-makers into the development debate. If correct decisions and informed responses are contributed by government functionaries, a great deal of impact can be created. A sensitised ruler can help boost a positive idea in a very short span of time. This was admitted by Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan when he praised President Ayub Khan for his support and state approval of Comilla projects in the 1960s. That strategy can surely be emulated by our present ruling classes.

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