"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime".
Rural Support Network, now a large collection of local NGOs, was founded by Dr. Shoaib Sultan Khan of the Agha Khan Network in December 1982. Over the last 30 years, the RSP movement has spawned nearly 300,000 community self-help organizations touching the lives of 32 million rural Pakistanis across the length and breadth of the country.
While the stats about its reach are impressive, the emphasis on its self-help model is what makes it particularly effective. RSPNs differ fundamentally from the normal aid programs.
An American writer Joshua Foust recently described RSP's modus operandi in The Atlantic magazine as follows: "They focus on the development of institutions first, and only after that institution is established do they worry about its output or performance. The NGO also heavily invests in the smallest scale of the community, from conceptualization to execution, hiring mostly locals to administer projects. Lastly, they have extraordinarily long project timelines -- sometimes as long as 15 years from start to finish..... RSPN's longer term focus lets it work on more difficult goals, such as creating institutional capacity that can exist without foreign input. It also means RSPN can build out micro-infrastructure projects like micro-hydro power plants that allow communities to finance their own development -- again, without foreign input."
A number of community-based micro hydro projects are being executed with the help of the Agha Khan Foundation in Pakistan's Northern Areas and NWFP. Within this region, out of a total of 137 micro-hydro plants, the AKRSP has established 28 micro-hydros with an installed capacity of 619kW. Initially, in 1986, these plants started as research and demonstration units. These projects were extended to Village Organizations (VOs) and became participatory projects. A Village Organization (VO) is a body of villagers who have organized themselves around a common interest.
After formation, each village organization signs a partnership with AKRSP to abide by all terms and conditions necessary for the village development. The entire responsibility of implementation is passed on to the VOs. AKRSP provides the negotiated cost of the plants and technical input required during the construction period. All the VOs complete the civil work of the plants. They purchase and transport machinery from other parts of Pakistan. The VO members provide subsidized or free unskilled labour and locally produced building material.
Health Care Insurance:
RSP has helped create a collaborative micro-healthcare insurance system. For very little money -- $3.50 a year in some cases -- poor people can get access to basic medical care (especially maternity care) and assistance if they face hospitalization.
More recently, the Wall Street Journal reported that Asher Hasan, a social entrepreneur, has set up Naya Jeevan—"new life" in Urdu—a nonprofit micro-insurance program for the urban poor.
Human Development Effort:
Human Development Foundation, an organization funded mostly by overseas Pakistanis, has taken a page from RSP playbook to establish many self-help projects.
HDF has a community physical infrastructure development program which helps communities improve their environment, including link roads, water storage, hand pumps, tube wells, irrigation, sanitation and pest control projects. Such projects are executed with community's sweat equity (Development Organization) and managed by the community (Village Development Organization) upon completion. Over 600 such projects have already been completed, and hundreds are currently underway.
HDF also has an education program which has grown from a few non-formal schools with 20-30 children each, to multi-grade schools with over 100 children each. Many of these schools operate in remote areas, and curriculum is activity-based to retain children's interest and reduce drop-out rates.
HDF has a microfinancing program as well. It has grown from offering small loans to individuals to joint ventures and community partnerships, and "one village, one product" programs. In addition to capital, these programs also offer skills training to start and run the businesses. These microloan programs are based on the Islamic principle of Murahaba.
Hope for the Future:
Unfortunately, Pakistani state, run by politicians and their hand-picked civilian administrators, is weak, incompetent and ineffective. But ordinary Pakistanis are among the most philanthropic people in the world. Thirty years of community-based rural support and other similar programs are proof that many of them are giving to help their fellow citizens to get up on their own feet. More and more of them are choosing to light candles instead of cursing the darkness. This should give us all hope for a brighter future for Pakistan.
Philanthropy in Pakistan
Pakistan-A Hard Country
World Giving Index Report 2011
How Can Overseas Pakistanis Help Flood Victims?
Light a Candle, Don't Curse Darkness
Pakistan Center for Philanthropy
An Overview of Indian Philanthropy
Aaker Patel on Philathropy
Orangi Pilot Project
Volunteerism in America
Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan's Vision