In the vast landscapes of rural Pakistan, where development has often been a distant dream, a quiet revolution is underway. Shandana Khan, the CEO of Rural Support Programmes Network in Pakistan, sat down for an enlightening conversation on the remarkable journey of community-led development in Baluchistan. As we delve into her insights, we discover the transformative power of organizing communities, the crucial role of the private sector, and the need for a paradigm shift in our approach to development.
The Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN) consists of nine Rural Support Programmes, two of which are actively engaged in the challenging terrain of Baluchistan. The Baluchistan Rural Support Programmes (BRSP), the larger of the two, has been working relentlessly in ten rural districts. What sets this initiative apart is its focus on organizing men and women into separate community groups for development activities.
The Game-Changer: People’s Participation
One might ask, what makes community-led development different from traditional charity or government-led projects? Shandana Khan eloquently points out that charity, while well-intentioned, often lacks sustainability. It provides temporary relief but doesn’t empower communities to uplift themselves. In contrast, community-led development teaches people how to fish rather than giving them a fish. It instills a sense of ownership and self-reliance.
The heart of the approach lies in organizing communities into groups. In Baluchistan, over 26,000 community groups have been formed, and a staggering 58% of the benefits have gone to women. Women, often underestimated, have shown remarkable resilience and leadership, comprising 40% of the group memberships.
The impact of these community-led efforts goes beyond immediate gains. The European Union (EU) funded a six-year initiative closely aligned with BRSP’s goals. It emphasized the significance of people’s participation. As a result, a policy on community-led development was born, an official document of the Baluchistan government. This policy represents a fundamental shift in the development landscape, and its successful implementation is the next challenge.
The Difference Between Charity and Development
Shandana Khan draws a clear distinction between charity and development. Charity provides immediate aid, but it often lacks long-term sustainability. Development, on the other hand, focuses on building capabilities and self-reliance. RSPs aim to empower individuals and communities to take charge of their futures. It’s about providing knowledge, technical support, and social mobilization to create lasting change.
While community-led development is a potent force for change, Shandana Khan emphasizes the pivotal role of the private sector. Private sector linkages are the most sustainable, and they bring much-needed resources and expertise. Companies engaged in milk collection or agribusiness can collaborate with community groups to ensure fair prices and better livelihoods. The private sector has the capital and reach to make a significant impact on rural development.
As Shandana Khan rightly points out, Pakistan stands at a crossroads. While challenges are abundant, so are opportunities. The private sector can play a vital role in revitalizing rural areas and driving economic growth. It’s time for a shift in mindset—a move towards self-reliance and local development.
Intriguingly, Shandana Khan’s journey took her beyond Pakistan’s borders. Her father’s diplomatic posting led her to India in the mid-1980s. She pursued her education in diverse corners of the world, including the UK and the USA. Her time in India, where she completed her first degree, provided valuable insights into South Asia’s complexities.
A Vision for the Future
Shandana Khan’s vision for Pakistan is clear to harness the potential of its people, empower communities, and build partnerships between the private sector and government. It’s about creating a thriving ecosystem where development is sustainable, and progress is inclusive.
The conversation with Shandana Khan sheds light on a transformative movement in the heart of Baluchistan. It’s a story of hope, resilience, and the remarkable power of communities to shape their destinies. As we look towards the future, we must heed the call for change, embrace community-led development, and engage the private sector as a force for good. Only then can we unlock the true potential of Pakistan’s rural landscapes and pave the way for a brighter tomorrow.