An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Amjad Saqib, Executive Director & Founder of Akhuwat

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By: Farrukh Shahbaz Warraich


A medical graduate from King Edward Medical College, Dr. Amjad Saqib was selected for the nation’s topmost bureaucratic institution, the elite Civil Service of Pakistan in 1985. Having stood out as a public servant, right when his career was about to move towards higher echelons, he resigned in 2003 with the intent to dedicate himself to becoming a social entrepreneur and make a difference in societal change through Akhuwat – which had already been launched in 2001 and had meanwhile started taking strides towards the force it was to become.

The salient feature of his public service career – one that perhaps changed the course of his life – was his last assignment, a five-year stint as general manager of the Punjab Rural Support Programme (PRSP) from 1998 to 2003.

It is here that he had the opportunity to closely examine the various initiatives of poverty alleviation, Education Management, participatory development and conventional microfinance. And this made him realize that “something different had to be done”. This desire to do ‘something different’, something more effective as a panacea for the poor spurred him on to conceive and introduce an interest-free microfinance model based on the idea of Muakhat or brotherhood.

In 1993, Dr. Amjad Saqib completed Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship and took his Master’s degree in Public Administration from the American University, Washington D.C., USA. He terms his stint in the US as most inspiring period of his academic and professional career. He also studied at LUMS, where he completed the one-year LUMS – McGill University Program in Social Enterprise & Management. He served in top management positions throughout his career in public service and was recognized as a diligent, outspoken and highly competent civil servant.

VOLUNTARY/HONORARYASSIGNMENTS

Besides supporting the Chief Minister Punjab, as Advisor on Poverty Alleviation and Social Development, he renders honorary services for many Civil Society Organizations and NGOs. He is

1. Founding Chairman/Executive Director Akhuwat, the largest interest free microfinance program.

2. Vice Chairman Punjab Educational Endowment Fund (The largest fund ever create by Government for the poor but talented students)

3. Member Board of Director Punjab Education Foundation (PEF), an organization that is providing free education to more than 1.2 million poor students.

4. Commissioner Punjab Health Care Commission, a statutory body established by Punjab Assembly

5. Managing Director Punjab Welfare Trust for the Disabled (The largest Trust in Pakistan, meant for rehabilitation of persons with disabilities)

6. Punjab Fund for Rehabilitation of Special Persons (A State of the Art Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Persons) owned by Government of the Punjab.

7. Chairman Steering Committee for Prime Minister’s Interest Free loans Programme

8. Chairman Management Committee Fountain House (A hospital for the treatment and rehabilitation of mentally ill patients)

9. Member Board of Governors Children Library Complex

10. Member Provincial Consumer Protection Council (PCPC), constituted under Section 24 of Punjab Consumer Protection Act, 2005

11. Member of the Syndicate, University of the Punjab

12. Member of the Syndicate, University of Education

13. Member Punjab Red Crescent Society

14. Member of the Committee of Punjab Day Care Fund Society

15. Member of the Committee to Improve Services in Education Sector

WORK

Besides his work for Akhuwat and above mentioned civil society organizations, Dr. Amjad Saqib is a highly sought after consultant, and has provided consultancy to various international development agencies, such as the Asian Development Bank, International Labor Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, Canadian International Development Agency, USAID and DFID. This consultancy work has also been in his core area of interest: poverty alleviation, microfinance, social mobilization and education management. Dr. Amjad Saqib is also a regular guest speaker at the Civil Services Academy (CSA), the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA), the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and many other professional forums. He has also been among the visiting faculty at the University of Punjab. He has spoken at Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, LSE, Warrick and Kings College London and represented Pakistanand many international forums.

Q:Where were you born and how was your childhood?

Ans:I was born at Kamalia. I was lucky to find such teachers at my school, who guided me towards a mature side of life. I was more inclined towards reading than fun activities. I used to read Iqbal and Ghalib a lot. Besides that I liked reading children magazines like “Taleem o Tarbiat” and “Nonahal”.

Q: What is the role of parents in your upbringing?

A: My parents had a profound role in shaping my personality. They taught me higher virtues like moral uprightness, hard work, simplicity, modesty. I learned a lot from them.

Q:How was the environment at your home?

A: My home environment was very intellectual type. My father and mother both loved to read. There was municipal library near my home whose Librarian became my friend. All the major newspapers of country used to be there. Newspaper used to reach there by quarter past six and library opened at nine. I requested Librarian to allow me a read of those newspapers by taking them home to be returned before nine. He agreed to it.I used to read all newspapers that way. It helped me to grow my literary taste. My language was improved tremendously. Apart from that I started understanding political and social changes. This was environment I had at my home which helped me grow my reading aptitude.

Q: How did you perceive idea of Akhuwwat?

A: I was always deeply aggrieved by pathetic conditions of poor people. I noticed they could change their lives with a very small capital. They usually had some skill with them. I discussed the idea of Akhuwwat with some of my friends who liked it a lot. We started giving loans free of interest with a few thousand Rupees and initially gave loans to working women only. It was started with very small money, less than One Hundred Thousand but God helped us and we achieved great milestones in it.

Q: Can you tell us something about recent activities of Akhuwwat?

A: Yes, sure.Akhuwat has disbursed a total of 110$ million up till now. This makes Akhuwat a unique microfinance organization, indeed the first of a kind. The model has by now been replicated by many organizations but Akhuwat remains the largest such institution in the world. Our beneficiaries amount to approximately 25000 poor men and women. We are now planning to build a University for poor people where education would be absolutely free. We require a lot of funding for that for which we are going door to door. We are very hopeful from God that our this project would also succeed.

Q: What have been difficulties in your endeavor?

A: There were a lot of difficulties. In the start people were reluctant to believe what we said. We received very few donations in the start but we never lost hope. We did not have any office and arranged our meetings at mosques which became a positive point for our credibility. We kept going and it was our persistency that allowed us to be what we are today. Let me share that it was always been a group work. I am just the beginner. Alongside myself, are such marvelous people who even don’t like to come into limelight. They are the real heroes who worked with complete cause and never lost hope. I have huge respects for them.

Q:In your opinion, how much does hard work pay a role in success or is it luck which matters most?

A: I would slightly differ from both of these and would rate “sincerity” above all. If you are sincere with the cause, every right thing would occur to you. No doubt there is a portion of luck which goes alongside hard work but sincerity of cause is the foremost thing.

Q: How do you define success?

A: I term success a measure of your hardworking. I think I am successful if I worked very hard. See; result is in hands of Almighty. We gauge success by our efforts which in fact, is a pure reward of God. You cannot intervene in the will of God. Success is never everlasting. Success is how did you perform your duty? We would be asked for our doing in this world on the Doomsday. I would be asked how I spent the precious time which was given to me. How did I spend my knowledge which was bestowed upon me? To me success is a best use of these resources.

Q: What is the secret of your success?

A: Sincerity, good intent and hardwork.As I said before, success is from Almighty, and we can just work hard with these virtues.

Q: Why did you leave a luxurious life of civil service and started doing this difficult work?

A: Look, a man should always do such work which would give him pleasure. I often refer to it that everyone should attempt to find that point where heart wish and stature coincide. We do something whereas in actual we want to do something else. I found solace in this work. This is purest work which gave me pleasure. It is your vision of finding that point of coincidence and start working.

Q:How do you see future of Akhuwat after Dr Amjad saqib?

A: I don’t bother about it. Even if there is no Akhuwat, there would be some good people who would come up with any other organization with good intent. Graveyards are full of people who thought themselves indispensable but times proved it otherwise. Akhuwwat is basically a thought which would never die. It may change its name but idea would always remain alive.

Q: How much time do you work in a day?

A: I usually work for sixteen hours in a day but I don’t count it as work. I enjoy it as it gives me pleasure. If I don’t work, I get depressed. This has not remained a work for me, it has become joy for me.

Q: How do you see educational standards of our country?

A: First and the foremost is that there is no uniform system of education in our country. This class based education is harming education itself. Our curriculum is not meeting our needs. We do not know the importance of education. We gain education just for job regardless of its vitality.

Q: Tell us something about your taste. Which is your favourite place in the country?

A: I love Lahore and after that I like Murree,Nathiagali.

Q: What do you like in food?

A: I eat anything which is available but like Chicken Pullao.

Q: Is there any of your unfulfilled wish?

A: Nobody gets his all wishes fulfilled in this world. Some wishes revolve around your person; some around your country. I yearn to make Akhuwat the biggest organization of this country.

Q: Are you satisfied with your life?

A: By the grace of God, I am very much satisfied with my life.

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