Safdar Hussain is a current Acumen Pakistan Fellow and reflects below on his journey as a Fellow this year. Acumen is now accepting applications for the next cohort of Acumen Fellows not only in Pakistan, but also in East Africa and India as well. Click on the above links to apply. The deadline to submit your application is 23 September 2013 at 5:00pm GMT. For questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Growing up with a father in the government who was constantly given different postings, I was always in and out of different schools in various cities and villages across Balochistan, Pakistan. As a result, I developed a large interest in getting involved with the different communities I was exposed to. While I don’t remember many of the subjects I studied during class, I clearly remember spending time learning about different cultures and the unique issues that each community faced.
Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP)
IDSP appealed to me because it focused on providing opportunities to young leaders and teaching them how to create solutions to local challenges in local communities. My first initiative at IDSP has been establishing a University of Community Development in Quetta, Balochistan. The University of Community Development will serve as an information and learning center in Khuzdar and is aimed at providing ICT opportunities to marginalized and excluded youth at the grassroots level. It will enable them to explore innovative approaches to finding solutions to their issues and challenges by promoting intellectual learning (theory) and activism (practice) through innovative study based courses.
While trying to set up the University of Community Development, I faced many challenges. Our biggest challenge was acquiring the land for the project, a process that took over three years. I had to work around government bureaucracy and corrupt officers asking for bribes. My patience finally paid off at the inauguration ceremony of the University of Community Development. The Chief Minister of Balochistan pledged to lease 4 acres of land to IDSP! The whole process reinforced my faith in Pakistani government institutions, and underscored the importance of persistence and integrity.
However, the challenges did not end once IDSP received the leased land in Quetta. The land was isolated, without access to water, electricity or gas. So, I transformed these obstacles into opportunities and we decided to build sustainable facilities. We installed solar panels, wind turbines and biogas plants for energy. We created a rain-harvesting system for water. We constructed our buildings out of mud, which is more cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, and energy-efficient than other building materials. We also began growing organic flowers and grapes to generate income to financially support the University of Community Development. For all of these projects, we used local technology, local labor, and local materials.
Biogas units to produce gas for cooking and farming purposes
While working with IDSP, my understanding about life has changed immensely. Pakistan faces many challenges to development – poverty, corruption, natural disaster. IDSP has shown me how to re-frame these problems as possibilities to create positive change, and I’ve been inspired by the leaders across Pakistan who are working tirelessly to create a brighter future.
Acumen Fellows Program
From being an Acumen Fellow, I have learned a wide range of skills, from creating a financial statement to discovering the benefits of adaptive leadership. These teachings have really helped me in my efforts to set up the University of Community Development, and I know that I will continue to leverage the learnings and connections I’ve gained through this experience for many years to come.