|Posted by Aftab on September 23, 2010 at 7:20 AM|
INTERVIEW OF DIRECTOR FINANCE, SAF PRINTED IN ACCA PAKSITAN SOCIETY
Ali Ahmad: You have been an investment banker for most of your life – how are you feeling working in a finance role of non-profit organization?
Noor Aftab: It’s a leap of faith! Faith means committing before you have all the answers. It means following your conviction rather than common wisdom. It’s a philosophy for life. I have just returned from 21 hours of non stop service in Swat where roads & bridges were broken, mobile communications were dead & security threats were all time high. I went there just coming out of hospital a day back for gastro enteritis (that I got from the camps as well). I had never seen these people before. I did not
even speak their language. Yet I went there because women, disabled and children were stranded in SWAT.
They had not seen food or water in days. It requires moving out of my comfortable suite in Islamabad. You need to know why you are doing this. The motive can’t be monetary gains or glory or even passion to field. It requires a deeper commitment —a burning desire, an obsession.
Being an investment banker all my life, I organized Euromoney conference, World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) & Overseas Pakistani Conference (OPIC) on finance and investment which attracted 800 foreign investor and 60 heads of states respectively; having worked in Warren Buffet’s world Book
international and guiding Pakistan’s largest conglomerate Fauji Foundation in its investment decisions, I could safely say, I had my fair share of strategy, exposure & shaping the economic dynamics of the country or even the region (case in point: Alhamdolilah at the 2nd Regional Conference on Reconstruction of Afghanistan in 2006 all my recommendations on investments were accepted & are a part of Delhi Declaration). I worked on the biggest deals with the biggest names on the globe yet nothing ever in my life gave me the satisfaction this work does. The entire wealth of the world cannot buy that single moment. Every single step that I take on the path of Allah makes me realize it is what life is all about. The rest all does not matter.
Here are a few thoughts:
1 ) This is most innovative form of finance- This comes as a surprise to most people but there is a lot of finance involved in here. The degree of complexity is amazingly high. There is so much room for financial innovation— amazing workable financial products and models have been developed and lot more could be. There is so much you could pair it with like mobile commerce
and technology. At the bottom of the pyramid is really where it is most technology savvy too.
An interesting read on this topic is Professor Prahalad’s Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid.
2 ) It does make a difference- Development sector finance does not hold the answer to everything but it has the solution to a lot of world’s problems. It does require a lot of sincerity and commitment. But there is nothing as rewarding as this work. Building a school for the poorest of the poor, getting food and water to people that have not seen it weeks really saves lives. And its economic impact is evident as well. What better example that Grameen in Bangladesh that has met all MDGs. Other examples come from success across globe whether it’s the ghettos of Chicago or aid & poverty hit Africa. InshAllah the next most successful model would be from within Pakistan.
Ali Ahmad: As we all know that Pakistan is struck with the most deadly floods of Indus history - What SAF is doing to help those victims?
Noor Aftab: Floods of 2010 are the biggest damage in the recorded history of mankind. It’s safe to say that these damages are bigger than all of the world economy combined. Some initial estimates suggest that over 20 Million Pakistani are directly affected, 7 Million are still without any food, water & shelter. 3.5 Million children at extreme risk of death (UN), over 35,000 cases of acute diarrhea are confirmed (Oxfam). These are times when blood was cheaper than water— people were forced to drink flood water that had remains of dead animals & humans. Women were stranded on roof tops with their clothes torn, dying infants and the old & disabled had no hope.
Shahina Aftab Foundation (SAF) was one of the very NGOs that jumped into flood relief from the very start. SAF started flood relief on 1st Aug, 2010 under Director Operations, a Sitara-e-Imtiaz Military recipient for Excellence in service from Pakistan Army. He is an expert in disaster relief and management having handled earthquake relief in 2005, flood relief operations in Lahore (1996); in Peshawer, Mardan & Swat (1992). We went methodical. Sent out survey teams to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KRP) where these members risked their lives to reach the cutoff areas. They told us “Women stranded on roof tops with clothes torn. Infant death toll is on the rise. Water is badly needed. Time is running out”
I went to UN coordination meeting on 27 August, 2010 where I learnt about 200,000 women, disabled & children stranded in Swat. On 6th Sept SAF team called on Operation Imdad— the largest air operation in a land where roads & bridges were broken. Communications networks failed. We reached the most stranded areas on jeeps, choppers and by foot and personally delivered aid to over 500 families.
Private investors in UK have sent us relief goods. Junior Chamber International (JCI), a member of UN has partnered with SAF to provide relief & rehab to KPK areas. Islamabad International School has partnered with us for rehab projects for a year. I have just received a message from
Unilever SVP global communications saying, “I wish you all success in your fund raising efforts”.
Ali Ahmad: It is a general belief that all relief activities will come to an end after EID or people might forget about it soon – just like they did in 2005 Earthquake. Do you agree with the general perception? And if it happens, what could be the possible consequences for the country and its already drowning economy?
Noor Aftab: With the exception of a few areas in Sind & Punjab province, the flood rescue operations have come to end. In most of Pakistan relief work is also ending and we are moving towards early recovery. Many people have Donor Fatigue given at least once and in most cases, more than once to flood victims. For a majority of us when we give out an amount or write a cheque we feel our job is done. But these are desperate times. We have never before seen such a magnitude of damage of lives and infrastructure.
On the impact of drowning economy— There has never been greater damage in the infrastructure, agriculture, livestock and employment. A few million more have been pushed below poverty line. In terms of economic progress we have moved back another 30 years. I remember having a conversation with a high net worth investor telling me that Pakistan’s economy was in ruins. The agriculture sector is washed off and we never had any industry.
Conversely, I hold the opposite conviction. In this moment of greatest crisis are the seeds of greatest human development. I am confident inshAllah that we would emerge from this as a stronger nation. With economic development of 30 years undone, floods have also washed off bad decisions of 30 years. Today we have a chance to rewrite our financial and economic destiny. It is not for the government to decide.
A Challenge to Financial Wizards
The real power lies within the people and the friends of Pakistan. We are resilient people and an extremely hard working nation. Ours is one of the best population pyramids with 80% of Pakistanis in the age group of 18-40 years. I would challenge the readers who are financial wizards to come & play their role in the economic prosperity of Pakistan. We need to build roads— new ideas are welcome. So are new financing schemes. We need schools & hospitals too— that means new modes of education and new methods of treatment where we can use technology, internet and innovation. Most agriculture could now be built on modern principles.
Here is food for thought—- Pakistan has a population 170.5 Million. If we leave aside 50.5 Million has children, disabled & otherwise too poor and the remaining population just donates 1 rupee per day: we will have 120.5 Million/ day available to rebuild lives of these people. We are working round the clock and can never make it without YOUR support. Simply by passing word to your network YOU too could save these people from hunger, extreme poverty & death. YOU could rebuild Pakistan. I appeal to YOU to make a fixed payment every week even if it is Rs 10 and partner with SAF for reaching these people. We don’t need international aid. YOU & SAF — together we could save Pakistan!
Ali Ahmad: What is the mission you had in mind when you started relief activities and do you think you are achieving what you planned for?
Noor Aftab: The mission we had in mind was to save a life at a time. And replicate this process as much as Allah gave us the strength. We believe simple ideas save lives. And that anyone could have the next big idea. Therefore we always make appeals in small chunks & listen to everyone with an open heart.
What SAF has been able to achieve as an organization that started with no background but winning trust of friends, family, collegues and international agencies whether it is BBC or Unilever is because of the will of Allah, dedication to the cause & our amazing network. We have learn that in some cases individual donors could not give more than 100 Rupees but when they went to their network, they returned with 100,000. 5 and 10 year olds have brought has 50 tooth pastes and brushes. It’s still a long shot but we know if YOU are with us, nothing will stand in the way of our success, inshAllah.