Noel Cossins’ ‘Back to the Sun, Face to the Earth’
By Jairam Ramesh
The book presents a beautifully written account of the life story of Shoaib Sultan Khan – the man whose noble efforts made a difference in the lives of millions of poor in Pakistan and many other countries. It traces the journey of a man, who for many decades, has served to lift people out of poverty and forge a way for development at the grassroots. His belief in the power of the poor was the key foundation of most of the Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) he founded. His belief that poor have the willingness to come out of poverty but lack the capacity to do so made him promote the idea of community organisations of the poor. He envisioned an organisation not only for the poor, but more importantly of the poor. He believed that destiny of the poor lay in their own hands and they had the power to make a difference in their lives, Thus, the key to development, visualised by Shoaib Sultan Khan, was community mobilisation – if the villagers were able to organise themselves with the support of an organisation, then they would be able to lift themselves out of poverty. He proved that these organisations played an important role in empowering the poor to find their own ways of development. All these things about his vision and approach for community development has been presented very lucidly in this book.
Shoaib Khan pioneered the concept through his landmark Agha Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in Pakistan by promoting sincere investment in building the community organisations and capacity building of the poor. His focus including every poor member in all collective initiatives by the underprivileged rural communities had a remarkable impact on society. Successes of the AKRSP in the areas of land development, livelihood generation and skill development through community organisations were appreciated by development agencies across the world. His concept of community organisations was brought to the forefront of rural development intervention models adopted by many multilateral agencies.
With support of the UNDP, he introduced the concept of poverty reduction through community organisations through the South Asian Poverty Alleviation Programme (SAPAP) in India and other South Asian countries. The pilot initiative of SAPAP led to a full-fledged programme based on the principle of development through community organisations under the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in Andhra Pradesh with the support of the World Bank. The project has seen the journey of over 10 million organised households from despair to hope, from diffidence to confidence, from subjugation to empowerment in the last decade. The spirit of community empowerment has continued to thrive in India since then. At the behest of Mr Rahul Gandhi (parliamentarian from Amethi), he made a visit to Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana (RGMVP) villages in Uttar Pradesh and helped the project to reformulate its vision. The RGMVP was founded on the same set of core values and beliefs and thus has much to benefit from Shoaib Khan’s vision and efforts. Today, it strongly espouses the poor’s strong desire and innate ability to come out of poverty. It has proven that social mobilisation can help the poor overcome psychological, social, economic and political obstacles even in the most hierarchical social settings.
His commitment to the cause of community mobilisation is praiseworthy. He earned the Ramon Magsaysay Award and Hilal-e-Imtiaz of Pakistan for his contribution to the poor. It is remarkable that a person who began his rural development journey from Gilgit in Pakistan with the founding of the AKRSP more than three decades back and forged partnerships with a million people in one of the most inhospitable terrains in the world, still unflaggingly carries forth his vision and dedication to work for the poor with the same enthusiasm. Today, Shoaib Khan serves on the boards of numerous rural support programmes.
This book gives a sincere tribute to the viewpoints of a legendary person who asserted his ideas by the power of his belief in the poor and the strength of his demonstration of grassroots development. Shoaib Khan toiled for the social and economic uplift of the poorest of the poor and inspired the minds of many development practitioners to stick up to path of community mobilisation to achieve a poverty-free society. Community mobilisation is appreciated across the geography as a tool for empowerment. The book not only introduces the community efforts of Shoaib Khan but also takes us through an exciting journey of his early years. It has been written with great affection for Shoaib Khan.
It has been a great honour for me to be part of this long overdue book. The life story of Shoaib Khan is an invaluable read for all the followers, for development practitioners, for those whose lives have been transformed by community mobilisation initiatives, and finally for the world to be grateful for and inspired by his efforts.
The writer is minister of rural development, India