In Pakistan, the non-governmental organisation, or NGO, is a household name. Irrespective of controversies born out of myopic political gains, Pakistan remains the seat of a large number of national and international NGOs. They are active in disaster relief, health, education, human rights, gender equality, environment, domestic violence, economic opportunity and many other areas of civil society. These organisations fill a critical gap where the state is unable or unwilling to act.
Common wisdom dictates that only organisations with adequate human and financial resources can perform such daunting tasks. However, one individual, Dr Anwar Nasim, thinks otherwise. Believing in the ultimate potential of the individual, Dr Nasim ended up coining the term: non-governmental individual (NGI). Not content with simply replacing the word organisation with individual, he actively searched for and found individuals whose relentless efforts and ingenuity have left indelible marks on our society. Individuals traverse areas as diverse as social welfare, theoretical physics, low-cost housing, traditional medicine, human rights and public health.
Dr Anwar Nasim, erstwhile science advisor to COMSTECH (OIC’s inter-governmental Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation), is a first-rate scientist with an impressive record of contributions in biotechnology. In formulating and vigourously promoting the concept of NGI, he defies the ivory tower image of a scientist.
Two weeks ago, we witnessed the power of the individual as we attended the foundation-stone laying ceremony of the Pakistan Science College in the company of Dr Anwar Nasim, at least four former and current vice-chancellors from Pakistani universities and a fine Pakistani diplomat, among other dignitaries. Held in a remote part of Punjab, near Pattoki, a small place called Allahabad, the ceremony was both glitter and gold. It was at once an act of defiance and another episode of out-of-the-box thinking. It was NGI in action!
The brainchild of a former physical education teacher and ardently supported by his three able sons, we discovered an embedded network of schools, and now college, spread across three countries: Pakistan, Kuwait and Yemen. Majid Ali, yesterday’s economic migrant to Kuwait, is today’s benefactor of the host country where his initiative is reaching out to students from 29 nationalities. Yemen is to benefit soon from his largest network of four schools. With their hands-on approach, this troika of brothers does not hesitate to employ their own brick and mortar set to build huge infrastructure overnight. They have applied the same cost-effective strategy in the three countries of their presence.
The overwhelming experience at Allahabad, followed by a visit to the Pakistan National School at Pattoki, underscored the significance of NGI. Dr Anwar Nasim is right on both counts that NGI serves the cause of capacity building and that the concept is essential to the growth of human, intellectual and social capital. However, there are calls for invoking a benchmark for qualification as an NGI sounds more like a bureaucratic trap. If implemented, it could halt the NGI in his/her tracks because what lies at the core of NGI is the freedom to act.
On a comparative note, NGI gives you a sense of liberation for you are not at the receiving end — as is the case when dealing with an NGO. NGI spurs human dignity while giving a sense of self achievement. It boosts self-confidence because one’s ability to take initiative is realised by positive results. All this sums up as a grand play of empowerment. This empowerment lights up inherent human creativity and, as Dr Anwar Nasim has illustrated in his book — through the examples of Abdul Sattar Edhi, Akhtar Hameed Khan, Ansar Burney, Professor Abdus Salam, Hakim Muhammad Saeed, Sania Nishtar, and Ruth Pfau — that unfolds to unprecedented heights.
In essence, the concept of NGI is a catalyst for change. Casting away dependence on the state, it promotes self-reliance. Empowered individuals have higher self-esteem, which feeds into their contribution to social development. Pakistan is ripe for the rise of NGI — the empowered individuals.
The writers are freelance columnists