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Observations from Pakistan

The problems facing Pakistan are enormous, but during my three week visit to the country this summer I observed that the foundation on which the country is built is more solid than most would think.

Let me first establish that the ongoing flood will affect Pakistan for many years to come. The country faces an immediate challenge where millions of people are still without housing, water, food, and basic medicines.ÿFurther, Pakistan will have to spend a great deal of time and significant resources that they don’t currently have on the reconstruction of infrastructure, houses, and agricultural areas.ÿIn addition, this flood highlighted a widespread problem that often emerges in a crisis situation – the absence of leadership talent.

Large natural disasters, terrorism and an unstable political environment are issues that we all too often connect with Pakistan.ÿFor us abroad (and perhaps more so for the locals in Pakistan) it can therefore be difficult to see how the country will rise from its numerous challenges.

I would argue, though, that the conditions for a solution to many of Pakistan’s problems are very much present. I have personally witnessed so many people and institutions, regardless of size or resources at their disposal, take significant steps to move the country forward.

The adaptability and creativity common to ordinary Pakistani’s is rare – at least from among the places I have travelled to. For example, the traffic is chaotic, but it never stops.ÿCars, motorcycles, donkey carts and people adjust to each other and move forward. A typical western mindset of stubbornness will take you nowhere on Pakistani roads. On every street corner and around every turn and jammed into the smallest spaces are stalls with countless products.ÿPeople simply take what they have and create something out of it.

People who have money and resources try to compensate for the absence of central leadership. During my short visit I witnessed several such initiatives. I met students who organized fundraisers to send supplies to the flood affected areas. I helped doctors, lawyers, and other professionals organize and make their services available for free during the flood.ÿI also met two women who on their own have started free private schools for poor children.ÿThe willingness to contribute is strong in Pakistan and resources are quickly put to practical use. What is missing is competent management that can more effectively deploy these meager but nonetheless essential resources. Able management would have reduced the scale of the current flood disaster to a greater degree than many dare to admit.ÿUltimately it all comes down to education. Education is the solution to most of Pakistan’s problems.

Fortunately there are several examples of progress. Internationally renowned universities in Pakistan are now introducing sponsorship programs to increase the number of students from the poorer rural areas of the country.ÿThis is a small but important symbolic step towards equality and justice across socioeconomic boundaries.ÿI worked on such a program for Lahore University of Management Sciences while in Pakistan and it is uplifting to see educational institutions on the right track to improve general management skills in the country.

I encourage you to support the ongoing flood effort by reaching out to your Pakistani colleagues at school. Pakistan is a country with great challenges, but I am very optimistic about the future. I have seen that the foundation is in place for Pakistan to take long steps in the right direction.

October 12, 2010
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