Dear Bill and Melinda,
Thank you for your philanthropic support to many global causes and events. I did not realise the extent of your generosity, till I was recently asked to collect a cheque that was sponsored by Bill and Melinda Foundation for my participation in a webinar on the World Population Day. Needless to say, that money, however small, travelling through many organisations, banks and conversion rates to finally knock at the door of an unknown and ordinary Third World citizen can be exciting and flattering.
It took me a few moments to understand that I was at the receiving end of a compensation from a well-meaning foreign grant — an activity against which I had advocated for much of my life. I therefore politely responded with my inability to accept the generous offer. This story is personal and rather insignificant in the broader scheme of events. However, both for Pakistan and for the leading philanthropist and entrepreneur of this century, it may be important to pause and reflect upon the reasons that compel me to do so.
Let me begin with the simplest reason. The webinar discussed an issue that is critical for Pakistan’s people and wellbeing. The participants included committed citizens taking part in the event voluntarily and not for any compensation. They belonged to a privileged section of society that has been disproportionately blessed by this country. For them, it was a time of voluntary payback. Thus, to be offered a patronising cheque by a foreign philanthropist organisation, for such a tiny event was demeaning and took away even the few crumbs of self-respect that one had accumulated after the webinar.
It is vital to understand as to why a reasonably well-endowed country should seek foreign philanthropy. Pakistan is a country of abundant resources and wealth. Just the province of Sindh has more than 25,000 government cars, with many high-ups having three to four official luxury vehicles at their disposal. This indulgence is well beyond the imagination of officials in most rich countries. So your generous and well-meaning grants are consumed not to fulfil any needs but to satisfy a certain greed. The worst side-effect of your ‘grant’ capsule is its ability to numb the brain and destroy a patient’s ability to think. The patient goes into a helplessness mode and can no longer do even the smallest things without being inspired by a foreign grant. Seeking Bill and Melinda’s support for a webinar may be just one such example.
May it be family planning, child protection, education or any other field, the more we depend upon aid (instead of our own neurons and resources), the worst we perform. In the context of family planning, our fertility rate is still at a dangerous level of 3.6 while it could have easily followed the footsteps of countries like Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Bangladesh and Iran who successfully reduced their fertility rate to 2 or less. The best help you could have given us was to tell Pakistan to think and do what others have already done.
Nothing would exhibit better the disruption caused by foreign funding than the Child Protection activities in the province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Despite millions of our children being out of school, employed as child labour and subjected to perpetual abuse, not a single Child Protection Unit in K-P has been functioning for the last two years. The 12 units, funded by Unicef in 2018, ran for a few months and then fell apart as the foreign funding dried up.
It may therefore be best if you were to (notwithstanding our acute withdrawal symptoms) replace all grants and support programmes with a brief “do it yourself” advice. A nation that can build nuclear bombs will also find a way to protect its children, control its population and conduct its webinars.
Thank you again.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2020.
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