Ahsan Jamil is leading one of the most audacious social transformation initiatives in Pakistan today. As the chief executive officer and one of the founding trustees of Aman Foundation, Jamil is pioneering a disruptive model for social change in Pakistan. If you live in Karachi, you would have experienced the blaring sirens of the iconic yellow coloured Aman ambulances. The ambulance service, which was launched in March 2009, has already conducted more than 312,000 emergency medical interventions. However, you’ll be surprised to learn that Aman Foundation isn’t an NGO: it is a business run on a non-profit basis. The word ‘business’ is used deliberately, since Aman is run as a private sector entity with accountability, transparency and clear performance indicators for its operational teams.
“Even our ambulance drivers are matric pass,” shares Jamil, his face beaming with pride in his organisation. But Jamil’s story doesn’t start with Aman Foundation. It starts with a short-lived career at Wall Street, which he gave up to return home to Pakistan to try to make a difference. After working in several different career tracks, including acting, he ventured down the path of entrepreneurship by co-founding Ecopack Limited, a PET bottle manufacturing business that became a market leader and the primary supplier to both Pepsi and Coca-Cola in Pakistan. Under his leadership, the company grew exponentially but deep down, Jamil remained unfulfilled.
Jamil’s passion for mental health then prodded him to pursue a diploma in counselling and he started counselling kids at the Karachi Central Jail every week. Through this experience, Jamil got first-hand insights on how adults (parents and teachers) let children down in our society. This experience would prove invaluable to his work at Aman Foundation. In August 2008, Jamil joined Arif and Fayeeza Naqvi to bring Aman Foundation to life. “In many ways, this was about being a Pakistani and wanting to give back,” Jamil shares. “If we don’t give back, who will? However, none of this would happen without Arif Naqvi making quite possibly the single largest private philanthropic donation in Pakistan’s recent history.”
While this article focuses on Jamil’s contributions, it also bears testimony to the magic that can be created as a result of two extraordinary Pakistanis working together. Arif Naqvi is the founder and chief executive of The Abraaj Group, which he established in 2002. Under his leadership, The Abraaj Group has emerged as a leading alternative investment management group investing in global growth markets, raising approximately $8 billion since inception.
“Arif didn’t want Aman to be run as an NGO,” Ahsan said. “He had a vision for venture philanthropy by running Aman like a private sector organisation and chasing the maximum social return on investment in health and education. Our idea is to build running models in Karachi for various initiatives and then find partners to reapply our successful models in other parts of the country.” For example, Aman is taking a holistic approach to improving healthcare with systems ranging from Emergency Medical Response, Community Health Workers and Telehealth initiatives. In October 2012, Arif Naqvi, chairman of Aman Foundation, and Bill Gates, the co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, signed a five-year framework agreement on family planning and health in Pakistan. A similar systematic approach to improving education outcomes is also underway. For example, AMANTECH — Aman’s vocational training institute — seeks to align Pakistan’s labour force with the expectations of the private sector both locally and internationally. “Look at the future with foresight,” says Jamil, as he shares his message for Pakistani youth. “The new generation gives me a lot of hope.”
The purpose of this article is to find and share inspirational stories about everyday Pakistani heroes (if you know someone who should be profiled, send me a tweet @Mbilallakhani). If we don’t share these stories about Pakistan, no one else will.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.
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