Noble Pakistan: 10 Pakistanis honoured with Ramon Magsaysay Award

Nine Pakistanis have been honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award — Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize

Nudrat Kamal September 07, 2014

For most people, an award can be a source of confidence, encouragement or pride. But for the nine selfless Pakistanis, who have been honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay Award, this prestigous feather in their cap never went to their head.

The award, which was established in 1957 — in honour of Philippine president Ramon Magsaysay, widely lauded for his integrity and pragmatic idealism — has been recognising people and organisations committed to community service for over 40 years. Its recipients include a wide range of people, from Mother Teresa to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, as well as nine Pakistanis, with The Citizens Foundation (TCF) being the latest recipient.

Akhtar Hameed Khan

Year of the award: 1963

Akhtar Hameed Khan, a development activist and social scientist, who set up a comprehensive project for rural community development, known as the Comilla Model, was the first Pakistani to be honoured with this award. He also started the community development initiative Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), in a squatter town on the edge of Karachi. The idea behind OPP was that local residents should be trained and equipped to solve their community’s problems such as sanitation and low-cost housing on their own. The OPP model is now replicated all over the country, along with other developing countries in Asia. Upon receiving the award, Khan said at the time, “It is indeed an honour for me to be associated with the name and tradition of the late Ramon Magsaysay who combined in himself the qualities of a statesman and administrator. It is a combination which is rare but most needed in the newly liberated countries, much troubled as they are by conflict and alienation between the common people and their rulers.”

Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis Edhi


Year of the award: 1986

Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis Edhi, the forces behind the Edhi Foundation, one of the biggest non-profit social welfare programmes in Pakistan, have dedicated their lives to the service of the poor and the marginalised. The Edhi Foundation provides round-the-clock emergency assistance, shelter for the destitute, orphans and the mentally challenged, drug rehabilitation services, free medical care and legal aid for the poor among a multitude of other services. Today, the foundation has over 300 centres across the country. The couple released a joint statement upon receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award, saying that they thought of it “as a debt, always reminding us to pay it back by more devotion to humanity.” They vowed to use the money they received as part of the award to open up another foundation in the country.

Shoaib Sultan Khan

Year of the award: 1992

Shoaib Sultan Khan is one of the pioneers of rural development programmes in Pakistan. As a young civil service officer, Khan learned from his mentor, Akhtar Hameed Khan, that democratic village institutions can empower the rural poor to take charge of their own development. He later applied this principle to rural communities in Pakistan's northern areas, as well as in Sri Lanka. Working with various organisations such as the Aga Khan Foundation, the United Nations Children's Fund and the United Nations Development Programme, he became an experienced development administrator and in 1982 started heading the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), a citizen-sector organisation that targets poverty-stricken villages primarily in northern Pakistan and engages their inhabitants in development programmes, such as a one-time-only grant for a project which would be collectively worked on by the village residents. Upon receiving the award, Khan credited residents of the villages in the Northern Areas for the success of his programme, “It is they who responded so positively to the terms of partnership offered by AKRSP and fulfilled their obligations of organisation, human resource development and capital formation, the three cardinal principles on which AKRSP is based. It is the workers of AKRSP and the people of the programme who truly deserve the honour the award has bestowed on me."

Asma Jahangir


Year of the award: 1995

Leading lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who was also the founding member and former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has done significant work in Pakistan to prevent the persecution and exploitation of religious minorities, women and children. Upon receiving the award, she said it “has a special significance, as it comes from a country that is rich with a tradition of liberation movements and a society that has the most active and robust social action groups”. She also added that she felt a bit embarrassed when comparing “what little we have achieved against what still has to be achieved.”

Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi


Year of the award: 1998

Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi is a urological surgeon who founded the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT) by transforming a department of urology at the Civil Hospital, Karachi, into the country’s largest kidney disease centre and public health facility. For Dr Rizvi, the award provided an impetus to continue providing state-of-the-art health facilities to the underprivileged. “This award has propelled me and my colleagues at SIUT to consolidate and expand our work being mindful of future generations. Let it never be said by them that indifference, cynicism and selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideal of humanism which the Magsaysay Award encapsulates,” he said in his acceptance speech.

Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui

Year of the award: 1999

Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui went to great lengths to regularise Sindh’s katchi abadis and bring them into the ambit of the provincial government as the director of the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority. Rejecting the stereotype of the poor as freeloaders and criminals, he saw the katchi abadis as centres of dynamism whose occupants were both industrious and resourceful. Siddiqui also developed Khuda ki Basti, a housing project for the urban poor. He was appreciative that the Ramon Magsaysay Award recognised his work as a member of the government and said that the award “supports the view that good government is possible if the method of governance were to be redefined and government decision-making made more participatory.”

Dr Ruth Pfau


Year of the award: 2002

Dr Ruth Pfau is a German nun who has been working tirelessly to fight leprosy in Pakistan for the past 50 years. She runs the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre and it is due to efforts by her and her team that Pakistan became one of the first Asian countries that have successfully controlled leprosy. Dr Pfau said in her acceptance speech that the award went a long way in “helping Asia to discover, rediscover, find, cling to and confess its values — values of the intellect and heart.”

Ibn Abdur Rehman


Year of the award: 2004

Ibn Abdur Rehman is a leading peace and human rights activist who has been influential in promoting peace between India and Pakistan, as well as advocating other human rights issues in the country. Speaking about armed conflicts during his acceptance speech he said, “It has been our experience in South Asia that absence of armed conflict does not amount to peace. It has also been our experience that peace is not an ideal that can be pursued in isolation from other concerns of the people.”

The Citizens Foundation

Year of the award: 2014

TCF was set up in 1995 to improve the dismal state of education in Pakistan. According to Asaad Ahmed, the CEO of TCF, “It is a great honour not only for our organisation, but also for this country.” But he is quick to point out that the award has just reinforced the organisation’s zeal and determination to continue to bring high quality education to those who cannot afford it otherwise.

TCF already runs 1,000 schools across the country, giving full or partial scholarships to 145,000 students. The average fees a child is expected to pay per month is Rs100, and the rest of the tuition, including the cost of textbooks and uniforms, is covered by the organisation. “As nice as the award is, for us the most important thing is our work. Education remains a major problem for Pakistan and TCF still has a long way to go,” says Ahmed, adding that more than 150,000 schools are still needed in the country. “There is still a great need for better quality as well as greater quantity of education. A lot more work and investment is required.”

Awards such as this are a great way to recognise and celebrate the work that is being done towards improving society. It is also a welcome reminder that although we may still have a long way to go, there are people out there who are taking the road less travelled.

Nudrat Kamal is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune. She’s pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. She tweets @Nudratkamal

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 7th, 2014.

Correction: In the print version of this story, we incorrectly mentioned that nine Pakistanis honoured with Ramon Magsaysay Award instead of 10. We regrettably missed out Shoaib Sultan Khan’s name. 


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hadia khan | 6 years ago | Reply Hmmm....missed out on Dr. Abdul Salam?
Arif Masoud | 6 years ago | Reply

... Great to see such an article.. Very inspirational to read about these great Pakistanis.. News like these should be in the front pages of the media... instead of the 'negatives'.. (Which are a reality as well, but must be stifled in the middle pages..!) people like these must be subjects of discussions on "talk shows" on the TV, instead of the political brawls inept 'leaders'. GREAT!, Nudrat Kamal... loved your article, print more of them... God Bless.

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