At a recent conference, a striking and novel metaphor was introduced by a speaker, Ms Roshni Kumari. She suggested that we need to nourish and sustain development in the same way that a mother nourishes and sustains a child. Where others see a wobble and a fall, the mother sees and praises a first step. Building on strengths rather than carping on weaknesses is an essential element of the nurturing process. The motherhood theory of growth offers us radically different policy menus from those currently in use. Take corruption for example. Our standard methods for controlling corruption involve creating a NAB, transparency, emphasising audits, creating hotlines for reporting bribes, and other mechanisms for catching and punishing corrupt behaviour. However, the motherhood theory suggests that we should focus on finding and encouraging good behaviour. If we can recognise and reward the single honest person (or just one honest act) from among hundreds of dishonest ones, others will be inspired to emulate. Research from many different fields shows that providing positive feedback for good behaviour works better than punishing bad behaviour. Naming and shaming the guilty can have many types of adverse consequences. These include creating resistance to change, and also leading others to think of more creative ways to engage in corruption without getting caught.
We are all fond of finding faults with Pakistan. The media is especially helpful in picking up all the incidents of terrorism, violence, hatred and atrocities — the more striking the incident, the more publicity it receives. The fact that this is highly counterproductive is rarely noted. Publicity helps the terrorists to achieve their goals, creating fear and protective responses far out of proportion to the incident. Although it may be hard to implement, a news blackout would frustrate the terrorists, whose primary target is not children, but rather to frighten the nation.
Because of the excessive focus on flaws, initial responses to the question of ‘does Pakistan has any strengths?’ often tends to be negative. It is only upon reflection that we realise our many blessings. Many visitors to Pakistan have expressed surprise at the warmth and hospitality they experienced. Many research studies show that Pakistanis as a whole are very generous; charity as a percentage of income is very high. Internal response to numerous disasters has been very good. Pakistan has survived many economic crises mainly because of strong social networks available to many members. There are many ways that we could choose to leverage these strengths, once we recognise them. Currently, a few extremists who benefit from divisions and strife are working unopposed. Well-designed campaigns for national harmony and inter-faith unity would find fertile ground. Not only is this a dire need, but there is ample historical precedent for successful efforts in this direction.
Recognising and building on strengths would lead to many developments in unexplored directions. We could capitalise on our strong milk production to introduce cheese and other high value-added exportables. Our unique friendship with Turkey, which has an advanced olive oil industry, could be used to substantially develop our own primitive one. A major obstacle to the implementation of creative homegrown solutions is the top-down institutional structure and mindset inherited from colonial times. An analogue of the American Revolution, which created a dynamic democracy, is still needed in Pakistan. Instead of war, we need a radical paradigm shift, to devolve power to the people, instead of the provinces. If we dare to trust our people, they are capable of creating rapid and revolutionary changes.
Community driven development and citizen engagement is now receiving recognition as a game-changer in the growth process. In Pakistan, we are very fortunate to have many organisations (PPAF, NRSP, ASER and others) which operate at grassroots level, to strengthen and empower communities. We actually have vast amounts of social capital. We can create rapid change by trusting our communities as partners in the development process, as this will create a hundred thousand engines of growth. Throughout the ages, mothers have inspired ordinary children to extraordinary achievements. Our journalists, literati, movie producers and other influential people can create change by projecting high ideals, instead of depressing weaknesses. We are fortunate to have many talented people who can build on our heritage of inspiring literature. Our challenge is to channel these energies to produce powerful visions which can change our destiny.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2015.