Saturday December 03, 2022

Alleviating poverty

December 12, 2020

In the past decade, I have visited Pakistan more than 50 times and had the privilege of working with a range of public servants, both in Islamabad and in different provinces, during the tenure of three prime ministers. I have come to love the country and its people. I have also met numerous dedicated public servants committed to improving the lives of the people of Pakistan.

With the new global challenge of Covid-19, it has been a privilege to work alongside Dr Sania Nishtar to review the Ehsaas poverty alleviation programme. There is nothing more critical to the future of Pakistan.

Set up in 2019, the programme’s aim is to address systemic poverty and make Pakistan a fairer and more inclusive country. It was established with hugely ambitious and important goals – to create a safety net and financial access to healthcare for 10million families; to provide scholarships for more than five million students and livelihood opportunities for 3.8 million families; and to create financial and digital inclusion for seven million individuals.

Under Dr Nishtar’s inspirational leadership and unwavering integrity, the programme was developed and implemented at a remarkable pace. By focusing on collaboration and consultation, she inspired support. And by focusing on digital tools and solid data, she built trust. Dr Nishtar understands not just the importance of good governance but also how to put it into practice.

Just as Ehsaas was picking up real momentum, Covid-19 struck around the world. The virus is an unprecedented challenge everywhere and a huge threat to the fight against poverty. In Pakistan, this meant that an estimated three million people associated with the industrial and services sectors were at risk of losing their jobs and the crisis could push an additional 20 million people below the poverty line.

The government responded quickly and effectively under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan by making funds available to provide immediate relief to the poorest people in Pakistan.

From the outset, the prime minister was clear that protecting the most vulnerable was his top priority. Dr Nishtar and the Ehsaas team pivoted and refocused and the Ehsaas Emergency Cash (ECC) programme was designed and rolled out within weeks. It has since become the largest cash handout in the country’s history, directly or indirectly benefiting up to 100 million people.

This successful and rapid implementation would not have been possible without Dr Nishtar’s structural reforms and the newly established systems and digital infrastructure developed under Ehsaas in 2019.

Although 2020 has been a hugely challenging year and there is still much to do, much has already been achieved. Ehsaas is beginning to work and the ECC in particular has been a lifeline for many millions. Ehsaas also clearly demonstrates the importance of good governance, prioritising performance over patronage, using digital technology and building resilient systems to deliver and measure results. Its effectiveness has been appreciated at local level and across all the provinces

The foundations laid in the first year of Ehsaas can help build real institutional change and the programme has the potential to become a globally leading example of how to tackle poverty. Its use of digital technology has lessons for the government in general. While it is still in its early days, it is already possible to suggest that Ehsaas will lead the way into the future as Pakistan builds back better.

The writer is founder and chairman of Delivery Associates and author of ‘How to Run a Government’.

Read the full report by Delivery Associates here: /ehsaasreview