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Rising poverty: the need for a multi-pronged approach

Rising poverty: need of multi-pronged approach

Interview with Syed Kashif Rafi — Chief Strategy Officer and Managing Partner at Tarbiyat 

PAGE: Tell me something about yourself, please:

Syed Kashif Rafi: For the past two decades, I’ve built a diverse career, holding various leadership positions, including Registrar and Director of International Linkages & Opportunities at ILMA University, Chief of Strategy & Marketing, Rapido, and Chief Strategy Officer & Managing Partner at Tarbiyat. This versatility has allowed me to contribute across academia, marketing, personal branding, entrepreneurship, and business strategy.

I joined as Advisor, Harvard Business Review Advisory Council. Moreover, was selected as a Judge for the prestigious International Business Awards hosted by The Stevie Awards. I have been invited to participate in prestigious events such as Vizathon2021, Education Policython, Policy for People & Harvard University, Hack+Policy, Make School, and Grammarly, further cementing my status as a thought leader and industry expert. 

My commitment to sharing knowledge extends beyond the classroom. I’ve spoken at over 200 conferences and events, captivating audiences with my expertise. This dedication to continuous learning and development is further reflected in my memberships in renowned organisations and ongoing pursuit of certifications. Beyond professional pursuits, I’m deeply passionate about social impact.

For over 17 years, I’ve actively contributed to various initiatives with Rotary International, applying my diverse skillset to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Currently serving as Assistant Rotary Public Image Coordinator Zone 1B (Pakistan-Indonesia-Bangladesh). It’s this dedication to continuous learning, professional excellence, and social responsibility that drives me to make a lasting impact on the world.

PAGE: Do you agree with the claim that nearly 40% of Pakistan’s population lives below the poverty line? Dilate on it please:

Syed Kashif Rafi: Pakistan faces a significant challenge with nearly 40% of its population living in poverty. This complex issue stems from a combination of various factors which have been underscored at various government levels, including:

Inadequate social safety grids: Existing programmes may not effectively reach or support vulnerable populations.

High unemployment: Limited job opportunities leave many struggling to meet basic needs.

Unequal distribution of resources: Wealth and opportunities are not evenly distributed, leading to disparities between different segments of society.

Rural areas are particularly susceptible, often lacking:

Basic infrastructure: Poor roads, limited access to electricity, and inadequate communication networks hinder development.

Quality education: Limited educational opportunities can restrict upward mobility and perpetuate poverty cycles. Furthermore, gender inequality plays a significant role.

Limited access to education and employment for women: This restricts their earning potential and can trap families in poverty.

To address this multifaceted issue, a multi-pronged approach is crucial. 

Focus on sustainable economic growth: This can create new jobs and improve living standards.

Invest in education for all: Equip individuals with the skills needed to participate in the modern economy.

Improve access to healthcare: Ensure everyone has access to quality healthcare services to prevent illness and promote well-being.

Develop targeted policies for job creation through vocational training and industry expansion including new industries: Generate long-term employment opportunities, particularly in underserved areas.

By implementing these comprehensive solutions, we can break the cycle of poverty, empower individuals, and build a more equitable and prosperous future for Pakistan.

PAGE: About 95 million Pakistanis now live in poverty according to World Bank. What steps must be taken in this regard?

Syed Kashif Rafi: The World Bank’s report of 95 million Pakistanis living in poverty is a stark reminder of the immense human struggle within the country. It’s a number that weighs heavily on any analyst’s heart. Here’s what we, as socioeconomic specialists, can do:

Invest in the future: Education, particularly vocational training, is a critical lifeline. Equipping people with marketable skills directly translates to better job prospects and a brighter future for families. Imagine the ripple effect – a single parent, newly skilled, can lift not just themselves, but their entire household out of poverty.

Bridge the gap: Social safety nets need a critical review. Are the most vulnerable truly being reached? We need innovative solutions to ensure essential support reaches those who need it most. This isn’t just about handouts; it’s about providing a temporary bridge for people to get back on their feet with dignity.

Healthcare as a right, not a privilege: Access to quality healthcare is fundamental. Imagine a father, the breadwinner, struck down by illness. Without proper care, his entire family could be plunged deeper into poverty. Investing in healthcare strengthens the foundation of society, ensuring everyone has a fighting chance.

These are just a few steps. Eradicating poverty is a long-term battle, but with well-designed strategies and a touch of human compassion, we can turn the tide. It’s not just about statistics – it’s about people. We have the power to rewrite their stories, one opportunity at a time.

PAGE: Low human development is one of the primary concerns in Pakistan leading to a spike in poverty. What is your perspective?

Syed Kashif Rafi: The issue of low human development in Pakistan deeply concerns me. It’s not just about the statistics (although trailing behind regional peers in the Human Development Index is certainly not ideal). It’s about the real human cost, the individuals and families trapped in a cycle of poverty with limited opportunities.

One critical factor contributing to this cycle is inadequate access to quality education. Imagine a young girl in a rural village dreaming of becoming a doctor, but with limited resources and few schools nearby, her aspirations seem distant. This lack of access to education not only stifles individual potential but also hinders the nation’s overall economic growth.

A comprehensive approach is crucial to address this complex issue. We need to invest in healthcare, ensuring everyone has access to basic health services and preventive measures. Healthy individuals are more productive, contributing to a stronger workforce. Education initiatives must be designed to reach underserved communities, equipping them with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the modern world. Skill development programmes can empower individuals to find decent jobs, breaking the cycle of poverty and building a brighter future for themselves and their families.

Addressing low human development is not just about economic statistics; it’s about investing in human potential with empathy and a commitment to building a more just and equitable society. By prioritising these areas and working collaboratively, we can unlock the potential of millions of Pakistanis, paving the way for a more prosperous and sustainable future for all.

PAGE: Poverty is globally acknowledged as a curse due to its destructive potential for societies. What is your standpoint?

Syed Kashif Rafi: My position is consistent with the generally accepted belief that poverty is a scourge that has serious and detrimental effects on society. Poverty impedes not just the personal growth and well-being of individuals but also the general progress and stability of societies. It prolongs a cycle of impoverishment, increases social inequality, and limits access to healthcare and education. In addition to being morally right, addressing poverty is a crucial first step in creating inclusive and resilient communities. Pakistan has been at the receiving end of many political turmoil’s both internally and externally and the terrorism in Pakistan has also created steep hurdles for government to battle poverty coupled with socioeconomic challenges has brought down the best-laid plans.

World Bank’s report on Pakistan’s rising poverty deeply concerns me. The 5-percentage point increase in just one year (from 34.2% to 39.4%) paints a stark picture of the multifaceted crisis unfolding in the country. This surge is a confluence of multiple shocks.

A difficult macroeconomic environment: A contracting GDP signifies a shrinking national economy, leaving fewer resources to redistribute and hindering job creation.

Record-high food and energy prices: Imagine a family struggling to afford basic necessities like food and fuel. Such price hikes can push even those teetering on the edge into deeper poverty.

The devastating 2022 floods: This natural disaster inflicted widespread damage, displacing families and disrupting livelihoods. In the absence of robust support systems, such events can have a long-lasting impact on people’s ability to earn and survive.

While the government’s efforts through the Benazir Income Support Programme are commendable, they proved insufficient. Even with increased funding and beneficiaries, the economic shocks were too significant to fully shield the vulnerable population. Sadly, the number of individuals living in poverty has swelled by 12.5 million in just one year. This translates to millions of families facing the daily struggle to meet basic needs. This human cost demands immediate and concerted action.

Through strategic policies, international cooperation, and sustainable development goals, poverty eradication may be prioritised, and together we can fight to create a world where everyone can live a life of dignity and fulfillment.

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