I have just returned from another really exciting visit to Pakistan, where yet again I was reminded how lucky I am to have this job.
The highlight of the visit was a personal audience we were granted with the President of Pakistan, His Excellency Arif Alvi.
The President was interested in finding out more about the British Asian Trust and, especially, our work on mental health.
This is an issue of great importance to him and he was delighted to hear more about our programme and to discuss ways in which he, and the Government, can offer support.
Earlier in the week we had organised what proved to be an excellent mental health event in partnership with the Deputy British High Commission in Karachi. More than 70 people from hugely diverse backgrounds attended, including our amazing ambassadors the actress Sanam Sayed and Hajra Khan, Captain of the Pakistan Women’s national football team. We were also delighted that colleagues from the CareTech Foundation, who provide substantial support to this programme, were able to join us. There was a fascinating panel discussion and many great contributions and suggestions for the future. There is real momentum happening now on mental health. We have always said we want to transform the mental health situation in Pakistan, and I am more confident than ever that this is what we will achieve.
The best part of any overseas trip for me is being able to see our programmes first-hand. This is ultimately why the British Asian Trust exists – to run great programmes that are changing people’s lives for the better. During the week I spent time with two of our mental health partners, IRD and Sehat Kahani. Both are brilliant organisations led by truly inspiring women and it is a great privilege for our organisation to be able to work with them.
One of our most innovative programmes in Pakistan is our Urban Youth programme, supported by Citi Foundation. This is about supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to learn how to set up or develop their own businesses. I was able to spend time with our partners Lahore University of Management and Sciences (LUMS) and Karachi School of Business & Leadership. I observed a cohort of students learning about marketing and then also spent time with some of the young people from the last group of graduates who have set up their own businesses. It was absolutely incredible to meet a young woman who had an idea for a business in September to train private companies in first aid. Since then she has gained the right skills to set up and run her business successfully and is already employing a number of people!
Despite my best efforts to keep it secret (by only mentioning it a few times on social media), friends and colleagues in Pakistan found out that I celebrated my birthday whilst in Karachi! Fortunately, there were plenty of people to share the three birthday cakes I ended up with! And enjoying my birthday with colleagues from our partner Seed Ventures on a bus safari around the best parts of Karachi, is an experience I will treasure forever!
During the week we had an excellent meeting of our Pakistan Advisory Council. This was hosted by Nadeem Lodhi from Citibank who also, very kindly together with his wife Shahbano, hosted a large reception and dinner in honour of the British Asian Trust, introducing us to a great number of successful and influential people.
Another real highlight of the week was being able to spend quality time with a number of new people in the British High Commission, the Deputy High Commission in Karachi, DFID and the British Council. There is a hugely impressive team of people now in place representing the UK in Pakistan. They are full of energy, enthusiasm and ideas and I am really looking forward to the British Asian Trust working closely with them over the coming years.
The next exciting step for us in Pakistan is to build further capacity in our local team to enable us to really maximise the opportunities and potential we now enjoy. I look forward to sharing further developments as we move forward to a fruitful 2020.
Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive, the British Asian Trust.