Comparing Grameen with non-interest Akhuwat

Dr. Amjad Saqib’s visit to Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations in New York reminds me of my own visit to this office during the early days of the current year but at that time I could not meet Ambassador Dr. Maleeha Lodhi as she had come to Pakistan.

But the hospitality shown by chief of the Public Relations in our Mission Masood Anwar was remarkable.

As for Dr. Amjad Saqib’s visit, it made me proud like every Pakistani because during this visit the social and humanitarian services of his marvelous welfare organization ‘Akhuwat’ were acknowledged and appreciated by Pakistani American Community Excellence (PACE) which comprises many enlightened souls.

My own friends and relatives in the United States say that if the high profile PACE has recognized the humanitarian services of Akhuwat it is because of the iconoclastic concept given by Dr. Amjad Saqib for poverty alleviation side by side with the restoration of honour and grace of the downtrodden through a mechanism that finds no parallel in the modern system of banking, finance and poverty alleviation all over the world.

One such organization that shot into limelight in the world and earned Nobel Prize for being the ‘bank of the poor’ and ‘one of the best micro-financing setup’ was Grameen Bank of Bangladesh founded by Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. It revolutionized the system of poverty alleviation as acknowledged throughout the world. But let us wait for a minute and compare Grameen with Akhuwat not on imaginary basis but on the basis of solid data.

Leaving other points of comparison aside for the time being, the main comparison ought to be drawn between the interest-based and non-interest micro-financing and lending to the poor. Dr Amjad Saqib himself told me that when he met Professor Yunus during one of his foreign visits, the latter asked with surprise as to “how does Akhuwat manage to disburse totally interest-free loans to hundreds of thousands of people whereas Grameen was charging interest though nominal (I don’t vividly remember the percentage; it was some way between two and three per cent)”. And moreover, perhaps nowhere in the world, loans worth billions are disbursed without interest.

The reply given by Dr. Amjad Saqib was different from the ordinary explanations and may have come as a surprise to the masters of profit and loss systems. The reply was that Allah directly helps the people engaged in sincere efforts for poverty alleviation. And, as far as my own information goes, hundreds of thousands of poor Pakistanis living below the poverty line have become ‘Khud-Kafeel’ (self-reliance). I met dozens of such people during a gathering who narrated stories of their miraculous elevation both in terms of self-reliance and restoration of a dignified place in the society courtesy the cooperation of Akhuwat. Interestingly, the return rate of loans is more than 99 per cent. It means that the concept of honesty has also been instilled among large segments of masses.

If a realistic, unbiased comparison is drawn between Grameen and Akhuwat by the world leaders then I don’t think I would be wrong in demanding that a Nobel Prize must be conferred on Akhuwat as well. Big lenders of the world should learn a lesson from Akhuwat but why should they do so? Their interest is profit and money-making, not human welfare.

While concluding I must also write a few words about another welfare organization Punjab Education Endowment Fund (PEEF) which has so far disbursed loans worth billions of rupees to talented students who could never dream of getting education in recognized universities like LUMS since their parents were deprived even of the means to take two-time meals. One such student told me the other day that had PEEF not helped him he would not have been able to study at the university level despite the good marks that he had secured in higher secondary examination.