“An Equal society for all, from Bihar to Pakistan”
Fighting for the oppressed in a society that is bound by archaic rules and traditions is a cause that fits into every society. From first world countries to developing nations it is a fact that there will always be disparities in the way society treats its members. Dr.Rakhshinda Perveen is a social entrepreneur who has dedicated her life to ensuring that these facts are consigned to the past where they belong.
Her work in Pakistan has existed under many guises with the underlying thread of empowerment and equal rights. Rakhshinda introduces her latest efforts in the social crusade that she fights saying “creativeangerbyrakhshi.com is a virtual space based social enterprise delivering actual intellectual and commercial products. She (officially my company is a female) operates from Islamabad which is the capital of Pakistan.”
She was trained as a doctor and could have chosen a life of ease and comfort but instead chose to help her fellow human beings. Rakhshinda explained the events in her own life that made her take up this vocation saying “I am known in the development sector of Pakistan as Dr.Rakhshinda Perveen. My friends and family call me Rakhshi.”
“I am a physician turned civic entrepreneur. How did it happen? It’s a long story. But very briefly, a set of professional circumstances (read injustices in the public sector that is almost normative in public sectors of all developing countries) and personal situation (read violence in the institution of marriage) I gave up my clinical life and landed in the world of public Health at the age of 26 as a single mother (now I am 41).”
“My first public health assignment was with PSI (population services international-DC) that started working in Pakistan in 1995 as Social Marketing. I did the pilot project in twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi besides launching the project in Lahore, Multan & Peshawar. Then I trained 1000’s of medical doctors and recognized for the first time the gaps and discriminations in our medical curriculum and health system inherited from the British Raj and till to date riddled with contrasts and conflicts.”
“Anyways, since social marketing was then operating in urban areas and I wanted to reach the 70% of rural population of Pakistan I changed my job and in the mid of 1996 I joined a national trust on behalf of UNFPA to facilitate funding and capacity building of NGOs associated with the issues of population. That opportunity enabled me to travel across the country and witness the deficiencies of non profits and experience the negative perceptions about NGOs among the masses.”
After emerging somewhat jaded from her experiences Rakhshinda decided that since an unbiased organization free of prejudices did not exist, she would create one. She recalls her initial days of entrepreneurship saying “That was the time when I started weaving the dream of a dream organization, beautiful like a fairy with a magical wand and doing transformative not ceremonial changes in my country-that will make all poor rich, that will stop all rich from the vulgar display of wealth, that will stop children from dying from diarrhea and women from childbirth (these 2 are most indecent causes of death-one should die for a kind cause or when really really hurt in love or when Divine/Aishwar/Allah/God who so ever is there or whatsoever is her/his official title sends a special messenger)) ok, here I stop and coming back to normal world where rational not passion is entertained I would tell you what followed next?”
“Did I tell you that in 1995 I was also selected as the anchor for live breakfast shows by the state owned TV? Well that also happened. 4 anchors 2 boys and 2 girls were selected out of 400. That opportunity also gave me another chance. I also became the first woman in Pakistan to host a live current affairs show from PTV.”
“I conceptualized and shared the idea of my dream organization with some movers and shakers in the country. Some were just hijacked, some were just mismanaged and others were replicated in bits and pieces.”
“When I came to Pakistan in 1998 during Christmas holidays for a research dissertation, I was asked to join an organization in the non profit sector as its founder/Executive Director. I accepted the offer and when I returned to Pakistan in 1999 I joined that organization. 10 years I worked for that non profit not 9-5 but 24/7 under most extraordinary circumstances. This year I opted to materialize my exit from that organization (that was close to my dream but not exactly the one). The world knows it as SACHET Pakistan.”
“My current work or love is creativeangerbyrakhshi a social enterprise that I conceptualized in 2003 but launched in practical terms in November 2009.”
A visit to the “Sachet” website reveals a mission statement that is in conjunction with Rakhshinda’s. The site states “We strive in partnership with community, public & civic society organization, to develop a society based on three core values of sustainable human development: self esteem, freedom of choice and tolerance; a society where all have equal access to opportunities and justice irrespective of gender, color, race and status.”
Rakhshinda recalls her days of working for Sachet with pride saying “Since practically I co-founded Sachet and I was the elected vice president as well I was not drawing the salary of a CEO/ed. So to meet my ends I was also engaged in consultancy work as well without affecting the work of and for sachet. I did several consultancies in the last 10 years but the one that is most valuable to me was the one in which I was appointed as gender advisor to south Asia by CIDA during 2002-2003.”
Rakhshinda draws inspiration from a number of figures and sources to keep herself motivated. She says “Anyone who has touched life with empathy has been and can become my inspiration. On a conscious level I have been inspired by Ashoka (it`s a co incidence that at one point in life I was selected as an Ashoka fellow in 2005 –the induction ceremony was held in Bangalore in 2006 that I could not attend because of reasons beyond my control), may Sufi poets, economists with human lens like Mahbub ul Haq, Amartya Sen and Yunus. Arudhati Roy at times hits me. I like the poetry of Kamla Das, Maya Angelou, Kishwer Naheed, Amarta Pritam,Sahir Ludhyanvi,Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib in connection with my work.”
Rakhshinda has adopted many approaches to enlighten others and get her agenda recognized by all. She states “services (pl. see my site) can be broadly categorized into intellectual products and action products.”
“Intellectual products include concept notes, strategies and think pieces on different issues of gender inequity.”
“Action products (disclaimer: intellect included) include video documentaries, training manuals and non conformist thoughts packaged as an artwork on a stone or broken cup from my kitchen or pottery.”
Her desire to achieve something worthwhile on her own was fuelled by many reasons. Rakhshinda explains how her model differs from others who have the same purposes saying “My “her” Story begins with me. I cannot claim this or that model. It’s all about people. I am an idea person. What makes me or any other civic entrepreneur different from a poet or thinker is the ability to translate the ideals into action. But I am non elitist so I this happens at a micro level and this indeed is a challenge. How To Challenge The Elitist Consensus?”
“The way I - as a hands on practitioner of electronic media - combine my medical & clinical knowledge with enthusiasm for social progress, the end result is much different than run of the mill media talk shows or isolated development documentaries.”
The barrage of negativity that Rakhshinda had to conquer in order to fulfill her dreams might have been considered insurmountable by any lesser mortal. She explains what forces were against her saying “I faced age bias (as I started young and used to appear younger than my real age), gender bias, class bias and ethnic bias. Age bias is gone now but I still have to face the challenges created by other biases with patience, diplomacy, courage and adherence to my dream world.”
Rakhshinda believes in giving opportunities and sometimes it has come back to haunt her but she remains true to her principles. She recalls what went awry saying “The gurus told me and keep on reminding me that I made this mistake during my years at SACHET.
I used to hire boys and girls from humble backgrounds and gave them excellent opportunities for training. I deprived myself of many opportunities and invested in developing a team. In a cut throat competitive environment where young people do not have any value system and their seniors are also following none most of the times I used to get shocks in the form of immediate resignations from my newly trained employees who were suddenly hijacked by another NGO or development agency.”
“What can you do? Gurus told me you should have kept them over worked and under paid and should have attended all “international” events yourself. Excuse me, I cannot, maybe because I am not an elitist Begum SAHIBA DOING “SOCIAL WORK”. Second mistake: I did not learn to project my work. Many of my work pieces remained buried under the heavy titles of Executive director and Executive vice President.”
Rakhshinda will not change or compromise her values or beliefs and finds succor in the results that her work has wrought. She says “I can see my contribution in today’s rather open-hearted society where people can openly talk about yesterday’s tabooed issues like sexual and reproductive health issues for women.”
“In the last 16 years, I have accomplishments like pioneering a gender show (Gender watch) in a traditional society and on restrictive state owned media (PTV); in that program – which won PTV’s best programme for the year 200I revived Urdu alternative for gender (Sinf). GW also unpacked Sexual & reproductive health issues in Pakistani context. Besides this I did some pioneering work on Dowry violence in Pakistan- a conveniently forgotten gender issue.”
“Motivation is very subjective, and comes from a variety of sources thus varying from person to person and situation to situation. My faith in the notion that power of intellect prevails over both the glamour of presentations and push of class, keeps me going to take on less glamorous, more tabooed challenges.”
Rakhshinda believes that her goals and dreams will someday be realized. Her ideals and efforts are undoubtedly justified in the lives that she touches. She spoke of the future and what it means for her saying “Future is the blooming of the present. My present is a colorful, dynamic tapestry of dreams; and I plan to keep a hot pursuit of my dreams alive.”
“Quantitatively -Creativeangerbyrakhshi SHOULD be providing strategic assistance to 1,000 genuine non profits from remote areas of Pakistan (currently there are 25).
Survivors Win network to support dowry violence survivors should be seen as the first and foremost network on this issue. South Asian networks (say from India, Nepal ,Bangladesh & south Asian communities outside SA) should be receiving intellectual support(currently this network has 500 members in Pakistan and 15 organizations from private and non profit sector has adopted this cause)Sinf Surat-the think channel to promote policy dialogues on hidden faces of gender inequity should be sustained
(Currently my first policy idea gender and taxation has caught the attention of the relevant quarters)”
The fortitude and stamina of one who has chosen to alleviate the sufferings of others is immeasurable as demonstrated by Rakhshinda. Her job may be far from over but we have no doubts that her determination and strength will never tire. Yourstory is honored to know and reveal her story to the world and wishes her success in opening the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings.