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Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz

Posted: August 24, 2010 02:20 PM

My friends in Pakistan are sending me notes describing the almost unimaginable devastation wrought by weeks of flooding that have left an area the size of Austria, Belgium and Switzerland combined under water, 20 million people homeless, killed more than 1,500 individuals, and destroyed more than a $1 billion in agricultural crops. Their photographs capture anguish, fear and loss: an exhausted mother huddled with her children held close on a muddy roadside, a tiny child sitting on his father's shoulders as he stumbles through neck-high water, bridges crippled and broken, aerial shots of entire villages seemingly floating away.

Many Pakistanis are doing what they can to bring relief to their fellow citizens, loading trucks of provisions, opening their homes to people who've lost theirs, giving and raising money where they can. Their pleas for support end with a reminder that things will get worse before they get better.

In the U.S., friends ask what they can do. "It is too overwhelming," they say. "Where do you even begin?" Others fear this is the moment for the Taliban and other terrorist groups to gain strength, for in some areas these groups are seemingly more effective than international NGO's or the Pakistani government. Some fear corruption will make things worse.

This is not the moment for public discussions about the effectiveness of international assistance, corruption, politics or even terrorism. All of that matters. My organization, Acumen Fund, has worked in Pakistan for nearly a decade, bringing forth a new approach to aid, one that does not depend on hand-outs but instead uses patient capital to build sustainable companies serving the poor. We look to the long-term for change and we envision a freer Pakistan where all human beings have the dignity of choice.

But today, the country is in crisis. Pakistan needs all of us to stand beside her with extended arms, expecting nothing in return. Pakistan needs us to give generously, to send a message of caring, of hope, of love. Pakistan needs our action urgently.

I think of Maryam, a little girl I met after the earthquake in northern Pakistan. She couldn't have been more beautiful: soft brown eyes accentuated with a diaphanous green veil that hung loosely over her black hair. She was about nine years old and had constructed a little house for her dolls right next to the emergency shelter her father had built for the family after they lost theirs to the shaking mountains. I reflected on Maryam's creativity and drive long after our short meeting; and today I wonder whether her family has lost their home again -- and everything with it. I wonder if the same has happened to Mohammed, a poor farmer I met in Punjab who, though illiterate, could beautifully articulate the economics of his one-acre farm. I wonder about so many people who extended themselves to give me a meal or a cup of tea for the simple reason that I was a guest -- for guests are considered as gifts in Pakistan. What has happened to their lives? What will happen in the future?

This is a time of enormous change for Pakistan. The country has a democratically elected government, an outspoken media, evidence of civic action like the lawyers' movement across the country. With these floods, we're also seeing exhausted farmers rising up against a feudal system that has let them down. Yet, these also are not reasons for our support: Pakistan needs our help because its people are suffering. Because we are all brothers and sisters. Because our shared dignity rests on how we treat our fellow human beings.

Once the waters have receded and the rebuilding begins, we can go back to our focus on patient capital and sustainability, on fighting corruption and political action and inaction. Today, my plea is for all of us to give, and to give generously to a people in dire need of the world's help and attention.

Reputable organizations doing the work on the ground include:

Mahvash And Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation

Established in 2003, the Mahvash and Jahangir Siddiqui Foundation is a charitable nonprofit organization which is run by several board members and staff on a gratis basis. On llood relief, the foundation has designed a relief process that provides basic food, clean water, and essential medicine. The foundation is in close coordination with local NGOs to directly provide basic relief items such as eight day food rations and clean drinking water. MJSF is currently working in selected areas of Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. MJSF is also an Acumen Fund partner supporting social entrepreneurship in Pakistan since 2005.

Rural Support Programmes Network

The Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN), the largest non-government network of rural development programs in Pakistan, is collecting donations to be provided to flood-affected families through the on-ground network of RSPN's partners.

Kashf Foundation

Kashf Foundation, one of the largest microfinance organizations in Pakistan, will be distributing relief packages to 10,000 households in the most affected areas.

The International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee is responding to the devastating floods in Pakistan. With a robust network of local staff and partners already on the ground, and 30 years of experience working in Pakistan, the IRC is well-positioned to provide shelter, clean water, sanitation, and essential supplies to those who have fled the rising waters.

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In addition, Acumen Fund has launched a forum for people to offer perspective on the ground in Pakistan, to show support and to share opportunities to help these and other organizations working on relief efforts.