Participants at the Academic SeminarThe seminar brought together participants from around the globe to discuss the underlying causes of poverty as well as current and future models for poverty reduction. It reminded participants of the multidimensional nature of poverty and proposed a shift in the definition of poverty, expanding its scope from a narrow measurement that exclusively addresses income to a definition that includes deprivation and well-being. This approach can result in comprehensive policy responses that lead to more holistic approaches. During this seminar, participants examined ways of using this new approach to analyse various efforts that seek to tackle poverty. Visits to the world’s largest NGO, BRAC’s (Building Resources Across Communities) rural and urban programmes helped participants to conceptualise such interventions in practice.

Following opening remarks by Shiraz Kabani of the IIS, in which he laid out the terrain that the seminar was to cover, the seminar started with a presentation entitled, ‘State of Poverty in the World’ by Professor Syed Hashemi, Director of BRAC Development Institute, Bangladesh. Professor Hashemi identified new pathways for the poor to graduate out of poverty, linking two aspects of development: safety nets and the world of microfinance. This was followed by a presentation by Adil Ahamed from the Knowledge Management Office at the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance.He highlighted the range of microfinance products on offer, including microcredit, savings, micro-insurance and socially-oriented services such as education, housing and health loans, which are in line with the multi-dimensional approach to poverty alleviation.

A range of local and international speakers followed over the next two days, including Professor Sobhan, Chairman, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh; Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy, Quaid-i-Azam University, Pakistan; Dr Aziz Esmail, Governor, The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London; Dr Fariyal Ross-Sheriff, Howard University, USA; Dr Parveen Hasanali, Guildford College, USA; Mr Azim Manji, CEO, Shiree, Bangladesh; Mr Hanif Virani, an IIS alumnus and former Director of AKDN’s Madrasa Programme in East Africa, and Dr Martin Greeley, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK. Speakers provided theoretical frameworks and indicators through which participants could discuss the issue of poverty and identify its root causes and manifestations.

Members of the development sector provided examples of projects which had proved successful in tackling the various dimensions of poverty and aim to help the poor graduate out of ultra-poverty. Professor Hoodbhoy presented a very interesting perspective on the role of education in influencing the national psyche and poverty alleviation in Pakistan. He also outlined how other aspects of society, such as good governance and a reduction of corruption, also have a direct bearing on efforts to address poverty.

Site visit with alumniOne of the highlights of the seminar was the presence of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder and Chairperson of BRAC. In his presentation, he shared with participants the origins and evolution of BRAC and his personal reflections on some of the challenges the organisation had encountered during its initial years of growth. A field visit to BRAC’s ‘Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction’ – a programme for the ultra-poor – was organised on the final day of the seminar. Participants were able to engage with BRAC’s beneficiaries and learn about their experiences first-hand.

A unique feature of the seminar was the representation of poverty through art. Participants visited the Bengal Gallery, Dhaka, where the work of a Bangladeshi artist, Shahabuddin Ahmed, captured their attention. His paintings depict Bangladesh’s Liberation War of 1971, the struggle for freedom, and human resilience against oppression. In his work, he utilises strong, forceful, fearless figures. Amidst this colourful and powerful setting, Professor Firdous Azim from BRAC University discussed artists’ political and social voice in presenting the plight of the common people, particularly during the Liberation War. She also talked about the inspiring work of another Bangladeshi artist, Zainul Abedin, who was moved by the man-made Bengal famine of 1943.

The AKDN’s Human Resources Director, Luis Olivares was present for the duration of the seminar. This provided an excellent networking opportunity, enabling IIS alumni to find out more about the current and emerging human resource needs of the AKDN.

Children from a BRAC schoolOverall, the three-day seminar was an opportunity for participants to see and experience poverty through presentations, art, and actual participation in village committee meetings at a BRAC village. It provided a platform for networking and future sharing of resources and ideas.