A Visionary’s National Outreach Program
C. Naseer Ahmad
Rarely does one meet a person with such a stature that he is woken up at 4am in a Washington Hotel to be offered the job of Governor of Punjab. Syed Babar Ali, veteran Pakistani business leader and the Founder of Lahore University of Management Sciences, share some memories during dinner at the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Restaurant. “All 180 million cannot be extremists”, I recall him saying. Then he went on to describe the educational programs at LUMS. Quite opposite to the malaise that afflicts his country, a sense of pride as well as optimism –– permeated through his sentences, as the famous Chef Susan Delbert gently asked the honored guest about his dining experience.
The National Outreach Program (NOP) took center stage in our conversation. Through this program, LUMS provides a ladder built on fairness and merit that lifts deserving students - children of the gardeners, rickshaw stand operators, and illiterate parents doing menial jobs - from poverty and provide opportunities that they otherwise could not even dream about. This program is a systematic method – in an otherwise disorganized and chaotic society – that works through a large number of schools to identify candidates who are selected in a merit based competition to receive free college education.
Over a quarter century of pursuing excellence in education has made LUMS a sought after place; a glimpse of which can be viewed via the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCvijJdXL1I Based on this record of accomplishment, Pakistani employers are eager to hire LUMS graduates. So NOP students are able to achieve a comfortable living that would otherwise beyond their reach.
Over the years, hundreds of NOP graduates achieved stellar success; eight won Fulbright scholarships. NOP graduate Yasir Khan wrote to me: "the decision to move to LUMS was crucial in my life". He works as an In-Country Economist at Pakistan office of International Growth Centre (IGC). IGC is a research center jointly run by London School of Economics and Oxford University – with a mandate to undertake and promote research on policies and ideas that will promote growth. Before returning to Pakistan, Yasir Khan studied at the National University of Singapore and Columbia University, New York.
Karrar Hussain Jaffar is another NOP success story who escaped poverty and journeyed from a small town in Balochistan to Harvard University. “My childhood friends, with whom I spent my youth playing cricket, drive suzukis and rickshaws in Quetta for a living, while I am a PhD student in the US,” Karrar was quoted in a newspaper article.
To succeed in his goals, NOP needs associates and friends willing to fund NOP and then employers willing to accept the graduates. Syed Babar Ali appears to have done the homework and NOP appears to meets its objectives.
Not resting past laurels, LUMS and Syed Babar Ali have established the Abdus Salam Chair - through they seek to pay lasting tribute to Dr. Abdus Salam, an outstanding scientist and a great scholar who always believed in excellence.
As Syed Babar Ali was talking, it occurred to me that I had actually met the person who took the job to be the Governor of Punjab in the Durbar Room at the Governor’s House Lahore. I remembered that participating in the meeting were leading industrialists in Lahore whom the Governor – excited after his trip from China – had called to discuss how to jump start economic activity. Then I recalled the litany of problems these industrialists were conveying to the Governor were the problem Syed Babar Ali had been keenly focusing on all along.
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