Craig Pollard [00:00:03]:
Welcome to a new edition of the Global Radicals podcast series. I'm your host, Craig Pollard. Today's conversation and dose of global fundraising ideas and inspiration is with Dr Syed Muqadas, Director of AMRAN, the Afghan Mobile Reconstruction Association, and co chair of the Afghanistan Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance. Welcome, Syed. Thank you for joining me today from Afghanistan. Can I ask you where you are right now?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:00:32]:
I'm in Kabul and right now I'm talking to you from my home and situation is quite different than what we had in previous years. But right now I'm in my home and let's see, let's discuss how it goes.
Craig Pollard [00:00:48]:
Because one of the last time we talked, maybe two years ago when you were on the fundraising leadership programme, was in 2021, just as the US were withdrawing from Afghanistan. And those were very different circumstances.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:01:12]:
True, true, a true catastrophe. And even me. And I was actually running and I was scared, kind of, because I worked with the international community and at that time we thought as if it is something that they will come after us and they might hurt us or even prosecute us for working with the global communities. And this was a grave situation, not only for me, but everybody who worked with the government and with the international community. So this was a tough situation.
Craig Pollard [00:01:46]:
I remember when that happened. I mean, it's one of many challenges that you've faced in Afghanistan that the whole population is facing in Afghanistan. Can you tell me what happened and what was your sort of response to this? Because I remember you had to take some drastic measures in terms of your safety and security, which obviously came first.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:02:12]:
You see, the moment we didn't realise that the country will collapse in seven days, we actually thought that there will be some time for us to leave the country or at least go to a much more secure place. The day it collapsed, trust me, I was in Kabul City. And the fear, if you could see the fear of the people and the people running and the sadness, you could feel the sadness within the city that's way beyond my words to describe the situation. And I came to my home and when I sit with my family, even the young ones, my niece and my nephew, they were hiding in a room and they were saying, are those people coming to kill us? Because there was a mindset, there was something that it was within the people thinking that it might affect us or hurt us. So we largely kept at home. We didn't go outside for a couple of days and even weeks and months because we didn't know there were extra judicial killings. What happened was that there were so many groups among them, because these people were not one people. There were different groups operating in different parts of the country. So when they united within the capital, we didn't know who was the real group. They also didn't know and they had no control over these groups because these groups were these pocket resistance or pocket groups that were fighting. So it's quite challenging for even for them to centralise these groups or to bring them onto organise them properly to safeguard or secure the because there were so many things that were happening and people were actually feeling it was a very painful situation and you can imagine it has a huge impact on particularly on the children, of course.
Craig Pollard [00:04:04]:
How are your children, your nieces and nephews?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:04:07]:
They are fine, they are fine and you see most of our families have left the country. There were a couple of reasons and one reason would be that for the security for the future, particularly girls are banned from education, we predicted this situation. And thirdly, the economic hardship that is something that we predicted will come because the international community may not work or may not recognise the current government. And it would be quite challenging for people to live and stay in and live a good life. So we predicted something so many of our family left and you can't imagine they have built their homes, places and they spend a lot of money, time and energy to build a house, to build a place and selling every of your single stuff your utensils, your carpet, your bed and everything and then you go and leave the country. Nobody wants to leave a country unless they are compelled to do so. These people run for their life, they run for the future of their children. Other than that the annual GDP for An Abraham was around $800 so people were happy with $800. It's still fine, they don't want to leave the country but when that is gone and when your future is gone their fertility is high it gets difficult. It gets difficult and challenging. So they are fine, they have most of them left.
Craig Pollard [00:05:38]:
Good and you stayed. What's behind that decision? Because you're an international person you're known as an international person with international connections. You stayed and that can't have been an easy decision.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:05:55]:
It's challenging and it's tough because I'm the only son of my family and my family lives in United States except me. I'm living and I'm thinking to stay and deliver. So the thing is that my mom always calls me and she's asking me continuously to leave the country. My father stayed with me at this age my father stayed with me because of my security and they are pushing me to go to United States. I have every of my documents and I once shared with you that I'm planning to leave. But with time I understood that, no, you don't need to leave. Because I had developed just tell you a story. I had developed a way to just a habit to just go outside and see how do people live? How do the different communities of Cobalt live? So I was walking and I met two little girls and they were around age eight and ten, probably, most probably around age and ten. I just asked them a random question because they were collecting waste and they will sell them for ten afghanis, which is around ten pennies or something a day, UK pound. So I was talking to them and I asked them, what did you ate last night to these two girls? Ate ten. I found them very sharp because I realised at this age, children shouldn't be very sharp, but I could understand the pressure and they have been raised in a situation where they have to become smarter at this age. So I asked them, what did you eat earth last night? They said that my father is a bricklayer and he earned around 50 afghani rupees, which is equivalent to 60 penny in dollars or 50 pennies in UK pound. So they said he earned 50 afghanis when he returned home last night. And with that money, we couldn't do anything. But my mom said, let's not eat, all of us, we don't eat tonight and we give this 20 to 30 afghani we spend on our little new burn, because there is nothing for them, for him. So let's spend this 20 to 20 afghani on them. And we slept without food. So then I asked, what did you eat in the breakfast? Just tea, nothing. Green tea is something that's available. So I said, what did you eat in lunchtime yesterday? He said cauliflower. And it was very tasty. So it just moved me. When we bring food to our tables, there are kids that don't want to eat, but there are kids who don't like to eat vegetables, don't like to eat these vegetable, particularly like cauliflower, they don't like it. But for kids like this, they say, oh, it was very tasty for us and I love it. And see, these are the things that you see on day to day basis. So this was something that actually motivated me. And I have joined a group and I will later talk about that which is related to their youths and they have come together to solve the problems of the Afghan. So I'm sitting there, as well as the senior advisor, of how we can actually do and transform the community at least, or model a community at least this is how things go is, yeah.
Craig Pollard [00:09:17]:
How is that work going?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:09:19]:
So that work is actually that what I did when I joined this group was to actually, what I said in that group was in particular was that, see, let's find a way to meet at least the need of the people. This should be our priority, let's strategize and let's organise our work around this situation, around this. So what I suggested is that I develop a term of reference for them quickly. And then I separated and profiled the most professional people in the group and to every group I assigned a leader and then these group are like self working group and they are going to work on different projects or different things. For example, one of the group would be working on how to support the local small enterprises and connect them with the local market so that they could create some kind of market or they could at least be able to sell their products in the local market and that could help them generate funds to do other we assigned a group that how could we support the younger generation, particularly the girls? How can we just channelize or support them to get scholarship and go through education? And there are other members, that group that we are working on the education, on how we can use our existing resources online or anything that we could help to at least keep these girls educated because banning them or banning the half of population will be catastrophic for the country. So this is how it's going currently. It's in its initial stages but we still are working and through that we are also getting small small funds, donations through that because this community has many of the people in this community have left outside from Afghanistan. So they are somehow connecting and donating to these people locally. That's how it is going.
Craig Pollard [00:11:22]:
That was one of my questions is around the diaspora funding. Is that realistically one of your only opportunities to get funding in Afghanistan from Afghanis living overseas?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:11:38]:
So in 2022, if you look at the statistics, the remittance from overseas was around 100 million and by the end of 2022 it grew significantly. It reached to around 700 to 800 million. But one thing we have to understand is that these fundings are not in organised shape. They are coming from individual to individual. They are not coming in a more organised shape so that it could be invested and there should be a return that could benefit everyone. So the money is coming but the problem is or the challenge, it needs to be organised. The second thing is that there are also problems with the funding and coming from outside. When I talk to people outside the country, they have a trust issue with the people so they give it to their relatives or send it to their people. And this is something and more of the people who are here in Afghanistan have likes the accessibility to these diaspora or connection. The second thing is this could be reduced to some kind of partnership or alliances. There are no some kind of partnerships or alliances going on. There is also another challenge with the diaspora funding is that when I talk to these people they target some specific community and they just say that you have to give it to that village, to that person. So that's another way of another problem. But you see, we also have Zakat fundings that are also coming from these diaspora. But that funding. The beauty of the Zakat funding is zakat funding is an obligatory payment by Muslims to even non Muslims. It doesn't include Muslims. It includes Muslim and non Muslim. So the beauty of the Zakat is that you cannot limit it to the individual person or community. That's not how the Zakat pays and the person who is paying understand that.
Craig Pollard [00:13:39]:
And it's now the holy month of Ramadan right now. So when it comes to Zakat, do you see an increase in funding coming to community organisations during this time?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:13:53]:
True, in Ramadan, Zakat is the primary time. Most of the people give Zakat at this time, but you can give it throughout the year. It's not necessary that in particular, you give it in this year. So the global estimate, let me just give you a global estimate, according to the World Bank is around 600 billion US dollar. But the thing is that twelve to $15 billion gets through an organised way, the rest goes through individuals, through people to people, to particular groups. It's not organised. So this is a huge thing. 600 billion can transform annually and it's growing. And only 15 is unauthorised, and only.
Craig Pollard [00:14:38]:
15 is organised and condensed. I guess people from overseas want to support their families who are in Afghanistan. They want to support their extended families, they want to support their community. And those direct funding is their way of doing that.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:15:02]:
True. Zakat can come in a way that maybe that there are people who also supports their own family. But the thing is that there are much richer Muslim countries, there are much richer Muslim people that are doing the large donations. So I was sitting with the Red Crescent and they said that we just received 5 million from Kuwait in funding of Zakat. So this is something that, yes, there are people, but there are also other people. I can give you another example. So when I started approaching to individual donors, right in 2022 before 2021, late 21 and 2022 before that, what we used to do is that we mostly were connected to institutional donors, not to the individual donors. And there was reason why we were doing so. So what I did actually, when I connected with people in US, our family members, I started with my family members. So my family members had developed a community of Muslims, particularly when it comes to Zakat. So they have a huge community. For example, in US, they have 1200 people in one community and 1200 in another community. So how do they raise fund was that they were very good. They had some very good thing. So they used to for example, my family members used to invest $600 on certain food or catering thing. They would open an event and many would come from $600. They would secure a fund of 2000 every month. They were working for one to two days every week in their weekends. Every month. They used to make around $8000 to $9,000 every month. So I'm still getting those funds on average between $5000 to $9,000 from United States alone. So that fund, which is coming in this much amount, is distributed not only within the family members, but outsiders as well. And now I've been recently talking to them that we cannot continue like this, that I could continually pay people and someday maybe these people will say, okay, it's enough for them, let's move to some other people. Because this is a human behaviour, you have to look to behavioural behaviour as well. So now I have been requesting them to send the money and what I will do is that I'll take a particular member of the family, invest in that person, and that person should generate some kind of revenue. And through this youth organisation, what I am planning is to help this person to grow its business, to improve its business. So when the money comes, we will only take ten to 20% of the revenue. Sorry. Of the profit, 80% goes back to the individual. With that 20%, we want to continue supporting others and continue supporting our initiatives.
Craig Pollard [00:18:00]:
So it's sort of a community investment scheme to build up different trades and economic activity within the community. That sounds sort of stimulating that.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:18:12]:
Yeah. Because sustainability is ultimately a challenge for many organisations. So I'm thinking in line, I have many other ideas and we are currently working. So sustainability, how will I make myself sustainable? Because I need to have certain teams and organised teams and I need to continuously support other organisations. So one of the things that came to our mind was to do the investment in community and let them and we don't just train them, we need to mentor them continuously. So there is a separate team sitting to support those initiatives.
Craig Pollard [00:18:47]:
Yeah, I hear lots of complaints about I've done it myself. Complained about how hard fundraising is. And this is me sitting in the UK or here in New Zealand, and it's just I struggle to imagine how hard it is with everything else that's going on, with the insecurity, with the uncertainty, to even think about fundraising. Because in a sort of hierarchy of needs, where does fundraising sit in the hierarchy of needs?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:19:22]:
That's a very good question and I want to start from something different so that I could give you a clear picture of what is going on and then we would come to the specific question. See, Afghanistan had been much stable. Now, in terms of security, it's much stable now because those resistance are not here anymore. And you can see that many bloggers, the video loggers, are coming to Afghanistan and they are freely moving across all the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. So no problems now. There is a peace, but there is a level of uncertainty. And this uncertainty affects the future of Afghanistan in terms of limitation in investment and that further exacerbation because no investor wants to invest in this kind of a scenario or situation where there is peace, but there is uncertainty on the future of Afghanistan. So this further limits or exacerbates the existing economic hardship. So, if you see, Afghanistan had been traditionally an aid driven country, and aid was around $18 billion. Aid was provided annually to Afghanistan and it has been now reduced to one to 1.5 billion US dollar. So 18 times it had been reduced. So you can imagine how you can imagine is that one, it not only affected the job sector, it affected the economic activities, but it affected the mindset of the people. For 1820 years, you are continuously getting funds. There are a lot of funds, there are a lot of job. So you were raised, a generation is raised on that mindset that there is continuously funding, you have jobs, which I call it as a fake thing. In terms of economy, it's not true economy, it's just an aid, it's not an economic thing. So that changed the mindset of the people in terms of thinking only to work under such in the scenario, nobody worked for the economic activity to boost the development sector, to boost the manufacturing sector. Nobody thought because funding 18 billion was much more than much more for Afghans. So that significantly affected the things. Now, please also understand the demographics of Afghanistan. 76% of the population is aged below 25. 76% of the population, some 57% of the population is aged below 18 and some 45% of the population is aged below 15. So if you see that in Afghanistan, it's not that you start working, right? At the school level, at the college level, traditionally the culture is that you finish your university and you start working. Before that, your parents will take care of you, but after you finish your university, you start working. This is how the tradition works here in Afghanistan. So imagine when the 75% to 76% of the population is living below age 25. In that case, when they are living below age 25, you can see 25% of the population lives on the rest of the population. So the 25% of the population actually supports the rest of the 75% population. And where in the 25% population, half of them is women, and currently these women are baned from working. So there is a ten to 15% population supporting the rest of the population. It's quite difficult. Quite difficult and challenging, you see. So at this point of time, when I come to your fundraising question, see, for the 10% of the population, the priority becomes that they should meet their basic needs rather than thinking or changing on transforming the community or bringing the projects that will transform improve the community. So that's quite of a challenge, you see, I just give you example of those two small girls. Even if I talk to them about nutrition, they don't care they said, give you some basic food. So fundraising is difficultly, a challenging endeavour. But still, despite these challenges, there are individuals, there are organisations, there are people in this country that are still working and supporting the people are promoting the development and making positive change in the country. So that's how it is going on at the moment.
Craig Pollard [00:24:05]:
So in terms of hunger, I mean, how many people within Afghanistan are hungry?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:24:12]:
You see the challenges have grown up significantly. You know that the country was significantly added by the international communities and the donors and post COVID-19 that has also devastated the economy in Afghanistan. And the war within Afghanistan have also affected the economy of Afghanistan. So right before the COVID the situation was that 50% of the Afghan population was below the poverty line. But now it has raised to 97%.
Craig Pollard [00:24:45]:
According to the report by UNDP, 97% of Afghans live below the global poverty line.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:24:53]:
Yeah, the global poverty line.
Craig Pollard [00:24:54]:
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:24:55]:
That's pretty shocking. And even if in Kabul, what they have managed to do is that you won't see any beggar. Hardly see any beggar. That is because the government has if they see anybody who is begging, they will just tell him, Go home. They won't allow them to walk in the streets. But that is huge. If you talk to these people, if you go to see their places, they don't have a thing to eat at night. So this is how you define people who are living below the poverty line, so they don't have anything to eat at night. That's how things are moving and it's difficult.
Craig Pollard [00:25:31]:
How does Afghanistan move forward in the face of such extraordinary challenge? How do you stay motivated? How do you focus? What future do you focus on that keeps you motivated and keeps you working?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:25:45]:
You see, Craig, there are a lot of problems here in this country. Not from the perspective that an organisation or an individual work, but if I look at the micro level, the government has set up a different political landscape here. They have a completely different way of how to deal with the political, with the economy, dealing with international communities. So that has put us in a lot of challenges. I would say that it's not very easy, because right from the fall of the Republic government, what happened was that I had worked with the international community. It was very difficult for me, actually, to keep myself open. I mean, I couldn't walk outside because for the fear of prosecution, because they didn't recognise those people who were working with the international community, who were part of the international efforts. They were not recognising these people. So we were actually running for our life. Yeah.
Craig Pollard [00:26:51]:
And I remember because you had to delete all of your social media profiles, you had to wipe your hard drives. Where did you go during that period?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:27:05]:
I left to suburb area. So because I didn't live in capital of Kabul City for a while, I chose to live in a suburb, in a village type of setting and where I feel that it's much secure when you live among them. So I left to a village and I was living there. So living in such a place is a bit challenging for me. You see, the working condition here is that it has been further affected by the global relationship with the Taliban. The government is not yet recognised, the foreign reserve is freezed, the country is sanctioned, there is no economic activity and investment, there's no development work, I would say. So the country currently relies on the humanitarian efforts and that is only in the food security and health sector. There's nothing more that is going on currently. So how people are surviving is that they had some money in their banks and they are just taking those money out and are selling their assets to sustain life. So it's very difficult personally for me, you see, if I say the mindset of how I manage in such a situation and how do we start and working in such a scenario is quite challenging. You see, how I define is that there is an individual mindset or there is somebody who wants to stand in the face of problems and the face of challenges and he wants to make work out in this kind of a scenario. But there is the other side, which I call as the mindset of a society. So if you are an independent variable and you want to change the variable of the societies, that's quite difficult and it's time consuming. It takes lot of time and effort to transform a society with such a mindset, where 3% of the population have at least some money and 97% have nothing. So given in that scenario where people want to meet their basic needs, I mean, they are looking for their basic needs. So how can you actually work with them to transform? I've been engaged in talking to people and you see, there was a young guy who was knocking. He was not knocking actually at my door. But I left early in the morning at 07:00 and he was standing at my place. He was just collecting those litters. And I talked to him why are you standing so early in front of my home? He said that I didn't go to home at night. I said, why? What happened? I said you see that traditionally men work in Afghan society. Women doesn't work, but they are allowed to work. Afghanistan society doesn't stop women not to work. I said Why didn't you go to home? He said that, you see, yesterday my wife told me that bring some food to the kids. And I said okay, I'll bring. But yesterday I couldn't make even 30 afghanis. That's very little. I couldn't make 30 Afghanis, which is equivalent to maybe 30 pennies. So I had this shame, this discouragement of, how will I face the family? And I slept outside, so I handed over him some money and I said, Go to your family and face them. So this is the situation. And in this kind of situation, and you can see the communities who are living there and if you try to engage them, they just come up to you that, let us meet our basic need first. We can stand with you, we can work with you. It's quite challenging. It's quite challenging. And this is something that you have to be motivated and you have to build some kind of a community around you to work for this greater cause.
Craig Pollard [00:30:51]:
And that's at the root of this, right? You're essentially cut off from resources from the rest of the world and you only have the community to support each other. Is there a really powerful sense of community where you are?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:31:10]:
Craig let's think more from a humanistic side. Even if the community stands with me, you see, if you are targeting a particular community and if you take the same statistics that there are 97% people who are poor and you don't allow girls and women to work outside to contribute into the economic welfare of a family. So the whole burden, the financial burden, lies on the shoulders of a man. So that man would be wandering and running for making their hands meet. It's quite challenging, actually, to talk to these people and to engage with people. But at the same time, I'm not saying that it's impossible being in this tough situation. There are ways to get out of this. At least you can model a community where you can implement certain initiatives that can at least show them that, see, our collective efforts can bring some kind of a change. So there is a hope here and I have my own ways, because necessity is the mother of invention, so I have some ways of how to deal with such a scenario. Such a scenario. But I need some kickstarters, I need some support and I'm looking and forward to it of how I can actually do that.
Craig Pollard [00:32:31]:
Where does your funding come from? Because I know you mentioned your family do fundraisers every week and send you funding. But in the hierarchy of needs, I guess putting your time and effort into fundraising is just not an option. How do you prioritise what to do? And where does funding and the programme delivery sit when you're in these circumstances?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:33:01]:
Craig one thing I want to clear to you that I work in two organisations. One is a local NGO and the other is the Afghanistan Civil Society Alliance. I'm co chairing a civil society alliance for food security and nutrition. So what we do in past that, most of these organisation, local organisations relied on institutional donors because there was no need to go to the individual. It takes much effort than going to institutional donors. So there were so. Many institutional donors. We had these programme units which were looking and securing these funds. And mostly our funds came from USA, GIZ, the UN agencies and other international organisations. But since the fall of the government, these funds have been limited. You see, on one hand, the global situation is changing and the donor's attention has been changing. It's more going towards other countries like Ukraine.
Craig Pollard [00:34:03]:
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:34:04]:
At the same time, the current government is not recognised. At the same time, you can see that the country is not very flexible with the international communities and they don't stand with their values. So it puts the country and the people in much stress. So for me currently, I understand that funding from the family or through other group is not a viable option to carry out my activities. But at this point of time, the local funding is only in the food security and in the health sector. And now, since the security has much improved, most of the organisation implement these projects by themselves. So international organisation have their own human resources to implement these programmes. This has further affected the local organisations. That's how it is now.
Craig Pollard [00:35:02]:
In what ways have the local organisations been affected by this?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:35:06]:
One is that the fund has been reduced. Two, the projects are mostly implemented by the international organisation itself. Three, the government and other agencies are not providing any grants anymore because the government doesn't work in that they have reduced their expenditure because they also have no way to raise funds. Where do the money come from? To them, they don't have any economic activities, so that's another way. How do they raise the taxes is mostly still around $1 billion is coming to Afghanistan annually, so these governments are taking taxes from them and they have some other resources to make around $1 billion, which is not enough for the country. So I have certain ideas on how to diversify through local initiatives and there are ways actually to escape this dependency on the fundings coming from outside the country or coming from the can you share those ideas? Yeah, why not? You see, one of the problem with the traditional early and local organisation is the sustainability of their programmes and projects. And the other problem with the same organisation is that they are tied to the other's strategic objectives. I mean, they get these restrictive funds and they cannot run their own programmes and project. So for me, because for the last one and a half year, I kept very silent due to the security concern personally for myself since I had worked with the US and the other international community. So in such a scenario, what I'm seeing is that this government wants to work. They want to work. Let us be honest. If I am saying one face, let us also look at the other end. The current government wants to work and what I am seeing is that they are giving 2000 metres square land for 500 afghani per month, per year. So per annum, 500 afghani is five pounds. So for five pounds, they are giving you 2000 metre square of agriculture land on a lease of 30 years. So that's a significantly little amount of money. So I'm thinking to get around 500,000 square metre of land, which is a huge place, and I want to launch an initiative where we will actually have develop these nurseries, these gardens, these vegetables and fruit, and we will engage these community members. It could be a source of nutrition for them, but we will also engage the community to take these plants or herds and plant them in their own vicinities, for example, the fruits or the other plants that they want to benefit from that. And at the same time, this agriculture land could provide us as a source of income to sustain our activities. I also want to now behave in a different way for my organisation. I want to establish certain local enterprises, particularly for women who cannot go outside from their home. So through these social enterprises, what they are missing, and what the problem has traditionally had been in funding, is that they used to give these enterprises these funds, but after a few years or a few months, these enterprises were dissolved.
Craig Pollard [00:38:33]:
Is it what, microfinance?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:38:35]:
Yeah. Through microfinance? Yeah. So what I want to do is that I want to do it as an investment and not a loan. So if I'm earning through the agricultural rent, I want to reinvest in the social enterprises on a condition that 70% of the earnings will go to the enterprise, 30% will go back to the organisation. And the organisation in return, will also look over the enterprise in terms of the technical or market linkages or creating profit for them. So the other way that I'm looking forward is to find global alliances and partnership with organisation outside the country for Zakar funding. And at the same time I'm looking to because in most of the programmes I have worked to empower women or the youth of Afghanistan. So I'm looking more on how to connect for online jobs. So I will be looking to connect these people for online jobs and I hope that I will be able to connect with these companies and I hope that I could create the employment opportunities for these people. So in all of these ideas that I'm thinking to have, I will have a diverse or a different way to have these resources for myself, for the.
Craig Pollard [00:40:01]:
Organisation, moving to a much more sort of sustainable model. I guess after becoming so reliant on institutional funding, it makes sense to not be able to trust that in the future. So building more sort of sustainable social enterprise models of funding. What size of funding do you need to do this?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:40:24]:
That's a very good question for 500,000 metre square. Let me just explain you in the Afghanistan measure. So 2000 metre square land is equal to one Jerib. One Jerib is a size of measurement of land. So one Jerib is equal to 2000 metre square.
Craig Pollard [00:40:43]:
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:40:43]:
So I want to have the 500 Jeribs of land. So for this, I know two things actually. One is the technical aspect. I need a technical people who are very versed in the agriculture sector, who could help me or who could help the team here in Afghanistan, in the agriculture sector and help us to benefit more from this land. Initially I think that we don't need much of a lot of these funding, but we had an internal estimation of around $60 to $70,000 initially. We require to actually transform this land into in a sustainable way that could provide the required funds to the organisation. I think that's not that a lot of money.
Craig Pollard [00:41:31]:
And how many people and families, community size would that land serve sustainably?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:41:40]:
I think 500 g rib is pretty a lot of amount of land. And I can tell you that it can support more than 500 to 1000 families. And in the long run, if we give them these required plants and required technical resources, I think they can grow these fruits or these vegetables in their own vicinity as well. Craig, I want to tell you one interesting story about my know in our village. I remember my father used to tell me and I also remember from my very early age, we used to grow these fruits, we used to grow these vegetables and if anybody wants to come and wants to take these fruits, these vegetable, traditionally we never tell them don't take it, take it because you need it. And this had been not only for us, but for the entire communities living in that area, in that province. So that has slowly gone away. Now you cannot touch anybody's fruits or vegetables. I want to revive this whole thing again. You can touch you. If you need, you take it. So I think the project can support more than 700 to 1000 families directly. And if we were able to scale up from the same land, I think it could support the thousands of people in the long run.
Craig Pollard [00:43:10]:
Is there political will there to do something like this from the Taliban administration?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:43:16]:
Obviously, because there is nothing wrong with this kind of a model. I have thought this and adapted it based on considering the political environment and they are giving us these lands. So people mostly are thinking of making profits. But what I'm thinking is to engage the community and create a model to these people, to the current government and to others that see how we can transform a community. And not only you can earn some money to run your own operations, to manage your own salaries, but at the same time you are transforming a whole community. And I can engage these youth for free to work with us, but because they will be benefit sometime, these volunteers. They will be benefiting in one way or the other. And if I'm saying if everything goes well, what will happen in the long run? If everything goes well and I can model it effectively, then I can take the resources of the government, I can take these physical resources, these much bigger machineries, for free. I can show them, see how it has affected the local economy and this is how you can do it to other communities and perhaps we could make a greater change. We just need to show the value, you see? You need just to show the value. So I'm thinking of creating how to create the required value. That's the thing.
Craig Pollard [00:44:38]:
And that's fundamental, right? Yes. Whether it's speaking to a funder, whether it's speaking to any sort of investor, is presenting that impact and value. If you're enjoying this conversation and would like to hear other global perspectives on fundraising and leadership in the nonprofit sector, then please do subscribe using the links in the show notes. If you want to find out more about our work, please do visit our website, fundraisingradicals.com. Now back to the conversation. When you're faced with a target of $60 to $70,000 in the current circumstances you have, what's your first instinct when it comes to fundraising? How will you get this money? Where does your brain go first?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:45:30]:
It's a very good question. And for me, the first thing, 60, 70,000 is a lot of money and it's not very easy to convince people to actually raise these funds. But the first thing that goes into my mind is again to find these donors. So I have to pitch my model or my idea to different people, to different organisations. So I have started it from my family, from my relatives, from my friends. I have pitched this model and little by little, at least something would come and we can make a separate account for that. At the same time, I have also mapped certain donors because this is a recent development. I have also mapped this and I have written to FAO, the head of the FAO in Kabul, Afghanistan that I want to meet him in person and I want to discuss a model with him and want to seek his attention and his technical resources because these people have these technical resources. So for it to happen, the first thing is for me to pitch it just like a businessman, I have to pitch this model. I have to use the team resources, use the power of my team, the influence, the network of my teams to get to know these people. And once I know I have to pitch them and it might take some time to collect this entire $60 to $70,000.
Craig Pollard [00:46:59]:
And you think that the UN. The FAO is probably your most likely funder for this project, and you have the access and you're able to have those conversations directly.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:47:11]:
I'm a member of the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster. The organisation is actually a member. I can meet them easily. I doubt that they would fund me directly because they may have their own restrictions due to these limitations they have within the organisation. But at least they can help me to give me certain ideas and at least help me to mobilise their existing resources, maybe human resources or any other resources to help me capitalise or help me to bring this programme or project to a reality. So it's not more about the money, it's also about the other resources that they have in hand. So of how can I benefit from their existing programmes. So maybe the community that I will start, maybe they have some existing programmes, so I'll be looking forward of how I can use their resources from their existing programmes. So there will be one way, another, that I can use their resources into the projects.
Craig Pollard [00:48:15]:
Your sheer determination is coming through, shining through the fact that you are there and still doing this work. And at what point, because you've mentioned that you may be leaving Afghanistan because of the challenges of the circumstances. Can you tell me a little bit more about that? What's driving that decision and how will you leave and when?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:48:41]:
Craig you see, those thoughts came when I was facing certain challenges in Afghanistan, because twice our office was raided and some of our employees were beaten, some were maligned that we are supporting the insurgency against them, which was not true. We don't have any political affiliations throughout the previous government and even now. But there was one way, the other, that we were not allowed to work. And even at the provincial level, some of our staffs were stopped and they were ridiculed and they were threatened not to work again. So these were the situation when these were the early situation, as I said to you earlier, that, you see, there were so many groups among them and to make them centralise them under one leadership was a difficult job for them. So we don't know exactly who was this group, who were these group, who are these people? So they are now consolidating their power and it's getting more centralised now you are realising that the things are getting stable day by day. So, yes, I thought to leave the country for several reasons, because I felt that I can no longer work because it's a direct threat when somebody attacks or raids your office once or twice and they stop and ridicule and threats your employee. So in that line of thinking, I was feeling that I need to leave the country and I cannot do anything if I don't leave the country. But since, you see, even if I leave the country, which I don't think I will be leaving it in a point right now, at this point of time, because I feel the country is stabilising now, even my family is now saying that, yeah, if you want to move ahead, you can move ahead. So if the country is stabilising, I think we have the required resources to develop this country or to develop the community, only if there is a security of oneself. So we were discussing this within our organisation, that we don't engage in any kind of political or anything that are against them. We are purely here to support our community and this is what we are and this is how we had been practises all this long. So we are purely focusing on how to transform the miserable life to a happy life. So our whole sole idea at the moment is to transform a community or model a community. Going abroad for a brief time can help me to connect with the networks, to connect with the people, to create opportunities and direct them, those opportunities back to Afghanistan. But for the moment, I'm thinking to realise this opportunity of working on this model. So I'll be here for some time, here for very long, probably for two, three years, and see how this result thing, of course.
Craig Pollard [00:51:47]:
And the situation is so dynamic, right. I guess it's very difficult to sort of make long term decisions. Everything is changing constantly.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:51:55]:
Very true, very true.
Craig Pollard [00:51:57]:
But how do you look after yourself? How do you look after yourself? Because I feel like this must be that the levels of stress you, your staff, your team, the people around you, your friends, the community experiencing, just are relentless and true. How do you keep yourselves well and continue?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:52:23]:
Craig for the past one and a half year, or for the past one year, I remained mostly at home. I occasionally visited my office. I didn't go regularly because I still didn't understand them. But now I'm feeling that there is a relative stability and there is a relative tolerance towards these organisations. They have a mindset and I needed to understand their mindset, their values. They are Afghans, but you see, I couldn't figure out, because in total they are 80,000 people and they have a kind of a mindset they have brought up in a much different way. They had been kept away from the past developments, past education systems, so they have a traditional way of thinking and working. So in the last one and a half year, what I learned is that these people are humans and you can work with them. They have a separate way of thinking. They are valuing things differently. So if you understand them and you approach them and you sing their songs in a way that you want to conquer your achievements, I think this is the only way to move forward. I don't talk much of the politics, I don't talk against them, I don't engage in any activity that I feel that they may not like it. So I'm solely thinking and working in a way to help these people. So I think that won't be much challenge for the now but I still understand that if we work in certain remote areas, we may have certain problems with them because now they have formed an organised government and there are some personal interest of the individual. So maybe the central government is one thing the provincial government is doing or managing things in a different way. They have a decentralised type of a.
Craig Pollard [00:54:20]:
Government but navigating, this is incredibly challenging. You talked about these are people, these are humans and you can work with them what are the areas of common interest where you think you can work to benefit and improve the lives of people living in the community?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:54:42]:
I mean, these are the people. They are also looking to serve the community. They want to support the community. But the problem with them is that they have no good planning. They don't have a good understanding of the economics, they don't have a good understanding of how the country should be run. But they do have a good quality and that is of a social cohesion. They are very good implementers. Once they know that this is the project that they are going to benefit them. They are very good in an implementation. Okay, so the common things between us and them this is a very good question. The common thing between us and them is to serve the community, to take these people out of the poverty. They want to do it, but they cannot do it because they don't have a very good system in place, a conscious system, a system of value in place that could serve this community. I can give you a very good example.
Craig Pollard [00:55:40]:
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:55:41]:
They are investing in projects they are investing in projects and programmes that are not giving them the required return on investment for the priorities that they should take are considered for now, for example, they are working on investment on project just to show to people see, we have made this road, we have asphalted this road we have made that square intersection beautiful but they are not investing on those core projects which can elevate the life of the people. So there are other projects which are multimillion or billion dollar projects. They are taking these money to those projects of which benefit will be realised in 15 years. They don't understand that you have to have short term objective and the long term objectives. So I think the common thing is to take these people out of the poverty that if you set such kind of goals that you're helping these people to meet their needs, whether it's food, security, nutritional, health, I think there won't be an issue for them. They would love to boast about it that see, we have invested in these people, we have given lands to these people and they're coming and supporting the community. So I think we have a commonality in this way.
Craig Pollard [00:57:02]:
Okay, where is the funding coming from for the infrastructure investment, for the roads and for the parks, et cetera? Where is that coming from? Is that coming from overseas?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:57:15]:
Actually, the Talibans are much better than the previous government in terms of taxations. They are taxing everything and they are doing so much, they have brought so much taxes that you can't imagine, and this is one of their bigger source of money. And at the same time, the international fund community provides one to $1.5 billion that could be also a source of stabilising the Afghani currency. Now, they don't understand this point that in the long run, if you don't create employment opportunities, the shops, the people, they won't have their salaries, the shop won't have their revenues, the companies, the organisation won't have and they won't be able to pay the taxes. So the long term game is a difficult one for them. And the short term, they are getting this money and investing.
Craig Pollard [00:58:10]:
Yeah, my mind is blown by this. And just in terms of the sheer challenge ahead, it's so far away from the daily challenges that 99.9% of the fundraisers in the world face. I think this is just in that sense, it sort of blows my mind. But I have nothing but admiration for you and just really your ability and your grit and determination, sticking with your community and committing yourself to this. You talked about duty. You feel like you have a duty to your community.
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:58:55]:
Craig Pollard [00:58:55]:
Where does that come from?
Dr Syed Muqadas [00:58:58]:
I think there are two ways, and this is a question that I have been also proposing to many of my foreign friends when they become a volunteer for our organisation. So I always put them a question why do you want to help me? So this is my first question to you. Why do you want to help me? See, irrespective of any religion or any race or anyone, the biggest happiness is when you help people. No matter if you are American, you are of any religion. When you help people, your heart finds the peace and the rest you are looking for. For me, one of the biggest motivation, honestly, for me would be my religion, because it constantly reminds me of the favour that I have and it constantly reminds me of the sufferings of the people that I see. So if you look at these people and then you understand that their shared misery of them is because of those little knowledge they have, or of those little resources they have, and that there is a person who understands all of these things and he doesn't help. So for me, I have those required knowledge and skills and I know how to transform these communities or make the life of these people better with the resources at least we have in our hand. So the motivation for me is when I look at these people and look at these sufferings, I mean, I cannot hold myself to not support these people in one way or the other.
Craig Pollard [01:00:37]:
Does this also come from your medical training as well? Because you trained as a doctor. Was it in China you did your training and as a surgeon, I did.
Dr Syed Muqadas [01:00:48]:
My studies in China and then I practised in Pakistan for my medical practises. And I think you have found a very good connection between what I do and what I practise and what I learned. True, it's very honest. And I worked in a paediatric department, in child department, and you see most of our people are very young and I have shared the statistics with you and I have been working traditionally in the paediatrics department. I have looked at these children when they were crying and it has a very bad effect. And one of the reasons that I couldn't stand for them was that as a doctor, I could only help these patients. But as a person working in an organisation, I wanted to work for the entire community at a time. So that the value I want to add is to the entire community, to the country, and not to an individual or addressing a simple patient where others can do so. I looked into my skills and I looked into my motivations that I can actually transform of healthy people in another way, which is through these works that I do for the community.
Craig Pollard [01:02:04]:
It's incredible. Syed, I think you're amazing and such a sort of humbling. Every conversation I have with you is deeply humbling. And whenever I find fundraising difficult or anything difficult, I think of our conversations and the things that we talk about. And it's been such a privilege to sort of be there and to have had these conversations with you over the years through some really challenging circumstances. And I've learned so much from you, probably more than you have learned from me, to be honest.
Dr Syed Muqadas [01:02:43]:
Craig Pollard [01:02:44]:
And I have nothing but gratitude towards you.
Dr Syed Muqadas [01:02:47]:
Thank you, Craig. And honestly, what you have taught as a very different thing, because mostly we relied on the institutional donors. But what you taught is that the most important thing is that in your courses, in your programme, is about that you are dealing with individual, with the humans, and how you can add or bring those values and motivate these people to help you to support your cause. I think this is the biggest gift that you have given to the entire team. To actually go for the individual donors, goes for these groups and share your stories and make them help you or support your cause. I think that is such a great work that the fundraisers do and teach to others.
Craig Pollard [01:03:37]:
Thank you so much, Syed. As I said, it's always an absolute pleasure. So thank you so much also for taking the time. And I know that it's not easy with the connectivity and access to the internet at the moment, but we massively appreciate it. And I'm sure that many people who hear this will be inspired and humbled by you, your experience and your stories. So thank you so much for so generously sharing them.
Dr Syed Muqadas [01:04:05]:
Most welcome, most welcome. Thank you so much. And thank you for the time and raising my voice to the global people. I really appreciate that what they have, they should thank and they should continue supporting the people around themselves to make their life better.
Craig Pollard [01:04:22]:
Thank you Syed. Today's conversation has been a really special one for me. It has been my privilege and one of the most humbling experiences of my career to have worked along Syed for the past four years. This is another interview that really needs no more words from me. You can help us share Syed's stories and those of all our podcast guests with more people worldwide just by spending a moment to rate the podcast on the platform of your choice, whether Apple, Spotify, or Google, and you can find out more about our work at www.fundraisingradicals.com. I hope you've enjoyed listening to this episode of the Fundraising Radicals podcast and that this conversation has challenged, informed, and maybe even inspired you and your fundraising leadership practise. Please do check out the show notes, subscribe to the podcast on the platform of your choice and do visit www.fundraisingradicals.com to find out all the ways in which we're working to power, equip and engage fundraisers all over the world.