Dr. Anwar Nasim

NGIs: the Non-Government Individuals

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NGIs: the Non-Government Individuals

Source: Telecomplus, July 2001, p. 47-49
Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim
Professor Anwar Nasim is a world-renowned scientist, the Chairman of National Commission on Biotechnology and a great believer in action. In his personal capacity, he is working with various organizations and individuals, both in Pakistan and abroad, for the uplift of people in his hometown Dina and to bring home the benefits of emerging technologies to the common folks. He is also actively involved with arrangements for holding an international seminar on Digital Divide in November in Islamabad. In an exclusive interview, he shares his vision with TelecomPlus.
TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

You are very enthusiastically involved in the forthcoming international seminar on Digital Divide. What is the rationale behind holding an event of this magnitude on the subject?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

My basic belief is that scientific research must lead to economic development and society must benefit from it. There is a need to make people science conscious. That the society must become more sensitive to the usefulness of science. As you look at scientific developments, you must always remain conscious of their possible impact on society. It is in that context that the concept of Digital Divide has come up, both at global level between nations and local level within a country, society and community, especially between the rural and urban populations. I was thus naturally excited when I learnt that his Excellency Dr. Ahmed Mohammad Alam, President Islamic Development Bank has discussed this idea with Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman that Comstech should organize an international seminar on Digital Divide. We want to do that in November. The emphasis would be on how could we develop effective strategies that will make the benefits of science & technology reach the largest number of people. That how the poor can benefit from IT, computers and Internet. The message there is to initiate a campaign, a crusade, whereby the emerging technologies bring economic prosperity for the well being of the common folks.

As far as Comstech is concerned, obviously whatever we do on a small scale in any member country, we immediately want to look at the possibilities of extending it to other Islamic countries. Poverty is not a problem confined only to Pakistan. It is a global problem. About 18 Muslim countries are among the least developed countries. We would extend these efforts to other Muslim countries but we would like to start it here in Pakistan.

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

What expectations do you have from this seminar?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

We would be able to invite a number of people from OIC member countries and some experts from other countries. We should be able to define issues related to Digital Divide. But more importantly, we should come up with effective strategies and mechanisms to help reduce this gap. This is not an effort in isolation. A lot is going on in different areas of the world and in this age of info-communication, we have access to all sort of information and don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

I always believe that it is really the action that matters. That words are no substitute for action. As Abdul Sattar Edhi said, ‘Things get done by doing them, not by talking about them.’

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

Would the strategies also involve flow of funds from the resourceful countries to the poorer ones?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

There are several programs. The Islamic Development Bank has several projects aimed at least developed countries. Yes I do hope that those discussions would lead to plans and programs, which should involve wealthier countries helping the poorer ones.

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

As a bio-scientist don’t you think that Digital Divide is rather a far off stuff?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

As I said, I am interested in the economic aspect of scientific developments, especially there impact on common people. Swaminathan of India for instance is using IT for the betterment of fishermen. This is one example. Looking at the present scenario, two major technologies come to the mind. One of course is Information Technology (IT) and the other is Biotechnology (BT). One of the most effective ways of using all this is the combination of IT and BT in the hybrid discipline of Bioinformatics. Here, the data generated say through human genome is converted into information and knowledge. Similarly, our farmers can greatly benefit from a greater degree of access to information, whether it is prices of commodities, pesticides, weather, farming methodologies, etc. Nobody can deny that having information is a blessing. Similarly, there is this concept of tele-medicine for far off areas without good dispensaries and hospitals. Access to information is empowering and enriching communities. As a geneticist or a biologist, one can focus more on related areas like agriculture, health, etc.

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

You are working for the uplift of people in Dina, Mirpur with the cooperation of ex-pats. How do you plan to integrate the resources of the ex-pats and local community to make the uplift plans a viable proposition?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

The linkages between the government and the ex-pats are not very strong. There are people living in Copenhagen originally from Dina. They are prepared to get involved, invest money and other resources. Which means that the stronger the links between the government and ex-pats, the more likely we are to benefit from the desires of ex-pats to uplift their communities back home. In this connection, I have talked to various organizations including two NGOs, Action aid and SDPI to take this issue and develop a strategy. There is a gentleman Haji Iqbal from Dina, my hometown. He is settled in Denmark and he has contributed a significant amount to build a science library in Dina. This is how small projects start with the involvement of local people. Mirpur has a unique situation whereby a large percentage of people is living abroad and is financially very well off. They are also enjoying very good medical and health facilities and would no doubt be interested in improving the situation back home. I will share this idea with people of Dina both, living abroad and their families here. By establishing an effective communication mechanism, people in Dina can benefit from the modern health facilities of the West through tele-medicine. This gentleman Haji Iqbal has promised me to extend financial help for starting a computer training center in Dina. We can make a good start by training the youth of Mirpur in computer related skills.

“Ideas are there, plans are there, mechanisms are there. We have to get started. Six months from now, we would sit again and see what we have achieved, where we have failed and why.”

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

Throughout the world there is a growing number of people who believe in going out and doing their bit rather than waiting for the government to do it. Shouldn’t people like you who have vision and also the desire to play a role help reduce the excessive dependence on government?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

The point you have raised is extremely important. For me, this is conceptually the focus of my own thinking. Depending on government for everything is an unrealistic approach towards problem solving. I am a great believer in people. It is imperative that we make communities self-reliant. The government can be helpful only to a point. There are NGOs, the non-government organizations and what I call NGIs, the non-government individuals. I shared this idea with Dr. Swaminathan more than 5 years ago and he was very much excited about it. We have examples of NGIs. Abdul Sattar Edhi is one. Then there is Imran Khan and so many others. One individual decides to do something and turns out to be a success story. To be a success story, one must try to do everything that is humanly possible. This is of utmost importance and a point very dear to my heart. You must constantly be asking yourself, “Have I done everything within my power?” One of the reasons that I decided to stay in Pakistan was to do my little bit in making science work for the people.

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

Are you going to involve NGOs and other organizations to realize your objectives?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

There are certain societies like Patient Welfare Society in Dina. I am involved with them. I have spoken to people in Action Aid working for poverty alleviation. But I like to avoid compartmentalization. Whoever can be helpful for the cause – the government, the NGOs or individuals – need to be consulted and involved.

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

What, in your estimation, is the severity of Digital Divide in Pakistan?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

I am not privy to the results of any survey in this regard, if one was ever conducted. But I have the feeling that quite a lot has been done in the recent past to extend internet connectivity and more than 400 cities and towns have been illuminated. But due to widespread poverty, illiteracy and ignorance, the intensity of Digital Divide is as severe in Pakistan as in most of the development countries. The task of reducing this gap should not be left to the government alone. We should mobilize communities, NGOs, societies and individuals to work for it. There are areas like Cholistan, Thar, Northern Areas etc. where lack of access to information is perpetuating the miseries of people. It is a real challenge.

TelecomPlus

TelecomPlus

Reporter

Illiteracy no doubt is the root cause of most of our problems. But certainly we can’t hold it as an excuse for denying the benefits of IT to the people. Just one reasonably educated and dedicated person in a village can be taught to access Internet in a short time who can then serve as a source of information for the entire community. Why shouldn’t we try this approach?

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim

Prof. Dr. Anwar Nasim, Ph.D.

Molecular Biologist & Geneticist

I agree with you that we can’t wait till a minimum acceptable level iting from it. One or two computer literate individuals can open the floodgates of information for the entire community. This is one approach but no model is perfect for all situations. First of all, we should define our objectives and then devise strategies to achieve those objectives. If I find that in certain cases people like Haji Iqbal can be helpful, I would involve such individuals. Similarly various community organizations, dedicated individuals, students, youth organizations etc. can be motivated and involved to help reduce Digital Divide. When you work with people and develop credibility, things get going.

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