From Poverty to Prosperity

“Whatever I have achieved is all ‘Made in Pakistan’.”

- Hafiz Ul Haq

June 2021

The Professional Education Foundation (PEF) is a not-for-profit organization. It was set up in 2009 with the sole objective of providing financial support to those underprivileged students, who are pursuing degrees in different professional fields but find it difficult to meet their educational expenses. Being the largest private funding platform for professional education in Pakistan, the PEF has so far sponsored thousands of students through charity grants and interest-free loans. To know more about the PEF and its charity programme, SouthAsia conducted an exclusive interview with Mr. Hafiz Ul Haq, Chairman, Professional Education Foundation.

What is PEF’s mission and long-term vision?
Envisioning to alleviate poverty through professional education, the PEF has a well-defined mission in place. The organisation’s central and guiding mission statement can briefly be summed up as ‘Changing Lives through Professional Education.’ At PEF, we strongly believe that professional education is the most effective and shortest route to poverty alleviation and sustainable national development. Our mission sets us apart from other philanthropic organizations, since we are mainly focused on sponsoring needy students pursuing professional degrees.

How did the idea of establishing PEF come about?
After completing B.E. in Electronic Engineering in 1968, I got a job at Phillips Electronics in Karachi. I worked there for 17 years and in 1985 I was transferred to the Philips Headquarters in the Netherlands. After retirement in 2003, I moved to Hong Kong, where I started my own consultancy firm. Honestly speaking, my 4-year professional education was the biggest value addition to my life which led me to have an enviable career. I have a strong feeling that whatever I have achieved is all ‘Made in Pakistan.’ Now having done with my professional career in practical terms, I want to give something back to my beloved country.

Why is the PEF focused only on professional education?
When I came back to Pakistan, I looked for a big charity programme which I could support. After visiting some engineering colleges, I found that there were many students, who despite having secured admissions in professional colleges were unable to pay their fees. Then I realized that it would be more than a crime to ignore these bright but needy students. I thought that they must be provided sufficient resources to pursue their professional education. I shared the idea with some like-minded people, mostly leading businessmen and top professionals in their respective fields. They liked the idea and pledged their full support.This is how the Professional Education Foundation was created in 2009. Currently, there is no private organization in Pakistan dedicated to professional education. We are the largest private funder of professional education in the country. Our mission is ‘Poverty Alleviation Through Professional Education.’ This year our theme is ‘Transformation Beyond Imagination.’

What has the PEF accomplished to date? For instance, how many students have you helped?
Since its inception in 2009, we have provided scholarships to thousands of students. The journey started with meeting educational expenses of 75 students and now in 2021, some 2100 students will be awarded scholarships. We have had a very successful journey so far. In the last 11 years, some 1300 students have joined the professional field and have transformed their lives and their entire families have been uplifted, socially and economically. Their success has had an enormous impact on their communities as well.

What is the gender ratio at PEF?
We have 31% female and 69% male students, out of which 50% are aspiring to be doctors while the other 50% are studying engineering, business management, agriculture and information technology. We conduct an annual survey of the pass-outs after completion of their education to know where they are now working.

What are the selection criteria?
First of all, a student has to apply and get admission in a professional college on merit on his or her own. They can then apply for financial aid, which is provided on need basis. However, we never put money in a student’s hands. We transfer money directly to their educational institutions. This makes the whole procedure transparent and error-free, giving 100% surety that the money is only utilized to meet educational expenses of deserving students.

Can you shed some light on your donor pool?
Initially, we only depended on individual donors, but now we are also approaching the corporate sector and so far the response has been satisfactory. We keep them informed about our activities. Donors are kept informed about the progress of students.

How do you measure the success or effectiveness of your activities?
Generally, most donors and philanthropists cannot ascertain the final impact of their donations. However, the PEF has a well-crafted module which helps donors to know the progress report of a student, step-by-step. Since the PEF is a charity, we don’t look for return on investment (ROI) but we are interested in knowing the ROI to society. Working with 37 government-run universities, we cover the disciplines of engineering, medicine, agriculture, computer science and business education. On an average, we grant 70 thousand rupees per student every year. Similarly, it takes around 280, 000 rupees to make an engineer and some 350,000 rupees to make a doctor. Interestingly, after completing their studies, the students are able to cover their entire educational cost within the first eight months of their employment. Could there be any better investment with such quick returns?

Can you share any stories of individuals whose lives have been changed because of PEF?
There is the story of a student, the son of a gardener, who was not able to have meals three times a day. However, he studied hard to get higher marks in his intermediate, got admission in the BBA program and, thanks to PEF’s support, today he is able to run his own business employing 8 people. This is called ‘Transformation Beyond Imagination.’

The son of a motor mechanic, Dr. Irfan Majeed, hails from Ranipur in Sindh. In his entire family, Irfan was the first boy who chose to pursue studies and the only boy in his village who got admission in a medical college. However, he asked us to help him out in paying the admission fee and we happily did. Today, he is a qualified doctor and is aiming to cure the incurable as well as being recognized at the international level.

There is another story of Dr. Zubair Qadir from South Punjab. The son of a poor farmer, Zubair was least interested in studying, but when his 8-year-old brother died in his arms only because they had no money for his treatment, he decided to never let his family suffer again. He decided to become a doctor, making the most of the financial aid granted by the PEF. No doubt, professional education canbe termed as the quickest way of lifting deprived communities from poverty to prosperity.