The Metamorphosis

From a high-flying journalist to a philanthropist running community development programs in rural Pakistan, Naween Mangi has managed a remarkable transformation

Sometimes there is just so much distance journalists can maintain from a vexed problem before deciding to do something about it. That was the case with Naween Mangi.

Through her work with the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust, operating in some of the poorest regions in Pakistan, Mangi has spearheaded dozens of community development projects, providing local families with much-needed services, including in health care and education.

Mangi started out as a journalist, carving out a successful career in well-known publications such as Forbes magazine and the Asia Times. In the late 90s, Bloomberg News recruited her and she spent the best part of a decade as its bureau chief for Pakistan.

But on a routine assignment for Bloomberg in 2004, while reporting on the state of Pakistan’s agricultural economy, Mangi had an epiphany. It was the first time she had seen rural Pakistan. It changed her life.

As Mangi explains, “I was shocked at the stark difference between [the countryside] and the big city. The absolute lack of infrastructure development, the abysmal state of health and education and the crippling poverty I saw stayed with me for years.”

Shaken, Mangi traveled to dozens of villages, writing stories to highlight the poverty and injustice she witnessed. Eventually, so appalled was she at the conditions in these impoverished communities, she decided on a more practical approach.

“I knew there was more I could do than simply write about the problems people faced … Just writing no longer seemed enough,” she said.

In 2008, Mangi left journalism to set up the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust. Today, the organization is involved in development projects in more than 80 villages in Pakistan’s Sindh province. It helps families build homes, empowers women through health care and education, and provides people with the tools they need to improve their lives and their communities.

“Our entire project is based on the principle of community participation … [this kind of work] should always be done in partnership with the people,” Mangi said. In an interview with SEEMA, she discussed, among other things, her grandfather’s role in her metamorphosis into a philanthropist, and the care she is taking that her influence does not stunt natural leadership in the community.

What were your influences growing up?

I grew up in Karachi, a huge sprawling metropolis. During my childhood, the city was rife with ethnic violence. There were frequent curfews and constant political upheavals. So strife … was pretty much a way of life. Both my parents were doctors. They were extremely hardworking and believed fervently in education, family and good values. My involvement in rural development is as far removed from my childhood as possible. But those values … certainly influence my life today.

Before starting your foundation, you had a successful career in journalism. What inspired you to become a journalist? 

The desire to tell the stories of people, to highlight injustice and bring about change. It was these fundamental principles that inspired me to take up journalism.

I understand it was your grandfather that inspired you to follow your current path. Can you tell me a little more about him and why he had such a big influence on your life?

My grandfather, the late Mr. Ali Hasan Mangi, was born in abject poverty, and through sheer struggle made a life for himself and his family. He rose to become a successful industrialist, financier and politician. But what always struck me about him as a child … was how incredibly generous and kind-hearted he was. He could never bear to see anyone in pain and would never turn anyone away empty handed. It has been 25 years since he passed, but everywhere I go, I meet families that he helped through education, jobs, healthcare, even food provision. He was an extraordinary human being and our work with the trust is a small tribute to his wonderful heart.

What is your proudest achievement?

Our staff is made up entirely of local people from the same villages we are trying to help. They … learned on the job, and [have] risen to the challenge of running this organization. Many of them don’t have a formal education, but they are competent, committed and have learned skills. I am incredibly proud of them and their hard work, which makes everything we do possible.

How has your foundation helped to empower women and change people’s lives? 

All our projects originate in women and are for women. The ideas for our family assistance projects all come from the women in the communities we serve. The work we do to provide clean water, help families build homes, kitchens, install stove gas and solar electricity — all these projects were initiated by women and all of them are aimed at making women’s lives easier.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I always strive to improve my understanding of the economic, social, family and cultural nuances of a community so that our organization can do a better job of facilitating its development. I think this is the key to everything we do. I do hope we will be able to expand our work to more villages, but I hope that our expansion is always thoughtful and never at so rapid a pace that we cannot ensure the quality and integrity of our work.

To find out more about the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust and the incredible work they do in the rural community, visit www.alihasanmangitrust.org.