Governor Sindh Imran Ismail inaugurates Ehsaas Langar in Umerkot


June 30, 2020 – Umerkot: Governor Sindh Imran Ismail opened the Ehsaas Langar in Umerkot district of Sindh. This Langar provides cooked food to 300 people on daily basis. The facility has been set up in a public private partnership wherein government will provide on-ground facilitation with a zero cost. All production and distribution of food will be managed by the partnering organization, Saylani Welfare International Trust (SWIT). At the occasion, Governor Sindh Imran Ismail lauded the free food services in the country being provided by Ehsaas program under the leadership of SAPM Dr. Sania Nishtar. Yousuf Lakhani, President, SWIT was also present at the inauguration. As part of Ehsaas framework, Langars are aimed to serve meals to poorest segments of the society particularly labour class. Ehsaas ensures that the food served at the Langar is hygienic and is provided to people in ample proportions with dignity.

Dr. Nishtar chairs the 40th board meeting of BISP


June 29, 2020 -Islamabad: The 40th meeting of the BISP board was held at BISP headquarters in Islamabad. Dr. Sania Nishtar, PM’s Special Assistant on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation and Chairperson, BISP convened the board meeting. Since Dr. Nishtar took over as a board chair in November 2018, as many as 10 board meetings (>statutory requirement) have been held; agendas are prepared well by board sub-committees and Conflict of Declarations are signed by each board member at each board meeting.

Dr. Sania takes to twitter to celebrate the achievement of Ehsaas Emergency Cash payment target among 12 m beneficiaries


June 29, 2020 -Islamabad: The federal government has successfully completed the Ehsaas target of emergency cash disbursement among 12 million daily wagers with overall disbursement of Rs. 145.29 billion across the country. Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Sania Nishtar took to the twitter to celebrate the achievement of this Ehsaas milestone. In her tweet, she said, “Given the overall success of Ehsaas Emergency Cash and its massive demand amid these unprecedented times, the government has set out a new target of over 16.163 million beneficiaries. In the following tweet, she added, “Emergency Cash distribution to the deserving would continue after June 30, 2020. The payment process under Ehsaas would continue till disbursement of financial assistance to over 16 million lockdown affected people in line with the set target.”

PM announces the Rs. 3bn Ehsaas Cash Package for all families living close to the Line of Control


June 26, 2020 -Muzaffarabad:  Addressing a ceremony in Muzaffarabad, the Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Ehsaas Cash Package for all 138,275 families living in 219 villages close to the Line of Control (LoC). Under the specialized cash assistance package worth Rs. 3 billion, all the resident families along the LoC have been declared entitled for the Ehsaas Emergency Cash and Ehsaas Kafaalat programs. Women of all those families would receive monthly stipend of Rs 2,000 besides an emergency cash of Rs 12,000. Speaking to the valiant families living beside the LoC, the Prime Minister stated, “I am grateful today that we have been given an opportunity to help the people living around LoC braving hardships and economic losses due to cross border firing.” The ceremony was attended by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Sania Nishtar, Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan, Ali Amin Gandapur, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) President, Sardar Masood Khan and Prime Minister AJK, Raja Farooq Haider. PM also gave away Ehsaas Cheques to the entitled families from LoC.

Dr. Sania shares real-time evaluation of Ehsaas Emergency Cash with policymakers from Asia


June 25, 2020: UNDP Regional Innovation Hub in Bangkok organized NextGenGov online Summit – Asia Pacific with policymakers from across Asia to capitalize on sharing of experiences with regard to innovations in governance & public service delivery in the COVID-19 context. Dr. Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation was a speaker at a session themed, “Voices from Governance trenches: 5 bureaucrats from 5 countries”. Dr. Nishtar shared lessons from the real time evaluation of Ehsaas Emergency Cash program. Addressing the summit, she stated, “Real-time evaluation had been embedded in the roll out of the Ehsaas Emergency cash program that is the government of Pakistan’s response to the COVID-19. This was designed to provide immediate feedback from the field so that mitigating action could be taken in real time.”

SAPM Sania Nishtar and CM KP Mehmood Khan open Ehsaas Langar in Peshawar


June 24, 2020 -Peshawar: Dr. Sania Nishtar, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation along with Chief Minister KP, Mehmood Khan and Chairman Saylani Welfare International Trust, Maulana Bashir Farooqui inaugurated the Ehsaas Langar in Peshawar that serves cooked food twice daily to 1,200 people. The Ehsaas Saylani Langar has been opened in front of the main bus terminal. Old Haji Camp Adda is an ideal place for Langar as labourers and daily wage earners congregate to earn daily wages. The government of KP collaborated with Ehsaas to provide the site for Langar. This whole set up has been established in a public private partnership with a zero cost to the government and the partnering trust (SWIT) will manage the production and distribution of food. Dr. Nishtar thanked CM KP, Mehmood Khan and Chief Secretary KP, Kazim Niaz for their collaboration in providing the space for Ehsaas Langar.

Dr. Sania Nishtar and CM KP Mehmood Khan review arrangements at Ehsaas payment site in Peshawar


June 24, 2020 -Peshawar: During her official visit to Peshawar, Dr. Sania Nishtar together with Chief Minister KP and Chief Secretary KP visited the Ehsaas Emergency Cash distribution site at Government High School No. 1 in Peshawar to observe how the disbursements were being made to labourers, piece rate workers, daily wagers and workers who have been laid off by factories  and employers owing to COVID-19 lockdown. They reviewed the payment arrangements at the site and interacted with beneficiaries. Till today, Ehsaas has disbursed Rs. 138.09 billion emergency cash among 11.404 million deserving households countrywide.

Dr. Sania pays an unannounced visit to Swabi to observe Ehsaas Emergency Cash payments


June 24, 2020 – Swabi: Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Sania Nishtar paid a surprise visit to Ehsaas payment site in Swabi and interacted with people who had come to withdraw emergency cash. Interacting with beneficiaries, Dr. Nishtar commented, “There is a certain percentage of people who have not collected the cash handouts yet despite being eligible and we are trying to ascertain why have they not collected their payments.” She then continued, “Over the weekend, we conducted a survey and found out that many eligible beneficiaries had not received their payment messages from 8171 which is why, SMS messages were resent to all those beneficiaries. I have come here to see, if the payments have begun to all those deserving whom we have sent repeated messages to ensure that they withdraw money at the earliest”.

PM opens assistance through Ehsaas Rashan Portal, PM’s COVID Web-portal and the Ehsaas Langar and Panahgah App


June 22, 2020 – Islamabad: The Prime Minister presided over a meeting during which he was briefed about commencement of operations through the Ehsaas Rashan Portal. During this briefing, the PM COVID web-portal for donations, and the Ehsaas Langar and Panahgah App were also unveiled. Special Assistant to the PM, Dr. Sania Nishtar conducted the briefing. Federal Minister for Information, Shibli Faraz and SAPM Asim Bajwa were also present during the briefing. The PM’s focal persons on Panah Gahs, Naseem-ur-Rehman and the PM’s Focal Person for the PM Fund, Khursheed Alam also attended. Federal Secretaries and heads of organizations including Furqan Ahmed Sayed from Pepsi Co, Mohammad Ali Tabba from Lucky Cement, Atif Bajwa from Alfalah Bank, Arif Usmani from NBP, Bashir Farooqui from Saylani Welfare Trust and Quraish Mehmood from Urban Properties were also present. Inspiring other donors to come forward and support government initiatives while presiding the meeting, the PM stated, “Transparency is most critical in the use of donor funds; we are ensuring that there is visibility of every penny donated through the PM’s COVID Fund Portal.” Earlier, several donors including Pepsi Co, Lucky Cement, Bank Alfalah and Saylani Welfare International Trust committed to donate cumulatively 12 million meals to deserving beneficiaries by signing MoUs with Ehsaas. These donors have signed MOUs and non-disclosure agreements with Ehsaas and have received beneficiary data for ration disbursement in specific geographies under the Ehsaas Rashan program.

Ehsaas signs MoUs with donors to commence operations through Ehsaas Rashan Portal


June 22, 2020, Prior to the commencement of operations through Ehsaas Rashan Portal, the donor organizations including Pepsi Co, Lucky Cement, Bank Alfalah and Saylani Welfare International Trust committed to donate cumulatively 12 million meals to deserving beneficiaries by signing MoUs with Ehsaas. In a ceremony organized at Ehsaas offices in Islamabad, heads and senior officials of these four donors signed MOUs and non-disclosure agreements with Ehsaas to receive beneficiary data for ration disbursement in specific geographies under the Ehsaas Rashan program. Witnessing the signing of MoUs, Dr. Sania Nishtar remarked, “The Ehsaas Rashan program is principally a means to link private sector organizations willing to donate food rations, to government verified beneficiaries. The role of government is primarily that of onboarding credible donor organizations, verifying beneficiaries, and providing donor organizations list of verified beneficiaries to conduct targeted disbursement of ration.” The signing ceremony was followed by a briefing to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister appreciated the efforts of donors that have partnered on this important initiative.

Logic behind the langar


Logic behind the langar Published in The News International, October 15, 2019

The Langar Policy is one of several policies under the Ehsaas umbrella, in its Safety Net category. This policy is being implemented in the public-private partnership mode, as part of which private charities and trusts will be supported to operate langars (soup kitchens) at designated government land/premises.

The policy is predicated in the understanding that many welfare organizations in the country, already providing meals to the destitute at some scale, have capacity to upscale further significantly, if strategic support is provided by the government.

Pakistan scores very high in philanthropic giving. According to estimates, more than Rs300 billion is channelled to welfare, annually. However, up until now, the government and welfare organizations have been siloed. There has been no strategic approach to collaboration. Ehsaas aims to change that, so that the expertise and resources of reputed welfare organizations can amplify with government support.

With regard to langars, the question is: what sort of government support is needed? To this effect, three areas have been identified. The first is logistic support because currently welfare organizations often face severe resistance in setting up langars where needed most. This happens because of market dynamics and reluctance of local administration due to fear of encroachment on prime public lands. The second way in which the government can play its role is by setting safety and quality standards, and the third is by disseminating information widely.

It has therefore been decided to support selected reputable organizations that have a proven track record of providing meals at scale, and facilitate their access to government land/premises in a predicable manner. Areas where this can work best include bus stands, industrial areas, railway stations, and places where labourers tend to congregate. The langars established will be tagged in the Ehsaas App (to be launched soon). This will allow the government to create awareness about their locations, enabling millions of destitute to benefit daily. And this would be at zero cost to the government.

This is quite a departure from the standard government style of execution, where ministries want control of execution, paving the way for corruption and inefficiency.

Based on this policy approach, an agreement was signed with the Saylani Trust to open 112 langars across the country. The prototype one was opened in Islamabad; Thar will be the focus for the next set of langars. The Saylani Trust already provides over 70,000 meals a day and with government support this will be doubled. Under the agreement, the expectation is that the trust will provide healthy and nutritious meals, ensure quality of food, cleanliness in the premises; and that in each langar, hand-washing will be promoted, trans-fats will not be used in cooking, salt will be kept to a minimum, and nutrition guidelines adopted by Ehsaas will be followed.

The framework of the Ehsaas Langar Policy will also enable other reputed long-standing langar-running NGOs to partner with the government over time. We will refine the model based on implementation experience. If at any stage government funding is needed, budgetary approvals, and compliance with the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority rules will be ensured.

We have started with langars but the scope of the policy to engage the private sector in ‘welfare activities’ will later extend to other areas, guided by evidence – orphanages, protection homes, schools for the marginalized, shelters for the homeless, etc. We believe public-private synergy in a context of unprecedented giving in Pakistan can significantly scale up the work of welfare organizations, benefitting millions. Hence, an overarching Ehsaas public-private engagement policy is also under development.

Overall, the government is aware that one isolated action, policy or initiative isn’t the answer to tackling poverty, which is why the Ehsaas strategy has more than 134 mutually-reinforcing actions, designed to target different groups. Safety net initiatives are for the lowest rung – stipends for women; new policies for orphanages, disabled, shelter homes, and child protection; and Tahafuz to protect against catastrophic risks.

To help people graduate out of poverty, the policy windows include the National Poverty Graduation Initiative, financial inclusion strategy, and prize funds (first wave announced yesterday) for innovative solutions such as the new design of Thela, and garbage collecting rickshaw to create jobs are the bottom of the pyramid. Similarly, labour protection is another stream in Ehsaas, as is human capital development under which financial access to health and education are main instruments (Insaf card, need-based undergraduate scholarships, and education stipends).

As an integrated whole of government programme, Ehsaas is being executed step-by-step. Each intervention helps to reinforce the other, while we simultaneously also work on making programme improvements based on implementation insights.

To help with Ehsaas’ execution, a new ecosystem had to be built – a national survey (ongoing), digital payment system, new ministry, financing arrangements, IT systems, Delivery Unit, oversight committees, Ehsaas governance and integrity policy, and partnerships policy – a massive task in its own right.

As far as langars are concerned, we know the evidence is compelling in a context. We know that they lessen despair among the homeless. They restore dignity and self-reliance to those that will otherwise go hungry, and they contribute to grassroots activism and social cohesion with food security and nutrition aims. They also provide jobs to those involved in the operations.

The prime minister is personally committed to ensuring that no one goes to bed hungry in Pakistan – and the government will work hard to realize that vision.

The writer is the special assistant to the prime minister on poverty alleviation and social protection.

Twitter: @SaniaNishtar

The Ehsaas strategy


The Ehsaas strategy Published in The News International, September 17, 2019

The Ehsaas Strategy has been released today ( to solicit public input, prior to its finalization. The strategy elaborates on the prime minister’s vision of a welfare state.

This is the first time that a government document has gone to government officials and the public for review at the same time, introducing a culture of openness and transparency.

Ehsaas is unique for three reasons. One, with currently 134 policies and programme elements, Ehsaas is the most ambitious umbrella initiative the Pakistan government has ever undertaken aimed at social protection and poverty alleviation.

Two, it takes a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approach, recognizing the importance of the private sector, civil society and multisectoral across-government collaboration.

Three, Ehsaas is embedded in a theory of change, reflected in four pillars: action against elite capture; safety nets; livelihoods and jobs; and human capital formation with a focus on lagging areas.

Safety nets are the short-term priority within Ehsaas in view of the current fiscal austerity measures. To expand safety nets, the social protection budget has been increased and to promote integrity, the Ehsaas Governance and Integrity Policy has been prioritized. Work on the new national socioeconomic database has been fast-tracked to enable precise targeting.

The soon-to-be-launched ‘One-window Ehsaas’ will address fragmentation. To promote policy coherence and coordination, the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division ‘the Ehsaas Ministry’, was established, and the previously fragmented federal social protection agencies were placed under its administrative control. BISP’s digital payment system is being revamped after a nine-year delay.

Under the new BISP programme, ‘Kifalat’, the 5.7 million BISP beneficiaries, which were previously receiving ‘cash only’ will now have access to bank accounts, mobile phones, financial literacy, digital hubs, labelled cash transfers, and graduation opportunities. The National Poverty Graduation initiative – comprising interest-free loans, asset transfers, and vocational training – and projected to impact 16.28 million individuals over four years has already been launched.

‘Tahafuz’ – Pakistan’s first shock-oriented precision safety net, will be launched by December. Ehsaas also includes welfare policies for the differently-abled, the homeless, orphans, street children, seasonal migrants, transgender, victims of child and bonded labour, daily wage workers, substance abusers, workers abroad, informal labourers, and domestic workers.

Under Ehsaas, undergraduate scholarships are on the anvil in collaboration with the HEC. A new health and nutrition conditional cash transfer programme to address stunting is in the final stages of planning, and education conditional cash transfers are being upscaled for five million children.

Beyond social protection, Ehsaas recognizes that the determinants of poverty and inequality are complex – as are the measures to address it.

Global lessons show that massive poverty reduction is the result of overall robust and sustained economic growth, when combined with economic freedoms and the will of governments to counter organized vested interest and elite capture. In Pakistan, elite capture is the root cause of poverty and is evident in water management, crop choices, land use priorities, labour laws, the taxation system, cartelization trends and nepotism patterns.

The government’s vision is driving change at various levels to address this. In its framework, Ehsaas has included objectives under Pillar I ‘Address Elite Capture’ to assist that overarching mission.

For too long, the levers of our system have been in the hands of a small group of elites. As an attempt to break that system, a constitutional amendment to move Article 38(d) from the ‘Principles of Policy’ section into the ‘Fundamental Rights’ section reflects the philosophical change within Ehsaas, while on a practical basis, Ehsaas stipulates pro-poor goals, and conflict-of-interest norms for every ministry; polices to protect resources for pro-poor initiatives; and guidelines for parliamentarians on use of development expenditure.

Ehsaas Pillar III is predicated on the understanding that human capital development is a significant contributor to the wealth of a nation in this digital age. Therefore, to catalyze action, provincial Ehsaas plans are being developed.

Ehsaas aims to create safety nets for at least ten million families, livelihood opportunities for 3.8 million people, and financial access to healthcare for ten million families. Scholarships/education incentives for five million students (50 percent girls); financial and digital inclusion for seven million individuals (90 percent women) and an enabling environment for poverty reduction by promoting mutli-sectoral partnerships and innovations. These goals will be expanded based on new partnerships. A new policy and framework of commitments will allow the private sector and the civil society to make commitments.

The strategy document outlines the government’s vision, or Ehsaas’ bedrock; the principles which drive it; the context which has shaped it; the Theory of Change, which underpins its conceptualization; and the four pillars under which its goals, policies, and programmes are organized. The strategy also outlines the manner in which 21st century approaches can be used to build a welfare state – data and technology for precision safety nets; financial and digital inclusion; human capital formation; women’s economic empowerment; value chain building for agriculture and crafts; Solutions Innovation Challenges to develop solutions for poverty; measures to address malnutrition, and multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder approaches for solutions at scale.

Ehsaas’ premise is grounded in the importance of strengthening institutions, transparency and good governance. We realize that the limited capacity of public institutions, and governance challenges often impedes their ability to deliver. Therefore, Ehsaas is also planned with the ambition to fight through all such challenges – in that respect, implementation of the Ehsaas Governance and Integrity Policy assumes great importance.

To be fully successful, Ehsaas will need to effectively use all government levers to drive change in one direction. I strongly believe it is possible to achieve that with a constructive approach to collaboration.

The writer is the special assistant to the PM on poverty alleviation and social safety.

Twitter: @SaniaNishtar