The Applied Economics Research Centre (AERC) in University of Karachi was established in 1973. The major functions of the centre are policy-oriented academic research, contract research for clients, post-graduate teaching and advisory services to the government. Professor Dr. Samina Khalil is the director of AERC. Dr. Annapoorna Ravichander, editor at large for South Asia at On Think Tanks, conducted this interview.
Annapoorna Ravichander: Give us a brief background about yourself before becoming the director of the Applied Economics Research Centre (AERC)? How did you get into the world of think tanks and your role as a director?
Dr. Samina Khalil: I was appointed as a research professor in February 2016, before getting appointed as the director of the Applied Economics Research Centre (AERC) by the syndicate of the University of Karachi in July 2016. I began my career as a research assistant at the AERC in January 1990, after completing my MSc degree in economics from Karachi University in 1988. I completed my MPhil degree in 1995 at the University of Cambridge in economics of developing countries and got my PhD in environmental economics and resource management in 2010 from the University of York.
AR: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced so far – or expect to face? How are you solving them or plan to solve them?
SL: The biggest challenge was and still is to restore the image of AERC as a prestigious think tank and academic research institution. We are working toward this by initiating various activities such as organising an annual international conference, enhancing the quality of our academic journal, and also ensuring to impart quality education by updating the course outlines of various modules and training workshops.
AR: What do you think are the main roles for think tanks in Pakistan?
SL: Think tanks can contribute by undertaking quality research work to help policy makers design evidence-based policies. Think tanks can also help build society’s awareness about various socio-economic issues through media, talk shows and other forums to develop consensus among the masses on approaches to development initiatives. They can also build pressure on public policymaking institutions to get their priorities straight.
AR: How has the think tank community and broader landscape changed in the last 10 years? What do you think the future holds?
SL: I think the future looks reasonably better as far as effectiveness of efforts and the role of think tanks in Pakistan. Think tanks have broadened their scope of work by using different forums to disseminate their research findings and influence the government circles to make or change their decisions in favour of the country and society.
If government can fully recognise the importance of think tanks and their positive and effective role in society, they will be able to help government play their role effectively by developing evidence-based effective policies with right priorities and sound allocation of economic resources.
AR: Are there any laws in your country that promote or limit private sector funding?
SL: It depends on the type of private organisations, as many are very genuinely working for the downtrodden of the society. Pakistan has been internationally recognized as the seventh most generous country in the world with respect to philanthropic activities and donations of the affluent class of our society. Some well recognised hospitals, education institutions and orphanages get a lot of funding from private organisations and individuals.
AR: How is the philanthropic sector in your country and region?
SL: It’s very strong. People tend to avoid paying taxes to public institutions, as the system of revenue collection is very corrupt and money paid in taxes is not used for the general welfare of the people and the development of the masses. Hence, people give donations directly to the needy instead of paying taxes.