Annapoorna Ravichander: Please tell us a bit about yourself; about your background.
Khalida Ghaus: Prior to joining SPDC, I was Professor of International Relations and served in the capacity of Chairperson of the Department of International Relations at the University of Karachi with additional responsibility of Director of the Centre of Excellence for Women Study (CEWS). The Center was established by the Federal Ministry of Women Development as an autonomous body in the University of Karachi.
Similar centers of excellence were also established in the other four public universities of Islamabad, Quetta, Lahore and KPK (former NWFP). In my personal and in honorary capacity, I have also served as Director of the Pakistan Center for Democracy (PCD) and the SS College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (SSCLASS). The College was a constituent of Hamdard University and I, as a founding Director, was responsible for the planning and development of all its three degree programmes of Social Sciences, an MBA Executive Program and of Liberal Arts.
AR: Can you tell us about how you joined SPDC and what challenges you have faced as an Executive Director?
KG: I joined SPDC after being approached and offered the position by the SPDC Board members.
For SPDC, the challenges have been several. The shift in the focus from programme-specific financial support to project–specific funding has created new challenges for all policy research organisations including SPDC. The absence of core funding from a single source is an issue.
And changes in the priority areas of work of the donor community again are causing difficulties in raising funds.
Equally crucial, is the negative effect brought by the fluctuations in the exchange rates, which are also proving to be disadvantageous for the recipient country of the grant.
The comparatively lower salary structure of both the research and support staff, of late, has resulted in the departure of a couple of our researchers. It is therefore becoming extremely difficult for policy research organisations to compete with the current market salaries.
Our engagement with different audiences has not been a challenge itself. However, we do feel the disadvantage of being located in Karachi, specifically due to the very limited exposure to the donor community which does no travel (due to the security alert) to Karachi.
AR: In your opinion, what is the future of the funding scenario in Pakistan? If funders were to discontinue funding, what would be the future of organisations like yours look like?
KG: This is an extremely difficult scenario. The other scenario will be to work closely with the government both at the federal and provincial levels and the other option can be to work with the parliamentary committees at the federal and provincial levels.
They do have the research funding available e.g.: on SDGs/MDGs – it is important to work with various parliamentary committees/task forces in identifying research and capacity building areas.
AR: What have been your key leanings as the Executive Director of SPDC?
KG: Keep the focus on building the research capacity of my research team and also of the administrative and finance team. Equally important is to build the culture of collaborative research.
AR: How has your interaction with your Board members been?
KG: Throughout my eight plus years at SPDC, my experience with the Board members has been smooth, supportive and of mutual learning.
AR: How do you choose a policy issue to study or a project? Is there a specific agenda or method that you follow?
KG: It is mainly through the ‘call for proposals’ published in the print media, sent through e-mails or the websites. Particular care is taken that those areas are identified for research in which expertise is available within SPDC.
AR: How has the think tank community changed since you joined SPDC? What do you think the future holds for it?
KG: The think tank community has changed drastically. The number of policy research organisations has increased in Pakistan and they are now mainly looking into issues with a multi-disciplinary approach. With programme support becoming difficult, the culture of bidding through consortia is being opted.