Fayyaz Yaseen is the Country Director of Accountability Lab Pakistan. He is a passionate development professional with extensive experience working on issues including governance, accountability, institutional reform, and political-economy transitions. “Ever since I was a student I was inspired by people from the development sector. They always sounded intelligent to me. I loved the way they thought about issues and respected them for their intellectual depth. They were learned people with open minds and seemed to understand every challenge faced by Pakistan as a country, in a logical manner. This inspired me to follow their footsteps and join the development sector of Pakistan,” he explains.
He pursued his studies in Economics where he completed his Masters Degree at the National University Of Modern Languages in Islamabad. Following his graduation, he joined a fellowship program offered by the International Development Resource Centre Canada (IDRC) through which he was able to pursue his Master of Philosophy (Mphil) in International Development Studies. “I thought I really wanted to do what they are doing. And the only way at that time to develop that kind of intellectual depth was to follow in their footsteps. So right after my graduation, I joined one of the leading think tanks in Pakistan, the SDPI.”
During his time at the SDPI, Yaseen formed part of the Governance Department where he participated in the development and implementation of social accountability tools. Through the implementation of these social accountability tools, there were many moments of realization exhibiting the level of accountability within society and people’s behaviors towards topics related to it.
In 2014, he participated in the Atlas Corps and Center for International Private Enterprise’s (CIPE) fellowship program called the Think Tank Links (Learning Innovation and Knowledge Building) initiative. It was during a networking event that he had the opportunity to interact with Accountability Lab’s Executive Director Blair Glencorse, and Accountability Lab Nepal Country Director, Narayan Adhikari, who was a fellow of the same program.
“I really loved Accountability Lab’s model of working. It was not to intervene with the preset, preconceived, ready-made solutions that showed little understanding of the context. It was more experimental and believed in the fact that communities were smart enough to know the solutions to the governance challenges that they face. Accountability Lab’s interventions were more facilitative through encouraging a lot of discussions, brainstorming, encouraging community actions and, where needed, providing support with technical advice, skills building, networking, and some seed funding. That merged with my understanding of how accountability should be done.”
In 2015, he led the establishment of Accountability Lab Pakistan – a challenging time for civil society in Pakistan. At the time, the sector was confronted with a credibility crisis and skepticism from communities was ubiquitous. Civic space was also shrinking.
To counter some of these challenges they had to meet people at their level, by engaging young people and the larger community on real challenges instead of using political jargon. This helped them with connecting on a more personal level with the communities they worked in. “Governance and accountability are political terms and not everyone understands what you mean by governance. Not everyone can relate or know what you are really talking about. So we had to unpack this into layman’s language, meeting people where they are,” he explains.
He further led the launch and implementation of the Integrity Icon Pakistan campaign which has been running successfully for five years in the country. The campaign is implemented in two ways; one on a national level and a second, smaller version with the Civil Service Academy in Lahore. To date, more than 20 civil servants have been named as Integrity Icons in Pakistan.
The Covid -19 pandemic also impacted heavily on the implementation of programs. However, over the past six months working closely with his team, they have managed to increase AL Pakistan’s online audience, create a network of over 300 volunteers who support the implementation of the CivActs campaign, and adopt a flexible working environment to accommodate the team’s different working from home conditions and schedules. “I am thankful to both our stakeholders and our development partners that we were able to retain the entire team that we had pre-Covid. In fact, we added quite a few new team members during this time to assist with our Covid-19 related misinformation fighting campaign. We were lucky to not have let anyone go for lack of funds and that became possible because of the support from our partners and AL global.”
As a team leader of Accountability Lab Pakistan, he believes in the importance of maintaining and sustaining staff wellness. “Our motivation levels have gone up – we are a happy organization and a happy team! Our team members trust each other, we are flexible and we deliver on time.”
The evidence of the impact they are having on communities gives him the needed motivation to proceed. Overall, he is also encouraged by the success stories they receive from people who have benefitted from the work they do as an organization. “These are moments when a young person would tell you that your training support helped them chart their career paths, or young social activists would tell you that you helped them be more effective. Communities also tell us that they have learned to speak to their local government officials through important data touch points, or civil servants tell us they were previously doing this hard work with no acknowledgment, but now they are making it because there is a public appreciation and acknowledgment at a wide scale. This helps reduce the amount of pressure they face from corrupt segments within the government.
Overall, Fayyaz is proud of the team they have built and the relationship they have with each other as he sees that as an important part of a successful and sustainable organization.