Murtaza Hashwani: The human side of things keeps us going

Murtaza Hashwani still remembers a heart-warming moment he experienced when he visited Gilgit-Baltistan a few years ago. The chairman of Hashoo Foundation, Pakistan’s largest philanthropic organisation whose mission is to create an “ethical, equitable and inclusive society” across the Asian country, was on a tour of the area to see up close the work his foundation is doing to uplift and transform lives when he met an elderly woman and her granddaughter.

“I was at the Hashoo Foundation center there when the woman came over to share with me the touching story of her granddaughter named Sakina,” recalls Murtaza.

Orphaned when she was barely four months old, Sakina was raised by her grandparents. But sadly for the infant, her grandfather passed away a couple of months later forcing her grandmother to beg for food to stay alive.

When the foundation came to know about the poverty-stricken and down-on-their-luck duo, its members promptly took them under their wing committing to support them, providing them with food, clothing, shelter and, perhaps most importantly, education for the little one.

Murtaza describes his foundation’s work with communities, specifically with women and the youth, as “extremely rewarding”


Blossoming under the care of the foundation, the girl did so well as to even earn a scholarship.

When Murtaza met her, she was in grade 10, and excited and overjoyed to learn that she had been accepted to be trained as a teacher in Hashoo Foundation’s Early Childhood Development program.

“When you meet individuals whose lives have been shaped for the better through the various programs it just humbles you and makes you want to do more,” says the Dubai-based head of the foundation who is also Deputy Chairman and CEO of the Hashoo Group.

But then touching lives is nothing new to Murtaza or his family. “The culture of philanthropy has been in the family for generations beginning with my great great grandfather Mukhi Hashoo,” says Murtaza, whose father Sadruddin Hashwani, Chairman of Hashoo Group, formalised the Hashoo Foundation in 1988 and became its Patron-in-Chief.

Some five years ago, Murtaza, keen to build on his father’s legacy, made a commitment to more inclusive development, greater outreach, and meaningful impact in the communities.

“Hashoo Foundation is a development foundation rather than a charity foundation,” he makes it clear. “It’s an umbrella organisation that works strategically to link learning from the field level to create an environment that truly serves the people and helps them become self-reliant.”

Responding to changing contexts

A firm believer in the importance of revising a mission statement in response to the changing context and lessons learned, he realised that to help people become self-reliant, his foundation needed to focus on developing their skills and capabilities, and work with policymakers to advice and consult them of the grassroots reality. To that end, he repositioned Hashoo Developmental Foundation, an organisation to empower communities by leveraging knowledge as capital for their socio-economic uplift.

Today, Hashoo Foundation’s strategy includes action research (SMaRT village), policy advocacy and reforms on critical factors such as water supply, climate change and sustainability while supporting and developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The Foundation champions the rights of vulnerable women, children and people with disabilities,” says Murtaza. “We also ensure that such individuals are able to access, participate and benefit from all our programmes.”

And the programmes are many. For instance, Hashoo Trust, the charity arm of the organisation, provides emergency relief and recovery services to victims of natural and manmade disasters.

The Trust also provides education scholarships for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and, in some cases, monthly stipends for poor families. “We provide access to health and nutrition services and offer micro grants to help families recover from crisis that have affected their family’s earning capacity,” he says.

The Trust also works in remote mountainous areas of Pakistan where development work is still ongoing. “We invest in social enterprises and innovation especially helping pilot new ideas that promote sustainability, renewable and clean energy, and recycling.”

The Foundation has been able to successfully launch two independent start-ups as well – Organiks Plus, which packages and sells locally produced organic products; and Shine Services, which provides industrial support services such as polishing, maintenance and sanitisation.

Honeybee farming

Perhaps one of the foundation’s most popular projects is the honeybee farming initiative that was set up in 2007 and has been earning plaudits locally and internationally. The global award-winning project uses simple technology to create an entire value chain where women from the local community are trained in beekeeping and collecting honey which then finds its way to major hotels, local consumers and international markets.

In one such project, 20 underprivileged women of Skardu, a town in Gilgit−Baltistan, situated some 2,500 metres up in the Skardu Valley, were trained in honeybee farming. A total of 60 beehives were distributed to them – three per beekeeper – along with a kit that included safety gloves, masks, smokers and veils.

Steps were also put in place to ensure the quality of honey processed was high before it was sold in the market at competitive prices.

Honeybee farming was chosen because it was already being practiced in the area, but on a small scale. The fact that the area is abundant with flowers makes it perfect for just such a venture, experts say.

“We totally eliminated the middleman and you can imagine the transformation that has been brought in the lives of these women,” says Murtaza, delighted by the success of his initiative.

The project also promotes social change: The foundation agrees to buy the honey from the women while also helping them sell their produce directly to major supermarkets, hotels and even airlines in Pakistan, provided the families agree to send their children to quality schools, have regular health check-ups and improve nutrition at home.

Barely a year after it was set up, in 2008, the project bagged the BBC World Challenge award – an international contest aimed at projects showing enterprise and innovation at the grassroots level – a first for Pakistan. It was also featured at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative.

According to the foundation, thanks to the project thousands of children have enrolled in schools, are getting better nutrition and enjoying better health.

“Over the years, our work with communities with a specific focus on women and youth has been extremely rewarding,” says Murtaza. “What keeps us going is the human side of things, the lives that are impacted by our work. That’s motivating, encouraging and inspiring at the same time.”

While Murtaza credits his father for inspiring him in his philanthropic ventures, he admits “I learn a lot from seeing what global philanthropists are engaging in and how they roll out their programmes.”

A changemaker

Apart from the honeybee project, another changemaker he is proud of is the Hashoo Scholar programme that was initiated to support students for undergraduate studies/programs.

One of the students who bagged the scholarship, Shamshad Begum, a talented girl who is hearing challenged from Karimabad, recently graduated in Textile Design from National College of Arts, Lahore, with distinction, says Murtaza, proudly.

“Shamshad Begum had to deal with numerous challenges in her life including the loss of her brother and her father’s clinical depression which left her financially struggling to pursue her studies. Thanks to Hashoo Scholar programme, she realised her dream of becoming a textile designer,” he says.

The Foundation also helped in showcasing her work internationally and Shamshad is now a successful designer employed by a leading retail chain in Pakistan.

There are more success stories: “Noor Bano’s journey of running a school in her remote village after receiving the Early Childhood Development training programme, is also one to celebrate. Not only did she gain skills in ECD, but the Foundation also helped her set up her own social enterprise making her self-reliant and a pillar of society,” says Murtaza.

The foundation champions the rights of vulnerable women, children and people with disabilities, says Murtaza


Since its launch more than 350,000 children were facilitated and provided with access to quality education, while more than 100,000 youth were trained in multiple skills development programs.

Muratza and his team at the foundation are now preparing to launch a major project called Everywater. “The main mandate with Everywater is restoring the basic human right of clean drinking water for all,” he says.

His interest in this area was piqued when he came across two entrepreneurs, Arslan Ahmad and Shayan Sohail. “They developed this amazing technology and I knew I [should] be investing in them and building this business with an eventual global reach in mind.”

Driven by their passion to bring about real change, Everywater has pioneered a ground-breaking new filtration technology that can provide safe, clean water.

“It’s this technology that we are providing to impoverished areas and also take to market. The fact that Arslan and Shayan came up through the Hashoo Foundation annual start-up competition was a bonus for me; it proved that the work the foundation does to encourage new businesses and entrepreneurs was so successful.”