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TCF’s Mushtaq Chhapra‘s journey to mend a broken education system

    Mushtaq K Chhapra

    In 2014, The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF) proudly achieved a target it set for itself, back in 1995 when it first started – establishing 1000 purpose-built schools all across Pakistan, and making education accessible at grassroots level. TCF is a shining example of hard work, selfless devotion, and conviction – a movement started and nurtured by a team of six extraordinary Pakistanis.

    One of these individuals is Mushtaq Chhapra, a Founding Director and the Chairman of TCF, but more than that, an ordinary citizen silently helping millions of children from slums and rural areas of Pakistan to pursue their dreams and build a progressive future for themselves, their families, and their country.

    TCF has managed to make a credible identity for itself over the years, attracting donations from all over the world and marking its presence all over the country. But as expected, the ride was never a smooth one. The businessman-cum-philanthropist muses on how the journey has unfolded.

    “It has been such an extraordinary ride full of bumps, challenges and criticisms. From the word go we decided we wanted to build 1000 schools – we didn’t want a small target. So many people said we were mad to invest so much money and effort or that it’s impossible,” he says. “But we felt that a change was needed from within, and on a larger scale in order to impact lives. So we just kept our heads low and continued to follow our vision. The rest is history!”

    He talks about the prevalent mentality to criticize rather than lend a helping hand. “I have noticed people just like to get together in their comfortable drawing rooms and talk about everything that’s wrong with the country but fail to walk the talk when opportunity presents”.

    Mushtaq Chhapra and his colleagues ignored everyone who tried to pull them down and stayed focused on their mission – to change the educational landscape and to build quality schools for less-privileged children, comparable to elite schools in the country. Their vision was to set up an initiative that every Pakistani will be proud of and would want to join. Today, that vision is a reality.

    We asked Mr. Chhapra to share his secret recipe of success behind TCF. He talks about two highly relevant aspects. First is a no-brainer – dedication, but he says the scope of dedication needs to be widened beyond personal limits. “Hard work and consistency are both essential to see success. That means making no excuses, putting in extra hours and effort, and continuing to move forward even if there is no visible route to success.”

    The second bit of advice is possibly what most NGOs fail to consider. “To make a mark and to elicit public support, NGOs need to work like businesses. We wanted TCF to be a brand and to not be lost.” This explains why TCF stresses on relationship management and long-term planning rather than short-term financial aid.

    When asked about what gives him the motivation and strength to continue on, despite the fact that there are no financial benefits for him, he gives a response that is worth pondering over for all Pakistanis. “ The motivation is the gratification when you see someone’s life change right in front of you, and to know that you had some small hand in that. The TCF kids, who probably would never have known life beyond the poverty and difficulties of their households, end up with stable careers as teachers, doctors and engineers. In that moment, it all seems worth it – and so much more.”

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