My darling Mehabooba and I are so pleased to be with you this evening amongst the other exhibits in this hall!
May I begin, at the outset, by saying that I am only too aware of the huge debt of gratitude I owe to so many of the people gathered in this room, and further afield too. I would particularly like to thank the wonderful Manoj Badale [a prized exhibit himself ] and his dedicated team of fellow trustees. Likewise the small but remarkable team at the British Asian Trust – Hitan Mehta, a marvel of evolution, in particular. I would also like to welcome Richard Hawkes, who has recently joined the British Asian Trust as Chief Executive.
Of course, this particular team could not have hoped to achieve nearly so much if it were not for the generosity and constant support of those of you currently lurking behind the fibulas and tibias of the gigantic Diplodocus in the room. The Asian diaspora has excelled in almost every area of life – be it business, journalism or fashion. But, if I may say so, you have also excelled in another vital way - in your generosity and empathy towards your fellow men and women in need in South Asia.
So I really feel I should be saying a particularly special thank you on behalf of over three million disadvantaged people in South Asia whose lives have been touched by the Trust's work. A little later this evening you will see a film that shows just some of those who have been helped, and I can only hope that it reassures you all that progress is most definitely being made! Finally, I also need to acknowledge all sorts of remarkable charities, such as Kaarvan in Pakistan and Katha in India, both of whom my Trust is honoured to work with.
In the past year, my Trust has continued its efforts in four key areas – education, livelihoods, mental health, and anti-trafficking. These issues can throw up things that are uncomfortable and sometimes even taboo, so I am particularly proud that my Trust does not shy away from them and contributes, in its own way, to resolving some of the most difficult issues of our time.
That is why I am so pleased to announce this evening that this year will see my British Asian Trust launch our largest ever fund – £3 million dedicated to work in Pakistan. Two parties have been instrumental in bringing the fund into being. Firstly, the Department for International Development has agreed to match a public appeal pound-for-pound through the U.K. Aid Match Scheme, enabling the Trust to unlock up to £2 million. Alongside this, the Aman Foundation have made an incredibly generous £1million donation. I need hardly say I am extremely grateful to Fayeeza and Arif Naqvi for the commitment they have made. The fund will support the exponential growth of my Trust’s work in Pakistan on livelihoods and mental health, ensuring that we reach even more of Pakistan’s most vulnerable people in the years ahead.
Now another area of work that I was particularly excited to see get underway in recent months, is my Trust taking a more in-depth look at the issues faced by rural farmers in India, with the aim of establishing a dedicated fund to implement the kinds of intervention that the research clearly points out are needed. Agriculture is, of course, a vitally important sector of the economy, and one, if I'm not mistaken, that over half of rural households in India rely on as their principal means of livelihood. Over 30% of the world's smallholder farmers are based in South Asia, and of those well over a third are women. However, as I am sure you know far better than I, smallholder farmers often realize only a small proportion of the value of their products and they can get caught in a poverty trap with no obvious way out. So you can immediately see that by making real in-roads into helping the sector upscale and increase its productivity – in a sustainable way, of course! – we can make a truly staggering difference to so many lives.
Outside of specific programme areas I've mentioned – and it must be said, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a particular advantage of having an organization almost entirely run by members of the Asian Diaspora whose energies never cease to impress me! – my Trust remains hugely ambitious about growing its impact. It is seeking to increase the scale of the work on the ground in order to support more of those in need, as well as growing its footprint so it can reach Bangladesh and Nepal in a more dedicated way. With your continued and enthusiastic help, I am sure we will be able to achieve these ambitions…
So thank you more than I can possibly say for your wonderful, generous commitment and support.