Malik Ahmad Jalal MPA/ID 2011 came to HKS to learn the language of policy and development.

By Mari Megias
June 23, 2016

Scalability. Upstream interventions. Stakeholder engagement. These catchphrases are among the many that policymakers and others use to describe their work. People who do not typically focus on public policy matters—think investment bankers, for instance—have their own lexicon. Wealth generation is one example.

When he worked in finance, Malik Ahmad Jalal MPA/ID 2011 was intimately familiar with the language of financial investments. A former banker—he received his bachelor’s from the London School of Economics and was employed by Deloitte, Goldman Sachs and then Abraaj Group for more than a decade—Jalal worked on investments that aimed to create growth and value for the companies involved. Then, he bandied about terms such as value creation plans and growth capital. It was while he was executing an investment in a power project in China that he understood how different the language of government was. “I had to discuss the investment with government officials, and I realized how crucial it was to be able to engage with governments and to understand the language of policy and development,” he says.

Jalal had been thinking about pursuing graduate studies, and at one point contemplated business school. He says, though, that he “wanted to be in a place where I could learn from people from different and varied backgrounds, and not just those from similar business backgrounds as myself.” An epiphany of sorts occurred in 2008, when he was on the trading floor in London and the markets imploded. The stunned silence on the floor drove home for him how the banking world was one small piece of the puzzle and that other fields had the potential to have a great impact on the world. He applied to Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS’s) master’s program in international development, and by the fall of 2009, he was in Cambridge starting classes.

“I learned so much, not just about the theory but the practice of development. And the Kennedy School is really diverse, not just with its many programs and classes, but with my classmates who had effected positive change in their communities. Everyone had very distinct experiences, and befriending many different people gave me a lot to think about.”

He says that language can put people in boxes and that the Kennedy School not only helped to pry open the constricting container of business jargon; it also gave him insights into how to make the world a better place. Says Jalal, “Business and public policy professionals often work toward similar goals, but the different languages create barriers to communication and joint action. Take wealth generation. Some may think this is a bad phrase, but the public and nonprofit sectors agree that more wealth leads to more tax revenues and thus higher spending on education and health.” 

Now, he is working as the chief executive officer at the Aman Foundation in his native Pakistan. As one the nation’s largest philanthropic organizations, Aman aims to improve the health and education of marginalized people, mainly in Karachi (population 20 million) but soon, Jalal envisages, in the rest of the country and beyond.

Jalal says that marrying the worlds of business and development is the best way to achieve maximum results. “I am trying to use my experience to bridge the gap between the private and nonprofit sectors to come up with a model that has the best of both worlds, to make our impact interventions more scalable and financially sustainable. Impact and sustainability are two sides of the same coin. Without either one, there cannot be sustainable impact. The latest thought leadership in development is now focused on sustainable interventions,” says Jalal.

Results are sorely needed. The United Nations ranked Pakistan 147th out of 188 countries in the 2015 Human Development Index, a metric developed to describe the health, education level, and standard of living of various populations. And according to the global charity Save the Children, Pakistan has the highest rate of first-day deaths and stillbirths in the world. Figures on education are similarly grim: 25 million children are out of school, even though the constitution says education is free and compulsory for every Pakistani child.

Aman offers a variety of program-related investments and direct interventions in these two underserved areas—from a comprehensive ambulance service (heretofore unseen in Karachi) to vocational training—that aim to have high impact while being both financially sustainable and scalable. Take Aman Ambulance. It introduced the first-ever emergency medical service to Karachi with trained medical staff, lifesaving equipment, and supplies. “Ambulance services are heavily subsidized for patients who cannot afford it,” says Jalal.

One answer was for Aman, in 2011, to set up what is now Pakistan’s largest vocational training center. The idea was to provide technical experience that is better aligned with the expectations of future employers, and life skills to help them become more responsible citizens. “Around 12,000 students have gone through our system,” says Jalal, “and we have programs in 11 trades, from masonry to auto mechanics to electrical.” As with everything at Aman, outcomes are vigorously monitored to ensure that goals are being met—and, in the interest of transparency, Aman posts its financial results on its website. “We measure the number of students placed and the salaries of the placements, and are now beginning to look at certain life skills—for instance, punctuality, which isn’t very common–and other measures,” says Jalal. The center is well on its way to being financially sustainable because of partnerships with industries and local and international donors who use the center to develop a workforce trained according to the skills required. 

As CEO of this 1,500-employee foundation, Jalal is working to attract and retain the best talent. He is particularly passionate about gender equality. “At Aman, we are very focused on gender inclusion and having senior women leaders in roles that are traditionally held by men.” He cites the strong women in his life—his mother is a retired physician and his wife, Sadaffe Abid MC/MPA 2011, whom he met at HKS. Sadaffe works to empower women as co-founder of Circle, an initiative that builds women’s leadership, entrepreneurship and employment; she previously served as chief executive of the Kashf Foundation, one of the largest microfinance institutions in Pakistan. 

Jalal recently received the Kennedy School’s Emerging Global Leader Award, which recognizes alumni under age 40 who have stood out as leaders and catalysts for change. In accepting the award in Cambridge last May, Jalal noted the importance of courage: “the courage to create, to break from the tyranny of the past, and to transform the world into something new—the courage to take a stand.”  With his courage, business acumen, and passion for making a positive difference in the world, Jalal will undoubtedly lead the Aman Foundation to new heights.