The Early Years (1989 - 1991)

Raasta was established in 1989 as a private sector consulting organization serving social development in Pakistan. Set up by Simi Kamal, Raasta emerged as a pioneer and trail blazer in the development sector within a year of its formation.

In this period 3 very important sets of assignments were undertaken that became milestones in the development sector in Pakistan. The first was the extensive UNICEF-supported evaluation study with the Government of Sindh on government departments and NGOs involved in women's development. Not only did it lead to a wide-ranging support programme for NGOs by UNICEF and the Government of Sindh, the evaluation criteria and data collection methodology developed and used in this study was later taken up by the Trust for Voluntary Organizations (TVO) as its definitive basis for supporting NGOs. This study also led to the identification of training needs and a subsequent substantive programme for capacity building, in which Raasta developed and conducted innovative training programmes in project planning and management across several sectors.

The second ground breaking study was on NGO registration in Pakistan, commissioned by the Aga Khan Foundation. Covering legal, procedural and social aspects of registration by NGOs, its seven volumes are still in circulation and 18 years after its completion it is still used for reference and guidance throughout Pakistan. The study has contributed directly to both policy and strategic planning, and led to the setting up of the NGO Support Project followed by the NGO Resource Center (NGORC).

The third set of assignments, under contract to several US-based development agencies, dealt with developing and institutionalizing a set of project management tools (Analysis Bar Charting) that could be used
manually or on computer. It was aimed at the government and the NGO sector, and produced a series of handbooks and modules (in English, Urdu and Sindhi) on project development, project management and NGO management.

In those early years Raasta's concentration was on capacity building, with an emphasis on developing project development and management skills of social development organizations. This was the need of the hour, and the handbooks, modules and materials of this period are still being used throughout the development sector, and have been copied and reproduced by numerous other government organizations and NGOs.

In this period Raasta also established its reputation for both qualitative and quantitative research and incisive analysis led to numerous papers and presentations in international and national conferences and seminars.

Scaling Up (1992 - 1999)

From 1992 onwards while Raasta continued to work on training, capacity building, research and evaluation assignments, it also opened new areas of expertise in programme design, developing and testing models of implementation, strategic planning and policy advice. Several long term pilot projects and institutional development programmes, are the hallmark of this period.

The first of these was for UNICEF in the water supply and sanitation sector. Completed in 1993, this project included a survey report, two handbooks and 10 training modules aimed at water engineers, operations and maintenance staff, communities, farmers and management staff. The second was a WB supported rural water and sanitation project in 3 districts of Sindh. As part of a consortium led by the US-based Parsons' Engineering Science, Raasta's professional team worked on the critical community participation, gender and research components, as well as providing strategic direction and dialogue with government, and producing over 50 strategy papers, briefing papers, research studies, training modules, master plans and reports.

The third was a drainage advisory service programme supported by DFID and in collaboration with the UK-based Mott MacDonalds. The programme aimed to provide the communications and community dialogue components, especially with farmers, local communities and women, missing in the Government of Pakistan's drainage projects in Sindh. The Raasta team on this project produced five research studies, a series of working papers, and contributed to periodic reports, archive supplements and communications materials (including leaflets and brochures in Urdu and Sindhi, videos and comics).

These 3 multi-input long-term assignments in the water sector brought international recognition and acclaim to Raasta and it became linked with several international conferences, partnerships and fora on water, water and gender, water and sanitation and water partnerships.

During this period research and evaluation studies formed the major chunk of Raasta's short and medium term work. Based on the findings and analysis of these studies, numerous seminars and workshops were organized that led to strategy and policy inputs at many levels. For example the study on the situation analysis of women and children in Sindh set the tone for UNICEF's women development, neonatal and child health, MCH and reproductive health support in the province. Expertise was developed in other development streams including health & nutrition, reproductive health, children's issues, education, environment and marketing research.

Raasta also helped ADB organize its first ever dialogue with Pakistani NGOs, and then participated in ADB's first ever research study and subsequent engagement with NGOs in the Asia pacific region. It also helped develop Pakistan country policies for the Netherlands-based NOVIB and then for a European consortium of donors (ICCO, Bread for the World and EZE). It became ICCO's evaluation partner in Pakistan carrying out pre-funding assessments and post-project evaluations of organizations in Pakistan, which continues to date.

Long term work relationships were established with UNICEF, for which Raasta carried out numerous assignments across Pakistan (and continues to do so to date), with Government of Sindh and with several NGOs, including Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP), Pakistan Voluntary Health & Nutrition Association (PAVHNA), Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) and Marie Stopes Society (MSS). Work was initiated with several other UN agencies including UNDP and UNFPA, and with bilateral organizations.

Skills of staff were developed in new research and marketing research methods, the Raasta Research Grid was developed as a standard part of all research and evaluation studies, and statistical methods built upon. Networks of research associates, trainers and field investigators were extended substantially and work was carried out all over Pakistan, including many remote areas. Raasta became recognized in the development sector for social development consulting work in Sindh and Balochistan and for its bold and different IEC materials in local languages.

Raasta also expanded its work to other countries, providing consulting services to GENDEV and UNESCAP based in Bangkok, and assignments covering countries in the Asia Pacific and South Asia regions. Another work stream was opened in Jordan where 3 assignments were carried out in the drought rehabilitation sector.

The New Millennium (2000 - 2009)

In this period Raasta has remained on the cutting edge and expanded to many new sectors; climate change, environmental sustainability, improving water infrastructure and management, HIV/Aids, adolescent sexual health, child abuse, mobility and economic empowerment of women, human trafficking and livelihoods - in keeping with international social development issues of the day. As it continues to carry out innovative research studies within Pakistan, Raasta especially addresses vulnerable and marginalized communities, high risk groups, street children and those living in the coastal belt of Sindh.

Continuing to add to its research methodologies, Raasta has added Trials in Improved Practices (TIPS), Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS), community case studies, concept testing, related soft ware packages and has developed monitoring systems in line with the MDGs for a range of sectors and developed excellent GIS capabilities. Assignments have been undertaken in South Asia and elsewhere, and new work streams developed with organizations based in Africa and Europe.

Raasta's long term projects include responsibility not only for research and training, but for policy papers, public-private partnership models, project plans and contracts, (as in the four-year road sector development programme in Sindh funded by ADB, carried out with consortium partners Finnroad and Engineering Consultants International Ltd). Raasta also provided substantive consulting inputs to the on-farm water management project, commissioned by the World Bank, on the first integrated social and environmental assessment carried out by Government of Sindh, and a series of inputs to carry out research, obtain GIS data, develop reporting and monitoring framework, a gender strategy and support to a network of NGOs, under the WB supported coastal area development project in Sindh, being implemented by Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF).

RSeveral studies were carried out for drought mitigation and disaster preparedness for ADB and others, which resulted in millions of dollars being reallocated to the poorest areas in Pakistan. Raasta's marketing research unit became an independent company called Raasta Marketing Research (Private) Limited in 2001, to work with the corporate sector.
Studies on gender and gender-support projects and programmes helped realign efforts of the UN and bilateral agencies towards institutionalization and consolidation. A major third party validation study on devolved social services in Sindh, commissioned by the ADB, has been highly acclaimed and has set standards in water, health and education sectors at the district government level.

While the studies, evaluations and institution building continue, Raasta staff members contribute to numerous efforts of the government of Pakistan for the empowerment of women, for poverty alleviation, for improving water management and education, by chairing and contributing to committees and task forces on a voluntary basis. Staff members also sit on several international committees and think tanks.

Raasta also provides staff members to serve on missions of the ADB, WB, DFID and other international development organizations on scoping, developing approaches, designing projects and developing strategy and policy.

Looking Ahead… the Next 20 years

We plan to be around for the next 20 years! As a consulting organization committed to showing the way through the maze of development and remaining on the cutting edge, we intend to continue balancing experience of older colleagues with new ideas of the young. We have found our niche in tackling difficult questions through rigorous research, empowering through innovative training and addressing issues through dialogue and consensus building. We will continue to add to our own tools, skills and methodologies, even as we train and teach others.

For continuity we have directors and senior associates who have all served between 10 -20 years with us. For new blood we encourage youngsters and younger colleagues through mentoring, exposure and training, and have a steady stream of interns from the world's top universities. Many colleagues that have worked and trained here are now in lead and international positions in Pakistan and abroad.

As trends of the last 5 years have shown, we can foresee more engagement with policy and strategy across all our sectors of interest. This will include working more ISEAs, roadmaps, medium term frameworks and public - private partnerships. As the development sector changes we expect to work much more with the private sector to develop their corporate sector responsibility (CSR) programmes.

We also see our work expanding in other countries and our client base expanding to include many more based outside Pakistan. We are poised to take our experiences in Pakistan, South Asia and Asia Pacific region to the rest of the world.