Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development
Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, the Founder Director of BARD, is well known in Asia and a large part of the wider world for his distinguished leadership of the Rural Development Academy and the Rural Development Experiments at Comilla, Bangladesh. His attainments as a scholar, educator, administrator and experimentor-demonstrator of innovative rural development activities, his contributions to the improvement of the conditions of the characteristically low income and densely populated agrarian society of Bangladesh have earned international recognition.
He was born in Agra, India on 15th July 1914. He passed his MA from Agra University, India, in 1934 and joined the Indian Civil Service (ICS), the most prestigious and cherished service of British India. He attended the Magdelene College, Cambridge from 1936 to 1938 as an ICS probationer. In 1944 he resigned from the Civil Service due to his disagreement with the colonial rulers on their attitude towards the deplorable Bengal Famine of 1943 (which was the cause of death of about 3 million people) and began to work in a village near Aligarh as a labourer and locksmith. He gave up the work after two years.
In 1947 he took up a teaching position at the Jamia Millia, Delhi where he stayed for three years. In 1950 he migrated to Pakistan and became the Principal of Victoria College, Comilla in the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He remained at the Victoria College uptil 1958 with a break in 1954-55 when he was placed on deputation as Director, Village Agricultural and Industrial Development (V-AID) Programme, a national community development programme launched by the Government of the then East Pakistan.
In 1958 he went to the Michigan State University (MSU) for special orientation in rural development. On his return in 1959 he became the first Director of the Pakistan (presently Bangladesh) Academy for Rural Development (BARD) at Comilla where he worked unitl 1971. He also served as Vice-Chairman of the Academy’s Board of Governors for several years. The world-famous Comilla Approach to Rural Development was evolved by BARD under his dynamic leadership.
From 1971 to 1972, Dr. Khan served as a Research Fellow first at the Agricultural University, Lyallpur, Pakistan and then from 1972 to 1973 at the Economics Department, Karachi University. In 1973, he returned to the Michigan State University as a Visiting Professor where he remained until 1979. During this period he also served as Adviser, PARD at Peshawar (1973-1975) and for seven months as Adviser, Rural Development Academy, Bogra, Bangladesh (1978-79). In April 1980, the Orangi Pilot Project at Karachi was established (with the aim of improving the sanitation, drainage, sewerage, education, etc., of a vast squatters’ colony inhabited by about 0.6 million people) and since then he had been its Director and its most dynamic and innovative leader.
For his pioneering work in the development of rural and low income areas, Dr. Khan has been awarded the Sitara-e-Pakistan (1961), the Magsaysay Award, Republic of Philippines (1963) and honorary Doctor of Laws Degree, Michigan State University (1964). In addition to the MSU, he has been a Visiting Professor at the Lund University, Sweden, at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, at the Harvard University and Oxford University.
Dr. Khan had been a voracious reader since his early student life. He was well versed in several languages: Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. Though he wrote only casually, his writings are quite voluminous. The variety of his interests in language and literature; in history, geography and philosophy; in scriptures and theology; in economics, welfare and development; in organisations and institutions for productive activities would fill one’s mind with awe and admiration. He wrote almost in every subject of his interest. His writings provide deep insight into the social, economic, political and administrative issues; the moral, religious and cultural milieu; and the natural, climatic and demographic factors surrounding the prospects of rural development in the third world countries.
As a lifelong practising social scientist, all his academic, administrative and organisational pursuits centred around practical development works that aimed at the upliftment of the poor and the depressed. A deep concern for these helpless people-their plight of poverty, ignorance and backwardness- tormented his life and shaped the course of his thoughts and action.