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Dr Akhter Hameed Khan
Born (1914-07-15)15 July 1914
Agra, British India
Died 9 October 1999(1999-10-09) (aged 85)
Nationality Pakistani
Alma mater Magdalene College, Cambridge
Known for Microcredit, Microfinance, Comilla Model, Orangi Pilot Project
Awards Ramon Magsaysay Award, Nishan-e-Imtiaz, Sitara-e-Pakistan, Jinnah Award
Scientific career
Fields Rural development, Microcredit
Institutions Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development; National Centre for Rural Development, Pakistan; Michigan State University
Influenced Shoaib Sultan Khan

Akhter Hameed Khan (Urdu: اختر حمید خان, pronounced 15 July 1914 – 9 October 1999) was a Pakistani development practitioner and social scientist. He promoted participatory rural development in Pakistan and other developing countries, and widely advocated community participation in development. His particular contribution was the establishment of a comprehensive project for rural development, the Comilla Model (1959). It earned him the Ramon Magsaysay Award from the Philippines and an honorary Doctorate of law from Michigan State University.

In the 1980s he started a bottom-up community development initiative of Orangi Pilot Project, based in the outskirts of Karachi, which became a model of participatory development initiatives. He also directed many programmes, from microcredit to self-finance and from housing provision to family planning, for rural communities and urban slums. It earned him international recognition and high honours in Pakistan. Khan was fluent in at least seven languages and dialects. Apart from many scholarly books and articles, he also published a collection of poems and travelogues in Urdu.

Early life

Khan was born on 15 July 1914 in Agra. He was among the four sons and three daughters of Khansaahib Ameer Ahmed Khan and Mehmoodah Begum. His father, a police inspector, was inspired by the reformist thinking of Syed Ahmed Khan. In his early age, Khan's mother introduced him to the poetry of Maulana Hali and Muhammad Iqbal, the sermons of Abul Kalam Azad, and the Sufist philosophy of Rumi. This upbringing influenced his interest in historical as well as contemporary social, economic, and political affairs.

Khan attended Government High School at Jalam (Uttar Pradesh), and completed his education in 1930 at Agra College where he studied English literature and history. He read English literature, history, and philosophy for a Bachelor of Arts degree at Meerut College in 1932. At that point, his mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died in the same year at the age of 36. Khan continued his studies and was awarded a Master of Arts in English Literature from Agra University in 1934. He worked as a lecturer at Meerut College before joining the Indian Civil Service (ICS) in 1936. As part of the ICS training, he was sent to read literature and history at Magdalene College, Cambridge, England. During the stay, he developed a close friendship with Choudhary Rahmat Ali.

Khan married Hameedah Begum (the eldest daughter of Allama Mashriqi) in 1940. Together, they had three daughters (Mariam, Amina, and Rasheeda) and a son (Akbar). After Hameedah Begum's death in 1966, he married Shafiq Khan and had one daughter, Ayesha. During his ICS career, Khan worked as collector of revenue, a position that brought him into regular contact with living conditions in rural areas of East Bengal. The Bengal famine of 1943 and subsequent inadequate handling of the situation by the colonial rulers led him to resign from the Indian Civil Service in 1945. He wrote, "I realised that if I did not escape while I was young and vigorous, I will forever remain in the trap, and terminate as a bureaucratic big wig." During this period, he was influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche and Mashriqi, and joined the Khaksar Movement. This attachment was brief. He quit the movement and turned to Sufism. According to Khan, "I had a profound personal concern; I wanted to live a life free from fear and anxiety, a calm and serene life, without turmoil and conflict. ... when I followed the advice of old Sufis and sages, and tried to curb my greed, my pride and aggression, fears, anxieties and conflict diminished."

For the next two years, Khan worked in Mamoola village near Aligarh as a labourer and locksmith, an experience that provided him with firsthand knowledge of the problems and issues of rural communities. In 1947, he took up a teaching position at the Jamia Millia, Delhi, where he worked for three years. In 1950, Khan migrated to Pakistan to teach at Islamia College, Karachi. In the same year, he was invited by the Government of Pakistan to take charge as Principal of Comilla Victoria College in East Pakistan, a position he held until 1958. During this time (1950–58) he also served as President of the East Pakistan Non-Government Teachers' Association.

Advisory roles

Following his move to Pakistan, Khan was asked to implement the Comilla Model in rural settlements of North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Punjab, and Sindh. He declined the offer on the grounds that the proposals were predominantly motivated by political interests rather than the common well-being. However, he continued to advise the authorities on various aspects of rural development, such as participatory irrigation management. He worked as a research fellow at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad from 1971 to 1972, and as Director of Rural Economics Research Project at Karachi University from 1972 to 1973. Khan went to Michigan State University as a visiting professor in 1973 and remained there until 1979. During this time, he carried on advising the Rural Development Academy at Bogra in northern Bangladesh, and the Pakistan Academy for Rural Development, Peshawar, on the Daudzai Integrated Rural Development Programme. He also travelled extensively during this period in the capacities of speaker, advisor, or consultant on rural development programmes across the world. In 1974, he was appointed as a World Bank consultant to survey rural development situations in Java, Indonesia. He also briefly worked as a visiting professor at Lund University, Harvard University, and the University of Oxford.

In 1980, Khan moved to Karachi and started working on the improvement of sanitary conditions in Karachi suburbs. He laid the foundations of the Orangi Pilot Project for the largest squatter community of Orangi in the city. He remained associated with this project until his death in 1999. Meanwhile, he maintained his support for rural communities around Karachi, and also helped to develop the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme. OPP became a model for participatory bottom-up development initiatives.


In 1999, Khan was visiting his family in the United States when he suffered from kidney failure. He died of myocardial infarction on 9 October in Indianapolis at the age of 85. His body was flown to Karachi on 15 October, where he was buried on the grounds of the OPP office compound.


Khan's ideology and leadership skills were a source of inspiration for his students and colleagues, and continue to serve as guiding principles even after his death. Edgar Owens, who became an admirer of Khan's ideology while working at USAID's Asia Bureau, co-authored a book with Robert Shaw as a result of observations and discussions with Khan at Comilla Academy. A later study of various rural development experiences from South Asia, edited by Uphoff and Cambell (1983) was jointly dedicated to Khan and Owens.

Soon after Khan's death, on 10 April 2000, the Government of Pakistan renamed the National Centre for Rural Development the Akhter Hameed Khan National Centre for Rural Development and Municipal Administration.

Later in 2005, the Council of Social Sciences, Pakistan, in collaboration with the National Rural Support Programme and other institutions, announced the Akhter Hameed Khan Memorial Award. The annual cash award is given on Khan's birthday to a Pakistani author for a book on issues related to rural and urban development, peace, poverty alleviation, or gender discrimination. At the occasion of the award ceremony in 2006, a documentary film about the life and times of Akhter Hameed Khan was premiered. The film includes archival footage and interviews with family members, colleagues, and contributors and beneficiaries of the Comilla and OPP projects.

The Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Centre was established in Islamabad, under the auspices of the Institute of Rural Management, as a repository of published and digital resources on rural development. Although the Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center (AHKRC) was initially formed in 2010 as a repository of works and writings by Khan and his mentee Shoaib Sultan Khan; since 2015 the resource center transitioned into an NGO that has established an experimental site in urban development in Dhok Hassu, Rawalpindi. The site builds on lessons from the OPP and Comilla Academy and uses the research and extension and participatory development approaches.

Organizations inspired by or started by Akhter Hameed Khan

Comilla Cooperative Pilot Project - later renamed the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development (BARD)

The Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP)

The National Rural Support Program (NRSP)

The Rural Support Programs Network (RSPN)

The Akhter Hameed Khan Resource Center (AHKRC)

Awards and honours

Khan received the following civil awards:

  • Jinnah Award (Posthumous, 2004) for services to people as founder of the Orangi Pilot Project.
  • Nishan-e-Imtiaz (Posthumous, 2001) for services to the community.
  • Ramon Magsaysay Award (31 August 1963, Manila, Philippines) for services to rural development.
  • Sitara-e-Pakistan (1961) for pioneering work in rural development.
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