MEASURE Evaluation Sub-grantee, Mudasir Saeed: Building Experience and Challenging Stereotypes in Pakistan

Mudasir Saeed

MEASURE Evaluation, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has, since 2009, supported family planning research through a small grants program. Researchers at local organizations receive funding and technical assistance to conduct a one-year research project on family planning and routine health information systems. One of the awards was led by Mudasir Saeed, of the Institute of Social and Cultural Studies at the University of the Punjab in Pakistan. Here are excerpts from an interview between Ms. Saeed and Bridgit Adamou, MEASURE Evaluation, who is manager of the small grants program.

Bridgit: Explain how it came together from seeing the request for applications (RFA) to submitting an application.

Mudasir: When I saw the RFA, I was enthusiastic to work on a research project. Though I understood the idea and sketched a tentative structure for writing the proposal, I wasn’t confident that I would win it. I discussed the idea with a senior colleague who helped me refine [the response]. I also discussed it with my colleagues, who agreed to be co-authors. I worked on the proposal for about two weeks, mostly writing it at night, outside of my official work hours. My professor, Ehsanullah Tarin, reviewed my first draft and gave his critical oversight.

Bridgit: What was your reaction when you heard your proposal was accepted? Had you applied for a research grant before and, if so, what was the outcome?

Mudasir: I drowned with excitement and happiness as I was not expecting it! Despite working as a core team member on other proposals and with different research projects, I had never applied for a research grant as the principal investigator (PI). I thought that most grants were awarded based on the author’s outstanding research profile, like a person [who] has a PhD, several years of experience, numerous publications, and is older. In the past, no one had encouraged me like Professor Tarin did, so I give him credit as he trusted me and motivated me to pursue this. The director of my institute, Dr. Zakria Zakar, also encouraged me and supported me along the way.

Mudasir Saeed

Bridgit: Describe some of the challenges faced when you were conducting your research.

Mudasir: It was first time I led a project on my own and there was no senior who could guide me except the team at MEASURE Evaluation. I really sweated it! For example, when I contacted people for interviews, my requests were turned down. Finally, I got access to a few middle or senior government officials who helped me get access to key informants.

An unexpected challenge had to do with my voice. Apparently, over the phone I sound older than I am. So, when I went to conduct interviews, the people often seemed surprised, commenting, “Oh! I thought you might be a senior lecturer or older woman.” I think this made them skeptical of my knowledge and expertise. Likewise, most of the participants who attended the dissemination meeting were expecting the presentation would be given by a middle-aged woman. When they saw me they smiled hesitantly, but as I started presenting, things got better, and I was respected by all.

Data analysis and report writing were challenging. Initially, I was confused where to start and how to present findings. But with your help, Bridgit, it was easier and more manageable. Whenever, I got stuck at some point, I simply went to the MEASURE Evaluation website and started looking up different topics. Then, a bevy of ideas came into my head and helped me to complete my analysis and writing task.

Bridgit: What is it like conducting family planning research in Pakistan?

Mudasir: Family planning is still a taboo issue; people hesitate to talk about it. Interestingly, when I contacted different stakeholders to invite them to our dissemination meeting, most were surprised that we were conducting this research! When I called the director of Rahnuma [the International Planned Parenthood Federation affiliate in Pakistan], he was surprised to know that someone from Punjab University dared to talk about family planning and thus, he replied that he would surely come. Likewise, when we talked with the deputy director of the Population Welfare Department, she replied yes and cancelled two important meetings just to attend this one. She encouraged the university staff to work on this significant topic.

Bridgit: What do you consider to be your successes or personal accomplishments during this research project? One thing for sure is your success with winning two subsequent research projects!

Mudasir: Other than the subsequent research success, the main accomplishment for me was finishing the project on time. I’m also proud of the dissemination meeting, as this event made me realize that I conducted a worthy study and in the right way. Though improvements are always welcomed, I’m satisfied with the report and its findings. Thirdly, being the sole author of the report was the toughest job, as previously I was always a co-author. However, I am happy about what I accomplished with guidance from the MEASURE Evaluation team.

Mudasir Saeed

Bridgit: One of the key objectives of our small grants program is to build research capacity. How do you feel this experience built your capacity and that of your team members?

Mudasir: I learned how important stakeholder mapping is and what the prerequisites are for writing a sound research paper. In addition, I understood the real meaning of “iterative sampling” — because during report writing, we had to contact some of our study participants again to clarify various aspects.

I asked this question of an assistant on my team, Uroosa Yousaf. She said, “An amazing thing was the dissemination meeting. It made me realize that doing a research project [is] worth nothing until and unless you disseminate the findings to the stakeholders, especially to the policymakers. That’s the only way; serve the purpose of [the] research.”

With experience from this opportunity, my two interns got a research associate position in the department.

Bridgit: With the research project completed, what would you like to happen next?

Mudasir: I have been planning on writing two articles from this research, one to be published in an international peer-reviewed journal and the second for a conference. This project paved the way for me to be in a research network and now I am submitting a research proposal as either the PI or co-PI. I appreciate USAID and MEASURE Evaluation’s efforts to provide the learning opportunity and platform for young researchers. It really helps researchers get recognition in networks, academia, and publications.

Read Mudasir’s working paper, “The Routine Health Information System in Punjab Province, Pakistan — Exploring the Potential for Integrating Health Information Systems for Family Planning Data” here.

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