The Big Idea: Pakistan Calling - RSA

The Big Idea: Pakistan Calling


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Given the recent tragic events in Paris and Copenhagen, now more than ever we need non-confrontational media platforms that are based on intellectual rigour and a free exchange of ideas. Dialogue between arts, youth and cultural groups worldwide is essential if we are to challenge prejudices and build more global collaboration.

Back in 2013, the RSA set up and launched an online film project - Pakistan Calling, in partnership with the Samosa media project, of which I am Director. Working with film makers from Karachi, Lahore, London, Luton and Manchester, we produced and curated over 60 films looking at a range of issues, from identity and equality to education, conflict resolution and minority rights issues in Pakistan and the UK.

The core purpose was to help tackle Pakistan’s many social problems by supporting arts, education, welfare and civil society organisations. Events in Lahore and Karachi affect communities in Bradford, London and Manchester, so it is important to ensure that Pakistan does not become culturally isolated and that we are able to foster a more positive dialogue about Pakistan in Britain. The films promote cross-cultural conversations, showcase filmmakers working in the arts and citizen journalism, and crucially, they have been built using Vimeo as YouTube is banned in Pakistan.  

The project has succeeded in promoting and telling the stories of groups in Pakistan working in a wide variety of areas, and the films range from speaking to ambulance and bus drivers in Karachi, to looking at community tensions in Luton or discussing the media’s perception of Pakistan with Jon Snow of Channel 4 News.

The impact of Pakistan Calling can broadly be categorised under the following three themes: 

  • 1Education, arts, culture and integration:  The film platform is now a curriculum resource for colleges, universities, teachers and youth workers in the UK and Pakistan.
  • 2. Social change makers:  RSA Pakistan Calling has connected British Pakistani professionals and young graduates to promote social change and welfare work in Pakistan as well as integration in the UK. One group (which includes several RSA Fellows) has come together to progress an ambitious programme of work, and set up several partnerships including the Ernst & Young Muslim network, British Pakistan Foundation, East London Business Alliance and The Citizens Foundation Education Charity. Do get in touch if you would like to be involved.
  • 3. Conflict resolution:  The films are being used by the Salzburg Academy/Centre for Peace Studies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and a number of conflict resolution and peace building organisations - Peace Direct, Insight on Conflict, Conciliation Resources and International Alert all supported Pakistan Calling in order to engage Muslim community organisations and young people in their work.

The project is tapping-into and unlocking the creativity of young people and others in the most unlikely of places. It’s people to people, and cuts through some of the bureaucracy that is often found when accessing international development networks that exclude diaspora and working class communities. For example, we now have young film makers and women’s welfare groups in Bradford talking to their peers in Karachi and Lahore.

One very successful partnership to has been with Dara the play by Ajoka Theatre Company Pakistan, which was featured on one of the project’s films. Dara has now been commissioned to be staged at the National Theatre which will be the first time a Pakistani theatre company has had a version of their work seen there. The production has been widely praised in The Guardian, Time Out and Channel 4 News as an important piece of theatre on issues that are not always engaged with, that also deserves to be seen outside of London.

What and where next?

A major aspect of Pakistan Calling is supporting young film makers to produce work about how society can be improved and changed in both countries, and become a group of changemakers. To date, we have held many screening events and talks in both Pakistan and Britain and we now have a partnership with Bradford College to help equip young Bradfordians with the skills needed to make their own films and to pursue a career in journalism and media, despite the challenges of inequality and the barriers they face growing up in a city like Bradford. 

Get in touch

We are keen to build further curriculum partnerships with colleges and universities in the UK, so please get in touch if you would like to use the films as part of any educational work.

You can read the press reviews of the project from the BBC, New StatesmanThe Huffington Post, the World Bank  and The Guardian but if you would like to be involved with Pakistan Calling we are especially keen to hear from UK based community groups and educational institutions in areas with large British Asian communities.  

Anwar Akhtar is director of, a digital media project focusing on Britain and South Asia. He was previously Director of RichMix, Arts Centre East London and is also an associate of, a Manchester-based sustainable cities think tank. He has been production consultant to the National Theatre and Ajoka theatre on the play Dara.

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