Perween Rahman was an architect, social scientist and planner who for many years directed the work of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Karachi, Pakistan. Through the delicate interventions and technical guidance of the OPP, Perween was able to help informal communities across Karachi – and Pakistan – develop simple, practical and affordable ways to access sanitation, water supply, housing improvements, education, health care and secure land tenure, in which communities themselves are the key doers and professionals are their supporters.

It is believed that this brave woman stepped on powerful toes while documenting informal settlements and the illegal water- supply business in the city, for on March 13, 2013, at 7:00 PM, she was killed on her way home from work.

Perween was one of the founder members of ACHR in 1989. But even though so many of us have learned from and been inspired by the work of this busy and committed woman, Perween very seldom agreed to leave her work in Karachi to join our gatherings. But on one of those rare occasions, in January 2011, she offered us these wise words:

“The situation in Pakistan is indeed very tough – the Taliban, the bombs, the violence, the disasters. Yet everywhere we look, there are signs of hope. And we need to see these signs of hope with eyes of respect, to support them, to link them, to make them strong, and to see what new can be done.”


Since Perween’s death in March 2013, her colleagues in Pakistan have begun projects to commemorate Perween’s work in several ways. The Perween Rahman fellowship is a way her friends in the ACHR network mean to keep alive the extraordinary spirit and innovation of her work. Perween was above all a consummate community architect, and the fellowship is being launched to nurture a new generation of community architects to follow her example of working closely with poor communities, as equals, and of merging the professional with the people, to create a new kind of community planning and construction process that makes big change in the lives of the poor.


The fellowship offers a small grant of $2,000 to work with communities in an active process of change – and to learn a lot in the process. You will not be alone: the fellowships will be embedded in the work of ACHR, which links community groups, NGOs and support professionals in 20 Asian countries around a process of citywide and people-driven slum upgrading, in which the poor are the key doers in finding creative solutions to their problems of land, housing and services. You will also be part of the Community Architects Network (CAN), which has become an important technical support system for this people-driven change process in Asia.


Each fellowship is for one person, who could be an architect, planner or engineer, or a community-based builder or technician. A group can propose a fellow they’d like to work with, or you can propose yourself. Applicant must get the agreement of the community or network of communities you’d like to work with, or of the local support organization you will link with.


The work you propose to do should last at least 6 months, should be based in action (not research), and should bring benefit to the community (or communities) you work with. The proposed work should have a clear context – a certain city, or a certain community or network of communities, or a certain housing project – and should build on some kind of relationship or program which has already begun (with a local support organization or community network, for example).


Each fellowship offers US$2,000, to partly support a person to work with poor communities on the ground for at least 6 months, on various kinds of initiatives, such as housing and settlement planning and design, community mapping, alternative and low-cost construction techniques. The budget is quite small, so it’s important that each fellow finds ways to contribute and to make big change with small funds – which was a guiding principal of Perween’s work and is a key part of ACHR’s working philosophy also.


The first round of fellowship proposals will be selected by PRF committees. After a month of screening, the first set of fellowships will be announced. All the proposals will first be screened by a core team from CAN and ACHR, then sent to the key groups in the host countries to check and comment on, and finally reviewed and agreed upon by a senior regional committee.


The Perween Rahman Fellowship Fund will start with a capital of $ 30,000, drawn from the Rockefeller Foundation’s institutional grant to ACHR. This means that initially, we will be able to support 15 fellows.


Through the process of the fellow’s selection and working, all fellow will be introduced to CAN group and ACHR’s coalition in the country where they are working as their mentor or advisor. The fellows will be invited to be part of CAN team to work on community projects or contribute to the regional CAN workshop. All lessons learnt, impacts, and working methods from the project will be recorded into a handbook for sharing this collective learning to young architects and practitioners around Asia.


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