His Rupani Foundation was established in 2006 in an effort to educate children and adults, create employment and entrepreneurship, and reduce poverty in the region's inaccessible communities.
Gemstones have been mined there by local residents for decades, then shipped away for cutting and polishing. The Rupani Foundation is striving to create a market-based economy, teaching the local people how to cut and polish the gemstones, thereby increasing their profits and improving their living conditions in a sustainable way.
Partnering with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme and the Karakoram Area Development Organization, the Rupani Foundation has established six Gem Cutting and Polishing Training Centers in Pakistan, training more than 300 people. (Image right:Natashah Rupani learning how to use the gemstone polishing machine.)
In Afghanistan, the foundation has recently opened five gem training schools, and one was established in Tajikistan early this year. The foundation expects the new centers to provide training in faceting and stone-carving skills to about 500 men, women and youth every year.
"My Muslim faith has taught me from childhood that it is incumbent to help others in need, particularly those in societies that are the most marginalized," says Mr. Rupani, a U.S. citizen of Pakistani origin. "I was also taught the values of compassion, tolerance, ethics and sharing of wealth that is in excess of one's needs to assist the poor.
"I saw my grandparents and parents follow these principles on a regular basis. So when God blessed me with success in my wholesale jewelry businesses, I wanted to serve others who were not as fortunate; however, I wanted to do so in a meaningful way so that this legacy would be there for the generations to follow in my extended family."
Mr. Rupani says when he first embarked on his mission, he remembered the poor mountain communities in Northern Pakistan that continue to remain marginalized despite having access to gemstone mines that are leased to families away from the region. (Image left: Rupani Foundation Gemstone Cutting and Polishing Training Center in Northern Areas Pakistan.)
"I went for a visit and found that the stones were mined in a primitive way and sent outside Pakistan through an underground channel of conduits for cutting, polishing and conversion into jewelry pieces; these were then brought back into Pakistan for selling in the local markets. Therefore, the value-added benefit, which is substantial, was reaped outside the country.
"I decided to establish gemstone cutting and polishing centers to train local people so that an entire cottage industry could be developed that would thrive for decades to come. That modest beginning three years ago has been successful beyond my expectations, and we now have a dozen training centers in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
"We have graduated over 500 trainees, the majority of whom are women. We are in the process of gradually converting these centers into half training and half production, as well as establishing a value chain from mine to market so that a thriving gemstone sector can be established over time with all the requisite services ranging from the application of technology and modern methods for mining, stone certification, production of high quality jewelry, storage, to branding and the development of local markets managed by women."
Mr. Rupani says he believes jewelers "have a social responsibility to create value and opportunity in the world and be a positive force for change.
"Retail jewelers in the U.S. can come forward and play a major supportive role in contributing resources through donations and sponsorships which will provide them with recognition in helping a part of the world that can pose a major security threat globally if the people there are not helped in securing their livelihood," he adds. "They can also come forward and place orders for jewelry made with precious and semi-precious stones from that region for resale here."
Nurturing Young Minds
Another priority of the Rupani Foundation is the creation of Early Childhood Development Centers, focusing on prenatal through age 6.
"This age group is best suited, as a child begins to learn, to advance the intellectual capacity of a developing mind to its fullest potential," says Mr. Rupani. "Therefore, customized Early Childhood Development programs need to be introduced to the mountain communities to allow their children equal opportunity to enter, compete and achieve within a global society.(image right: Nasruddin Rupani in the traditional dress of Northern Pakistan. The clothes were a gift from the people of that area.)
"The Rupani Foundation believes that in order for a child to break out of the poverty cycle, an environment that is nurturing and conducive to learning is critical. The most effective way to ensure that a child develops to his or her full potential is to intervene during the formative years between prenatal to 6 years."
In partnership with the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan, the Rupani Foundation has introduced two village-based Early Childhood Development projects, currently under pilot implementation, that are expected to serve 750 to 1,000 children by the end of 2011.
Mr. Rupani's daughter Natashah remembers attending a Montessori school carefully selected by her parents. "The programs that Rupani Foundation have established continue with that same train of thought," she says. "Just as my parents worked hard to give us a wonderful education, Rupani Foundation is striving to give high-quality early childhood education to undeveloped areas in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.
"Rupani Foundation is not only working to educate children, but also their parents through the mine-to-market program to break the cycle of poverty," says Natashah, who serves as vice president of Internet sales for her father's Low Cost Leader/World's Gold & Diamonds. "Rupani Foundation works around the clock; midnight meetings between the U.S. and Pakistan and early morning conference calls are normal."
Adds Natashah: "The spirit of service has been a guiding light to our family. Sometimes, I am amazed by the energy my dad gains through helping people in need. He has been a great example, and my sisters and I hope to continue in his footsteps."
Reaping the Rewards
Mr. Rupani says one of the most rewarding aspects of his work is seeing families that begin to have hope that their lives will continue to improve if they work hard and embrace their opportunity.
"When I was visiting Gilgit (Pakistan) in mid-2008 to open a new training center, I walked into a gift shop near the hotel for the first time with my wife and was surprised to have the owner, whom I had never met before, greet me by my name," Mr. Rupani remembers. "It turned out that he was a graduate from our first training batch three years ago and had made enough money to purchase the store. He would buy uncut stones and use our machines at the center to cut and polish them and add a chain to make a jewelry piece, which he would sell for an average of 10 times more than he used to make before, buying uncut stones and polishing them the best he could by hand for resale."
The childhood education projects have brought Mr. Rupani great satisfaction, as well.
"When I visited our Early Childhood Development programs in March 2009, I was excited to see how our programs were integrating with the participating families," he says. "I was surprised to learn how much progress the women were making with their children. The once-shy mothers were singing and dancing with their children.
"One mother particularly touched my heart. She explained to me that she had two sons, ages 3 and 8. She was attending the ECD classes with her 3-year-old son, who had learned so much that he was going home and teaching his older brother!" (image left: Two Pakistani women trainees practicing on a gemstone polishing machine.)
Through the innovative ECD programs, Mr. Rupani says, future generations will be prepared to educate themselves to enter the global market as contributing citizens of the world.
"There should be no reason," he concludes, "why a brilliant mind born in a small village cannot be given equal access to good education through proper nurturing at an early age, when the intellect can be developed to its fullest potential."
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