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In their own words: Why I support the arts

IMG_9103 - CopyRepresenting Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, the members of the SAI Arts Council provide financial support and advisement for SAI’s Arts Program. The program connects South Asia’s artists with Harvard faculty and students to support research that advances the understanding of cultural, political, social, and economic issues of the world through art.

SAI recently welcomed Omar Saeed, based in Lahore, to the council. Mr. Saeed came to SAI as an in-kind supporter 5 years ago. He has been the Chief Executive Officer of Service Industries Ltd. since July 31, 2011. Mr. Saeed served as Chief Operating Officer of Premier BPO Inc. He ran Service Sales Corporation as Chief Operating Officer from 2002 to 2010. He founded Ovex Technologies (Private) Limited in 2003 and served as its Chief Executive Officer. Mr. Saeed has served as President of Harvard Business School Club of Pakistan and is an adjunct faculty member at LUMS. He is a graduate of Brown University and did his Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School.

SAI recently spoke to Mr. Saeed about how he got involved in the arts, and the value that an institute like SAI adds to both Harvard the region.

On how he began his engagement with SAI:

“It was an event at LUMS (Lahore University of Management Sciences) which started it all for me. John Briscoe [Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Environmental Engineering and Environmental Health, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences] was giving a talk on water issues in Pakistan, about the scarcity of water. I remember coming to LUMS that day and seeing that a lot of senior Pakistani businessmen were there, who had been working with the government on understanding the water issues facing the country. The entire hall was filled up. I remember sitting next to one guy, a very well-known businessman in the country, and after Professor Briscoe’s talk, he said, ‘Listen, I’ve been trying to understand this landscape for four years, and today I’ve finally gotten it.’ Professor Briscoe had done a lot of research on it, and spent a lot of time on it, and the way he ran that session was a very clear picture of what the country faces and what kind of opportunities we can take away.

On why he joined the SAI Arts Council:

In terms of why arts, I think when I looked at the broad horizon of all the things that the South Asia Initiative was doing, the landscape was very wide. I thought about how art was something my family is very very passionate about. My wife and her family have an institute in Lahore for budding artists. They have free housing, free food, free gallery space, free teaching, for anyone who is a sculpturist, or a singer, or a dancer, or a painter. They’ve built this huge campus just outside the city. Ever since they started three years ago, I’ve been very excited every time I go there. They also do a lot of summer programs for the underprivileged.

So this all blended – the Arts Council, and my interest in this place. It is called Harsukh, which means ‘all the peace or serenity.’  I think the Arts Council is a good way to get involved and a good way to get started to work on the arts side of our country.

On his other philanthropic interests:

We are very passionate about arts, education and health – three areas that we think are neglected in our country. They are completely connected. And for the health and education side, myself and the companies I have managed, are all actively involved. For example, there is a school system we are building, and proactively supporting, called The Citizens Foundation. We have more than 100,000 students. In terms of healthcare, we have one of the largest charity hospitals in the country, in Lahore. It’s need-blind in terms of giving treatment to the poor.

When one looks at the things one is involved with – you have to realize that if you’re deeply involved in one activity, you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. This affords me the opportunity to start looking at the arts. My real interest if finding out: can this be something sustainable, large, and effective? It’s a great way to get involved in the arts world. I’m very excited and looking forward to next year, and meeting with the Council members and seeing what we can do. I think a lot more interest and support will follow.”

Learn more about the SAI Arts Program.

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