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A private, nondenominational, philanthropic institution established by the Aga Khan, the Isma’ili imam, in 1967 to translate “the Muslim ethic of care and compassion for those of the society in greatest need,” the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) was conceived as an extension and outreach to the developing world by way of relating Islam’s humanitarian philosophy to issues of modern development that arose in the diverse contexts in which Isma’iliyah and other Muslims live. In this way, the ideals and ethics of Islam could act as a springboard to address economic and social needs in an integrated manner for the benefit of Muslims and non-Muslims. The Isma`ili community has been the catalyst for the development of the AKF’s program, building on its traditions of voluntary service, self-reliance, and commitment to the leadership of the imam. Funding for AKF’s activities is provided by the imam, the community, as well as by international and local donor agencies, foundations, partners, and many other individuals.

Since its inception, AKF has become a recognized international development agency with programs in four continents: Africa (Kenya,Tanzania, andUganda); Asia (India,Pakistan, andBangladesh); Europe (Portugaland the United Kingdom); and North America (Canada and the United States). Its global presence has become one of its greatest strengths, enabling it to bridge the developed and developing worlds. The AKF’s headquarters are in Geneva, and the various country units pursue common objectives under the guidance of a board of directors chaired by the Aga Khan.

Although it is a funding agency, AKF also involves itself in the formation, development, and replication of projects, enabling local populations to create and manage sustainable institutions that are sensitive to cultural values as well as development needs. The current portfolio of projects reflects the following major thematic concerns:

1. Health: improving the health status of the poor and providing financial support and access to primary health care. AKF helped finance studies that led to the development of the now widely used cereal-based oral rehydration solutions to treat diarrhea among newborn infants and is focusing on developing health systems that address the needs of underserved and poor communities.

2. Education: the emphasis has been on addressing the needs of young children and improving the quality of schools through better teacher training and involvement of families and communities. Its approach integrates physical, cultural, spiritual, and cognitive dimensions into the learning process.

3. Rural Development: such programs inPakistan,IndiaandBangladeshhave been among AKF’s major initiatives, transforming degraded environments while generating income and institutional development and alleviating poverty in rural areas. These models have been judged by various international agencies to be suitable for replication in other developing countries.

The thematic areas attempt to integrate concerns that cut across all of the projects: community participation, strengthening of nongovernmental organizations, women’s and family development, the environment and human-resource development and sustainability. One of AKF’s foremost goals is to build what the Aga Khan has called “an enabling environment,” where individuals as volunteers and the private and public sectors contribute jointly to create favorable conditions for building permanent capacities in developing societies.

The following examples of projects in Asia andAfrica, respectively, illustrate the nature of AKF’s approach to program development and to improving socioeconomic status by action at the grassroots level.

The highly successful rural development program in the mountainous northern areas of Pakistanhas been internationally recognized for its innovative and effective approach. In its first phase, the program was able to motivate diverse Muslim communities in the area to form village organizations and women’s organizations on a nonsectarian basis, to build consensus on program development, to act as a channel for the use of collective savings, to utilize grants for the building of small infrastructures, and to train men and women in farming techniques, organization, and fiscal responsibility. Over a decade, this model of participatory community organization has transformed dramatically the economy and the lives of the people of the region, creating a framework for genuine grassroots development and strong community structures for its pioneering efforts to alleviate poverty among a million people in the rural areas of South Asia.

Another example involves the development of preschool programs on the East African Coast(primarily in Kenya and Zanzibar). In cooperation with parents and religious leaders, hitherto underutilized Muslim learning centers for children, which served as places for the instruction of the Qur’an, popularly known as madrasahs, are now equipped to also provide children with educational skills that are aimed at not simply complementing religious education but are responsive to their cultural, spiritual, cognitive, and total health needs. The integrated curriculum has facilitated entrance to and competence in primary school education. A teachertraining program and a resource center have been created to disseminate materials developed by Muslim women teachers, thereby playing an important leadership role in linking families and communities in education.

AKF has been particularly committed to improving the health of the poor through comprehensive primary health-care programs. By working through the Aga KhanUniversity, it has been able to develop programs in squatter settlements in Karachi,Pakistan. A new generation of health-care professionals are specifically trained to work in such poor neighborhoods. Primary health-care programs also exist inIndia,Kenya, andBangladesh. Particular attention is also paid to environmental factors in health, such as clean drinking water and sanitation.

Although AKF is an autonomous institution, it is now a partner in the emerging Aga Khan Development Network, with which it shares a common philosophy and approach to development. Among the other major institutions with which it collaborates actively in the development network are theAga KhanUniversity, the Trust for Culture, the Fund for Economic Development, and the Health and Education Services. Their differing but complementary programs, reflect a breadth of interest that has given the network and the AKF the reputation of a unique and extremely effective global Muslim philanthropic organization.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aga Khan FoundationCanada: An Institutional Review.Toronto, 1991.

Aga Khan Foundation International Strategy, 1991-1999.Geneva, 1992. Overview of the history, mission, and program directions. The. Aga Khan Rural Support Program inPakistan: A Second Interim Evaluation.Washington,D.C., 1990.

Khan, S. S., and M. H. Khan. Rural Change in the Third World:Pakistanand the Aga Khan Rural Support Program.New   York, 1992.

AZIM A. NANJI

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/aga-khan-foundation/
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  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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