AKDN recognises that achieving long-term positive change is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. For many years, development institutions focused on narrowly defined goals – without much coordination with organisations outside their discipline. Many thought that rising incomes would lead to development. In AKDN’s experience, however, income disparity is only one aspect of poverty. Other forms can be just as damaging: a lack of access to quality education, the inability to mitigate the effects of disasters, or an absence of effective civil society organisations.
As a result, despite gains in income, the overall quality of life remains largely unchanged. His Highness the Aga Khan explained this in a speech in 2002 in Amsterdam. “Development is sustainable only if the beneficiaries become, in a gradual manner, the masters of the process. This means that initiatives cannot be contemplated exclusively in terms of economics, but rather as an integrated programme that encompasses social and cultural dimensions as well,” he explained. He went on to give examples. “Education and skills training, health and public services, conservation of cultural heritage, infrastructure development, urban planning and rehabilitation, rural development, water and energy management, environmental control, and even policy and legislative development are among the various aspects that must be taken into account.”
In Eastern Africa, for example, hospitals and clinics of the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS) and the Aga Khan University (AKU) provide a network of healthcare facilities that range from rural clinics to a major teaching hospital in Nairobi. AKU also runs medical and nursing degree programmes in the region to build human resources. In addition to the expansion of the medical facilities in Nairobi, AKU plans the construction of a Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Arusha, Tanzania. The Aga Khan Academies, which aim to educate a new generation of leaders for Africa, began operating its first school in Mombasa, Kenya in 2003. Each academy is a resource centre for the professional development of teachers in their area.
The project companies of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) play a major economic role that supports the social projects. Frigoken, for example, works with 75,000 small-holder farmers to process green beans for the European market. The Nation Group, a major component of Eastern Africa’s civil society since it was launched at independence, publishes newspapers and broadcasts radio and television. The US$ 900 million Bujagali hydroelectric project, Uganda’s first private hydroelectric power project, produces nearly 50 percent of the country’s electricity. The Serena Hotels, another AKFED project company that operates 24 hotel properties in the region, has been an important innovator in culturally and environmentally sensitive tourism. Other project companies operate in key industries such as agricultural packaging, finance, aviation and pharmaceuticals. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), the cultural agency of the Network, focuses on culture as a means to leverage cultural assets in order to spur economic growth.
The aim of this integrated effort is to introduce a range of disciplines and a variety of catalysts that, in combination, help spark a broad advance of economic, cultural and social development and improvements in the quality of life.