The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) focuses on a small number
of specific development problems by forming intellectual and financial partnerships
with organisations sharing its objectives. Most Foundation grants are made
to grassroots organisations testing innovative approaches in the field.
With a small staff, a host of cooperating agencies and thousands of volunteers,
the Foundation reaches out to vulnerable populations on four continents,
irrespective of their race, religion, political persuasion or gender.
Partnerships between like-minded institutions can have enormous benefits – for scaling up proven programmes, reinforcing programme elements and, not least, for sharing best practices. For example, a group that is innovative but inexperienced in scaling up a project can call on another organisation’s expertise. More
To make the most of its resources, the Aga Khan Foundation has a sharp
focus, clearly defined objectives and a consistent approach to its work.
It concentrates on selected issues in health, education, rural
development, the environment and the strengthening of civil
Within its thematic areas of interest, the Foundation looks for innovative
approaches to generic problems. Projects are designed to be learning experiences
that contribute to the understanding of complex issues and identify solutions
that can be adapted to conditions in many different regions. Replicability
is essential to the creation of useful models. Wherever appropriate, approaches
are tested in urban as well as rural settings, and in different cultures
and geographic environments.
Evaluation and dissemination are equally essential. International teams,
together with the implementers, conduct reviews at agreed intervals in the
project cycle. Their conclusions are made available to Foundation affiliates,
to grantees and to other interested governmental and non-governmental organisations.
The Foundation is highly selective in its programme choices. The principal
criterion is the potential for bringing lasting benefit to project participants.
AKF measures its success by what its grantees achieve and the importance
of what they have learned for projects elsewhere.
It is equally committed to bringing valuable lessons to the attention of
policymakers and others whose decisions affect the lives of the poor.
The Foundation shares what it learns with the public, raising awareness
of important issues facing disadvantaged sectors of the international community.
The Foundation's geographical spread currently encompasses activities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, India, Kenya, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mozambique, Pakistan, Portugal, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
Within these countries, the Foundation chooses certain regions for particular
focus. Criteria include special needs in poor environments as well as the
presence of capable implementing organisations. It normally intervenes where
it has a strong volunteer base to ensure knowledgeable and culturally sensitive
management of its local affairs.
Most Foundation grants are to well-managed, local organisations interested
in testing new solutions, in learning from experience and in being agents
of lasting change. If no established group exists, the Foundation occasionally
creates new organisations to tackle particularly important problems. Its
mandate enables it to maintain long-term involvement in building social
In every undertaking, the goals are essentially the same:
- To make it possible for poor people to act in ways that will lead to
long-term improvements in their income and health, in the environment
and in the education of their children.
- To provide communities with a greater range of choices and the understanding
necessary to take informed action.
- To enable beneficiaries to gain the confidence and competence to participate
in the design, implementation and continuing operation of activities that
affect the quality of their lives.
- To put institutional, management and financial structures in place to
ensure that programme activities are sustainable without Foundation assistance
within a reasonable time-frame.
- Building self-reliance and forging new attitudes, skills and organisational
abilities takes time. The Foundation has the option of making long-term
commitments to a particular region or problem.
A Bridge between Two Worlds
With affiliates that are important national institutions in North America
and Europe and grant-making offices in Africa as well as in South and Central
Asia, the Foundation has genuine roots in both the developed and developing
worlds. Experience and skills flow in both directions.
Foundation units share common objectives and approaches. They bring local
knowledge, energies and resources to bear on local problems. In addition,
developed country units serve to inform the public about development progress
and problems. They also channel interest, skills and resources from the
public and development agencies to activities in the developing world.
Through endowments and capital investments, the Foundation helps to ensure
the permanence of institutions that contribute to the well-being of the
people they serve. It is helping to build an endowment for Pakistan's first
private university, the Aga
Khan University (AKU) in Karachi, which has an international mandate
and is developing international programmes. The Foundation is also helping
community pre-schools in Africa to build endowments, and providing fund-raising
advice and contacts to a host of current and former recipients of its grants.
The Foundation owns a large number of properties for social and cultural
activities, including several hospitals and hundreds of schools and health
centres in the developing world. A portion of its income is used to maintain
and improve them.
Sources of Funding
The Aga Khan Foundation is the principal grant-making agency for social
development within the Shia Ismaili Imamat. His Highness the Aga Khan
is its founder and chairman. He provides the Foundation with regular funding
for administration and new programme initiatives as well as contributions
to its endowment. The Ismaili community contributes invaluable volunteer
time, professional services and substantial financial resources. Other funding
sources include income from investments and grants from government, institutional
and private sector partners - as well as donations from individuals around