The creation of civil society institutions and the strengthening of existing ones has been a central concern of the Aga Khan Foundation and the AKDN for many years. Civil society, in this sense, is broadly defined as an array of institutions which operate on a private, voluntary basis, but are driven by public motivations. They include institutions dedicated to education, to culture, to health, and to environmental improvement; they embrace commercial, labour, professional and ethnic associations, as well as institutions of religion and the media. The Aga Khan has said that, "Even when governments are fragile, or even nearly paralyzed in their functioning, strong civil society organizations can advance the social and economic order as they have done in Kenya and Bangladesh. Civil society is a complex matrix of influences, but its impact can be enormous, especially in rural environments where, for example, the need for stronger secondary as well as primary schools is dramatically evident. We have also learned that effective civil progress involves a multiplicity of inputs and a variety of partners - including universities. The broad scope of programmes here at the University of Alberta is a tremendous resource, actual and potential, for the development of civil society throughout the world."
AKDN activities in civil society therefore include the creation of, or support for, a wide range of institutions, from hospitals to nursing associations, from village organisations to media.
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