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  • President of the European Bank for Reconstruction Development (EBRD), Jean Lemierre, invites His Highness the Aga Khan to deliver the Jacques de Larosière Lecture at the annual meeting of the Board of Governors held in Tashkent.
    AKDN / Gary Otte
Aga Khan challenges international financial institutions to support civil society in Central Asia

Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 5 May 2003 - "Creating a sound future for the peoples of Central Asia requires a clear focus on building new concepts and new institutions for new civil societies."

His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, today called on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other international financial institutions to "look in depth at the problems that should be addressed in supporting non-commercial civil society institutions."

Delivering the Jacques de Larosiere Lecture at the EBRD Annual Meeting's 2003 Business Forum, which has brought some 2,000 delegates to this Central Asian city, the Aga Khan said that "the non-economic dimensions of development often escape the attention they deserve because the degree of risk of not doing something is often underestimated."

"One clear lesson of the last half of the twentieth century," said the Aga Khan, "is that governments cannot do everything." He noted that with respect to relations between governments and private providers in the social sector "lack of clarity, or even confusion, dominate the field."

"No country to my knowledge," observed the Aga Khan, "can achieve stable continuous growth if its civil society is constrained by inherent institutional instability."

Recognising the fundamental problem of identifying financial resources to sustain civil society institutions, the Aga Khan challenged his audience to ask itself: "Is civil society bankable?"

Drawing on his four decades of experience in the development field, the Aga Khan outlined the issues. "Civil society institutions," he said, "are rarely, if ever, part of a national planning process." Relations between public and private sector in healthcare and education delivery, for example, were, he said "more often left to chance than a thought-through process driven by clear development goals."

"Within the civil society sector," he continued, "there is not even consultation between providers working on the same problems from different perspectives."

With a series of specific examples drawn from the experiences of the Aga Khan Development Network, the Aga Khan illustrated why banking sectors find it difficult to "tailor their financial support systems, when available, to the characteristics of non-commercial civil society institutions."

"How," he asked, "does a private sector hospital that has chosen not to offer its services for commercial gain, fund its expansion? ... How do you contain the real threat of destabilisation in pockets of poverty when the solution calls for building "a key piece of unbankable infrastructure?"

Commenting on "professions which are critical to stable growth and to democracy, but which are systematically under-resourced," the Aga Khan noted that the economic status of professions such as teachers, nurses and journalists "simply has to be corrected if the consequences are not going to be the progressive degradation of education, the progressive degradation of healthcare, and national media, which will be incompetent or open to all sorts of undesirable pressures, including corruption."

Besides funding and sustainability, the Aga Khan highlighted other constraints suffered by civil society. These included issues as to its legitimacy, "no framework, no predictable and reliable environment"and uncertainty "about to whom, and for what, it is responsible and accountable."

Earlier, the Presidents of Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic, in separate speeches, urged international investors to recognise the progress to date and the efforts underway to address economic and political reform and to support regional projects. Echoing these thoughts in his remarks, the Aga Khan asked why regional cooperation should be restricted to the commercial domain. He gave the example of the University of Central Asia established in partnership with governments in the region to address the needs of mountain populations.

Concluding on a theme that he felt was particularly important for Central Asia given its demography, the Aga Khan called for greater support for "pluralism, the recognition of people of diverse backgrounds and interests, organisations of different types and projects, different kinds and forms of creative expression."

"Without support for pluralism," said the Aga Khan, "civil society does not function."

The Aga Khan has been on an extensive tour of South and Central Asia having visited India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan over the past three weeks.

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The Aga Khan Development Network is a group of private, non-denominational development agencies whose mandates range from the fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. They collaborate in working towards a common goal - building institutions and programmes that can respond to the challenges of social, economic and cultural change on an ongoing basis. Active in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America, the Network's underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society and its agencies and institutions work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of origin, gender or religion. The Network's agencies have been present in Central Asia since the early 1990s and undertake a wide range of activities in several countries in the region.

The University of Central Asia, established by international treaty among Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and the Ismaili Imamat in 2000, is the world's first institution of higher learning dedicated to the challenges of mountain populations. The University, whose establishment has been ratified by the legislatures of each of the founding countries, has an initial endowment of US15million from the Aga Khan. Campuses are being planned for Khorog in Tajikistan, Naryn in the Kyrgyz Republic and Tekeli in Kazakhstan. The University has, for over eighteen months now, begun offering courses through its Division of Continuing Education.