David Rockefeller, in a letter addressed to the Aga Khan which was read to the audience, described the reasons for awarding this honour: “Through the Aga Khan Development Network, you have leveraged the social conscience of Islam in ways that benefit people of all faiths, promoting tolerance, pluralism and broad-based development.”
In acknowledging the award, His Highness spoke about the importance of civil society in development. “As I have done my work over the past decades, I have concluded that one of the most important forces in development is civil society,” he explained. “If you think about the countries around the world which have had fragile governments but which have still made progress, there are umpteen examples of countries which have made progress because they have had strong civil society.”
The agencies of the AKDN, which work in 30 countries around the world, are private, international, non-denominational development organisations. They employ approximately 80,000 people, the majority of whom are based in developing countries. The AKDN’s annual budget for non-profit development activities is approximately US$ 600 million. The project companies of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development generate revenues of approximately US$ 2.0 billion annually (all surpluses are reinvested in further development activities). All agencies work to improve the welfare and prospects of people in the developing world, particularly in Asia and Africa, without regard to faith, origin or gender. Their projects encompass many of the determinants of the quality of life, including the natural and built environments in both urban and rural areas, food security, health, education, civil society, access to financial services and economic opportunity, as well as the cultural areas of traditional music, architecture and art. Some programmes, such as specific research, education and cultural programmes, span both the developed and developing worlds.
The Aga Khan went on to commend Synergos for its work, commenting that “civil society means mobilising all the forces that can be mobilised in support of human development, and that is why I am so happy and gratified by the prize that you have given me, because you are bringing these forces together in the most remarkable way”.
Synergos' objective is to address global poverty and social injustice by supporting and connecting leaders so they can work in collaboration to change the systems that keep people in poverty. The University for a Night series brings together leaders from business, civil society and government to discuss innovative approaches to addressing some of the most pressing global problems. Previous recipients of the award have included former US President Bill Clinton, former South African President Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan, Sir Richard Branson and others who have played a leadership role in global development.
As part of the event, Synergos Chair Peggy Dulany hosted an on-stage conversation with the Aga Khan in which she posed questions to him to further elaborate on his development work. In responding to a question about the relationship between philanthropy and development, the Aga Khan spoke about the importance of impact investment: “I happen to believe that impact investment is one of the most important concepts that I can recollect in the last 50 years. And the reason is that it harnesses social ethic to economic purpose. And the harnessing of social ethic to economic purpose enables you to do things which you could never do otherwise because what you're talking about is a double dividend. You're talking about a reasonable dividend on the investment and you are talking about a reasonable dividend in social development. Both of those can be measured and therefore those who make an investment in the impact domain can know what they're achieving with that impact investment.”