His message is simple. If we help societies create their own support systems, for health, education and economic development “… then societies will evolve positively and without too much difficulty. Now that sounds over optimistic, and it might well be but that’s the goal.”

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Some say our world is getting flatter, some say hotter, but here is proof it is getting better.

In a region once known for poverty and war, nine hospitals and two hundred health centres rise; villagers build clean water systems; farmers boost crop yields; others learn health-care; 100,000 people benefit from micro-financing; two university campuses produce leaders; three more campuses are coming. It is a body of work to make any nation proud but it spans 30 nations and is the legacy of one man — the Aga Khan.

[2003 Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremony (Karachi, Pakistan):] My great hope and prayer, is that in time to come, these universities will be radiating research and graduates into flourishing economies and progressive legal and political systems. (1)

He was a child of East and West. A boyhood in Kenya and Geneva. College at Harvard. And then his grandfather, the Aga Khan III, died and in his will named his grandson, the next Aga Khan. The Harvard Junior was suddenly spiritual leader of some 15 million Ismaili Muslims around the world. A leader with a mission.

… that I considered it important that, I should have the capacity to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of people around the world.

So with support from Ismaili Muslims, 50 years later, the Aga Khan Development Network ranks among the world’s largest private development entities: 80,000 workers helping 30 nations across the developing world with a budget of $625 million a year.

The AKDN set a new model for helping the developing world: local people included in decision making, projects that made communities self-reliant, and brilliant leadership. When UCSF Global Health Adviser, Dr. Hiley de Boss [?] joined the board of Aga Khan University, he was amazed. “The calibre of the individuals on the board is huge. The come from leadership positions from all over the world practically and I was simply blown.”

The AKDN has impressive capabilities. Howard Leach is a former U.S. ambassador to France where he worked with the Aga Khan. When the Taliban blew up bridges bringing food into Afghanistan, “the Aga Khan spent a little bit of money. Put up two pontoon bridges and the trucks began rolling to be sure the people of Afghanistan had food for the winter. It was a great example of how the Aga Khan does good work and moves quickly.”

Ambassador Leach is also a former University of California Regent. He thought UCSF’s research and education could benefit the Aga Khan’s health care network and a partnership was born.

Many of the countries that I work in obviously don’t have those resources as national assets. They have to go and look for them outside and the University of California is well, well known for its research in absolutely critical areas of medicine.

[de Boss ?:] “The highest excellence…” So UCSF joins AKDN to benefit poor people across Asia and Africa, sharing knowledge and more. “The fruits of his work go beyond just improving the human condition.” [Leach:] “Because of his tremendous credibility in both the Muslim world and Western world, he is a force for understanding between these two worlds.”

His message is simple. If we help societies create their own support systems, for health, education and economic development,

… then societies will evolve positively and without too much difficulty. Now that sounds over optimistic, and it might well be but that’s the goal.

… And that leaves just one question for the man that bridged East and West: How does a Harvard graduate feel getting a medal from UCSF?

(Laughs) Well the fact that the University of California, San Francisco, is honouring me is something which I am very proud of …

And the feeling is mutual.

NOTES

  1. Orginal quote: “My great hope and prayer is that, in time to come, the Aga Khan University will be only one of hundreds of universities in the Muslim world that are on the frontiers of scientific and humanistic knowledge, radiating intelligence and confidence, research and graduates, into flourishing economies and progressive legal and political systems.”

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