Twenty years later, the [Aga Khan Trust for Culture] has shown how culture can be a catalyst for development even in the poorest and most remote areas of the globe. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Trust’s support to historic communities demonstrates how conservation and revitalisation of the cultural heritage — in many cases the only asset at the disposal of the community — can provide a springboard for social development. We have also seen how such projects can have a positive impact well beyond conservation, promoting good governance, the growth of civil society, a rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment. Indeed, we have seen architectural models recognised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture have a profound impact when they are replicated….

For all these reasons, the Trust works to preserve the cultural heritage of the Muslim world — not as a bulwark against the contemporary world, but rather to ensure that the rich heritage of these cultures endures. At the same time, the Trust’s education programmes promote pluralism and tolerance as an antidote to what I call the “clash of ignorance.” It is my hope that one day pluralism will become accepted as the norm within communities and among the nations of the earth. I know of no better road to lasting peace than tolerance for the differences of faith, culture and origin.

The notion of culture as an asset rather than a drain on resources was still a new one in many parts of the world when the precursor of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, was established in 1977. Culture was still considered a luxury in an era of unmet social and economic needs. The sad result was that both tangible and intangible cultures were succumbing to decay or decline.

Its aim is to leverage the unique transformative power of culture to improve the socio-economic conditions prevailing in many Muslim populations — communities that often have a rich cultural heritage but that live in poverty.

The Award sought to address this decline by emphasising the selection of architecture that not only provided for people’s physical, social and economic needs, but that also stimulated and responded to their cultural and spiritual expectations. Particular attention was given to exemplary projects that were likely to inspire similar efforts elsewhere. When the Aga Khan Trust for Culture was created in 1988 — incorporating the Award — its mission expanded to include new programmes and projects throughout the Muslim world. Its aim is to leverage the unique transformative power of culture to improve the socio-economic conditions prevailing in many Muslim populations — communities that often have a rich cultural heritage but that live in poverty. Reflecting the complexity of development, the Trust is also designed to work in concert with the other agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network.

Twenty years later, the Trust has shown how culture can be a catalyst for development even in the poorest and most remote areas of the globe. From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Trust’s support to historic communities demonstrates how conservation and revitalisation of the cultural heritage — in many cases the only asset at the disposal of the community — can provide a springboard for social development. We have also seen how such projects can have a positive impact well beyond conservation, promoting good governance, the growth of civil society, a rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment. Indeed, we have seen architectural models recognised by the Aga Khan Award for Architecture have a profound impact when they are replicated.

We have also seen how the preservation and promotion of other forms of heritage, such as traditional music, play an important role in supporting and validating traditional culture in the face of a homogenising world. This is important because culture remains a source of personal pride. It still has the power to inspire and unify an entire nation. And it can reveal that nation, at its best, to the outside world.

Within this context, the Trust has been constantly refining its programmes with an eye towards sustainability and replication. Its experience with development, which is now considerable, is intended to be shared through joint ventures and public-private partnerships, as well as with researchers, urban planners, municipalities, development organisations, government departments and international institutions.

For all these reasons, the Trust works to preserve the cultural heritage of the Muslim world — not as a bulwark against the contemporary world, but rather to ensure that the rich heritage of these cultures endures. At the same time, the Trust’s education programmes promote pluralism and tolerance as an antidote to what I call the “clash of ignorance.” It is my hope that one day pluralism will become accepted as the norm within communities and among the nations of the earth. I know of no better road to lasting peace than tolerance for the differences of faith, culture and origin. Within this context, the Trust has been constantly refining its programmes with an eye towards sustainability and replication. Its experience with development, which is now considerable, is intended to be shared through joint ventures and public-private partnerships, as well as with researchers, urban planners, municipalities, development organisations, government departments and international institutions. It is my hope that these models will inform collaborative ventures among the private and public sector, national and international organisations and civil society.

Done well, these collaborations can have a catalytic effect on the revitalisation of communities — raising incomes, restoring pride, improving the quality of life and, most importantly, restoring hope. The evidence shows that culture is clearly not an add-on or a luxury, but an integral part of over-all development in both the developing and developed worlds.

His Highness the Aga Khan IV

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