Entries with content relating to ‘Society (Urban)’, in chronological order.

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Aga Khan Park Opening Ceremony (Toronto, Canada)

The Park and its Gardens can serve as a symbol of “connection” in other ways as well. Among them are rich connections across time linking us to the past. The Garden has for many centuries served as a central element in Muslim culture. The Holy Qur’an, itself, portrays the Garden as a central symbol of a spiritual ideal — a place where human creativity and Divine majesty are fused, where the ingenuity of humanity and the beauty of nature are productively connected. Gardens are a place where the ephemeral meets the eternal, and where the eternal meets the hand of man.

The tradition of Islamic Gardens places an emphasis on human stewardship, our responsibility to nature and to protect the natural world. We see that principle expressed in the disciplined use of geometric form — framing the power and mystery of nature. And, of course, the Garden of ancient tradition, like the Garden here today, is a place where — whatever difficult moments may come our way — we can always find, in the flow of refreshing water, a reminder of Divine blessing.

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2013 Aga Khan Award for Architecture Prize Ceremony (Lisbon, Portugal)

As I think back to the origins of this Award almost four decades ago, I recall my own growing realisation at that time that the proud architectural heritage of the Islamic world was endangered. Here was one of the world’s great architectural traditions, often inspired, as major architectural flowerings are so often, by one of the world’s great religious faiths.

And yet, this flowering had been allowed to decay, and in some cases almost to disappear. Nowhere else, in no other great cultural tradition, had this sort of compromise threatened such a rich inheritance. The result was that, for huge segments of the world’s population, cultural memory was fading, and an enormous cultural disaster seemed to be looming.

One part of the issue had been the effect of the colonial experience on Islamic cultures. But even in post-colonial or non-colonial settings, much of the Islamic architectural practice seemed to be consumed by a growing passion to be truly “modern”, or by a rudderless quest to be fashionably “global”.

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Urban Land Institute’s Annual Conference Leadership Dinner (Paris, France)

For my comments this evening it was suggested that I share some of the lessons the Aga Khan Development Network has learned from its 50 and more years of work, essentially in the developing countries of East and West Africa, South and Central Asia, and the Middle East. And it seemed that one of the subjects that I might discuss with you this evening, and which bridges our interests of today and perhaps our destinies for tomorrow, is the subject of impact investing.

As you know, a wide spectrum of investors has been increasingly involved in “impact investing,” using a diverse array of assets, employing highly disciplined due diligence and accounting analyses, and pursuing a balanced mix of financial, social, economic and environmental goals. It has been exciting to see the volume of such investments growing substantially in recent years, with growth expected to reach around 500 billion U.S. dollars in the next ten years.

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‘Prospecting the Past, Inspiring the Future’, Preface to ‘The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme: Strategies for Urban Regeneration’ edited by Philip Jodidio (Aiglemont)

My effort to defend the value of culture, through the Aga Khan Development Network, and specifically through its dedicated agency, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, focuses its activities in four main areas: the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme; the Aga Khan Award for Architecture; the Aga Khan Music Initiative; and Museum Projects.

These activities, which are themselves subdivided into a number of subsidiary programmes in many countries, obey four key principles. Firstly, they seek to increase the beneficiaries’ independence, to involve local communities, and to secure the support of public and private partners. Secondly, they are carried out in poor environments where there are considerable centrifugal, sometimes even conflicting, forces at play. Thirdly, they are designed to have maximum beneficial impact on the economies of the populations involved and their quality of life in the broadest sense of the term. Finally, they are planned in the long term, over a period of up to twenty-five years, enabling them to become self-sufficient both financially as well as in terms of human resources.

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NBC Interview, Richard Engel, ‘A Hollywood stepson and a Muslim leader’ (USA)

I certainly think the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake. We had crisis situations before that. We had them in Kashmir. We had them in the Middle East. If you look at the origins of those crises, they were political not religious. At the moment, it’s the horrible conflicts which are dominating the image of the Islamic world and I can say without one iota of fear that is totally wrong, totally wrong. You had wars in the Christian world, you had wars in the Jewish world. But you don’t define them in theological terms anymore, except Northern Ireland.

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‘His Royal Highness the Aga Khan National Park’ Opening Ceremony (Bamako, Mali)

Today, parks meet the needs of many city-dwellers wanting to relax in a natural environment. This explains the success among local communities of parks already created by AKTC. Experience shows that these urban parks are a vital public facility, frequented by city-dwellers in their hundreds of thousands. The Cairo park, for example, now receives more than 2 million visitors a year….

The National Park of Mali is also one of the largest urban parks on the African continent, and a remarkable achievement in several respects:

  • it preserves an ecosystem of priceless value with the arboretum dating from the 1930s, which includes the most beautiful species of trees and is today shown in its full glory once again;
  • it expresses a new landscape architecture, harmoniously combining the characteristics of a botanical garden that had fallen into disuse with a contemporary planning concept for public parks in major cities;
  • it includes a garden of medicinal plants, reflecting Mali’s ancestral knowledge in this field;
  • the architecture of the buildings and entrance gateways, of the restaurant and the sports centre, is distinctively contemporary, while displaying its African roots in the use of traditional materials combined with advanced technologies, especially in the roofs and the technical services. This is the work of Diébédo Francis Kéré, an Aga Khan Award for Architecture recipient in 2004 …

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‘Aga Khan: Look beyond the cities’ published in the Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada)

Nation-building may require centralised authority, but if that authority is not trusted by rural communities, then instability is inevitable. The building of successful nation states in many of the countries in which I work will depend — as it did in the West — on providing significantly greater access for rural populations, who are generally in the majority.

If these reflections are well-founded, then what is urgently needed is a massive, creative new development effort aimed at rural populations. Informed strategic thinking at the national level must be matched by a profound engagement at the local level…. The very definition of poverty is the absence of such quality of life indicators in civil society among rural populations.

It is in this context that I must share my concern that too much of the developmental effort — especially in the fields of health and education — has been focused on urban environments. I wholeheartedly support, for example, the goal of free and universal access to primary education. But I would just as wholeheartedly challenge this objective if it comes at the expense of secondary and higher education. How can credible leadership be nurtured in rural environments when rural children have nowhere to go after primary school? The experience of the Aga Khan Development Network is that secondary education for rural youth is a condition for sustainable progress.

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Address to the Global Philanthropy Forum (Washingon D.C., USA + [Canada])

[Why have our development] efforts over five decades not borne greater fruit? Measured against history, where have things gone wrong? Given the progress we have made in so many fields, why have we been so relatively ineffective in sharing that progress more equitably, and in making it more permanent?

My response centres on one principal observation: I believe the industrialised world has often expected developing societies to behave as if they were similar to the established nation states of the West, forgetting the centuries, and the processes which moulded the Western democracies. Forgotten, for one thing, is the fact that economic development in Western nations was accompanied by massive urbanisation.

Yet today, in the countries of Asia and Africa where we work, over 70 percent of the population is rural. If you compare the two situations, they are one and a half to two and half centuries apart. Similarly, the profound diversity of these impoverished societies, infinitely greater than that among nascent European nation states, is too often unrecognised, or under-estimated, or misunderstood. Ethnic, religious, social, regional, economic, linguistic and political diversities are like a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day.

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Syrian TV Interview, Reem Haddad (Aleppo, Syria)

Your Highness, is there a message that you would like to leave the Syrian people?

Well first of all, the respect and admiration that I have for Syria in its historic role within the Ummah. Secondly the notion that progress does not mean occidentalisation. Progress in the Ummah means moving forward in quality of life, but not giving up your identity, not giving up your value systems. Indeed our values systems are massively important for the future. [Emphasis original]

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Urban Park Announcement Ceremony (Bamako, Mali)

[Google translation] [W]hen one has a unique project like this, you have no right to be wrong. If it is unique, it must meet the needs of all segments of the population can not afford a kind of intellectual vanity, assuming we can know what all the needs of different users who will be attending this Park in the future. And so I want there to be, above all, an extremely broad consultation of all the people of Bamako, sports clubs, NGOs, diplomats, teachers, bankers, all those who may be interested in coming One day in the park. We want to know beforehand what they want to be offered, so we can build the programme for the park from a really deep understanding and consensus with the widest possible population of Bamako on what we must do.

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Great Mosque of Mopti Opening Ceremony (Mopti, Mali)

This project has made it possible to combine modern heritage conservation techniques with the processes and materials traditionally employed in the construction of mud brick buildings. The participation in the project of the few stone masons who still practise banco pourri has meant that more than 30 young people have been trained in this traditional technique, thus ensuring that is handed down to the next generation.

This is especially relevant in Mali where there is a danger that traditional artisans will gradually disappear, taking with them the skills and knowledge accumulated by previous generations of builders. Hence, restoring this important monument has provided the opportunity to perpetuate a tradition and also to ensure the future conservation of built heritage with appropriate techniques, competently applied….

[M]y fear is that urban modernisation will lead to an increase in property speculation and the uncontrolled development of tourist infrastructures which will eventually swallow up the mosques within the urban fabric.

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Dinner hosted by the President of Mali (Bamako, Mali)

[Google translation] During my many trips to the region during the last forty years I have seen the importance of projects that contribute constructively to the development and this has reinforced some of my beliefs. Firstly, the development challenges also offer opportunities to create opportunities in a part of the world that has a rich cultural heritage. Then, as beneficial partnerships between the public and the private sector can enhance one’s ability to contribute to improving the quality of life and restore hope in resource-poor environments. Finally, by strengthening infrastructure, introducing innovations and facilitate synergy between the countries of the region, the fruits of development can have a wider impact and profound effect on people.

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State Banquet (Antananarivo, Madagascar)

Our duty is to try to free people from poverty. And to me, poverty means being without shelter, without protection, without access to healthcare, education, or credit, and without hope of ever controlling one’s own destiny. This means condemning one’s children and grandchildren to unacceptable living conditions. A voluntarist and innovative strategy is needed in order to break this chain of despair and total imprisonment.

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Restored Monuments in Darb al-Ahmar, Opening Ceremony (Cairo, Egypt)

The first two reasons, then, for my special identification with this undertaking are its historical connections to the past, and the diverse and plural dimensions of its present. The third element, however, has to do with its sustainability in the future — and in discussing that future, two important questions come to mind.

They are, first, at what point of physical improvement can we consider that the areas of the Islamic city most at risk have been restored, rehabilitated and returned to their residents in a secured manner? And secondly, what can and should we do to ensure that the more than one million visitors per year who are likely to visit the Azhar Park in the future become an economic benefit rather than a potential economic burden for the residents of Darb al-Ahmar?

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Acceptance Address – Royal Toledo Foundation Award Ceremony (Toledo, Spain)

[T]he reality is that our world is pluralistic and multi-cultural, and destined to remain so.

Ought we not, then, to focus our attention on periods of history when pluralism was happily embraced? May we not learn thereby the need to nurture what I have recently called a cosmopolitan ethic? For this is the foundation of a merit-based civil society capable of harnessing the best in all walks of life from all groups of people. This is the only way to manage, and build on, pluralism, the critical test of democracy anywhere.

This brings me to Toledo which has so successfully preserved, over many centuries, the evidence of its three-fold culture: magnificent churches, synagogues and mosques. This was an era when each of these cultures, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, retained its independent identity while all worked and came together in a glorious intellectual and spiritual adventure. The legacy was a truly enabling environment conducive to prosperity, harmony, scientific discovery, philosophical insights and artistic flowering — all the defining features of a thriving civilisation.

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Ismaili Imamat and Government of Portugal ‘Protocol of Co-operation’ Signing Ceremony (Lisbon, Portugal)

The Protocol of Co-operation between the Government of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, which we signed this evening, is the first such Agreement that the Ismaili Imamat has signed with a Western Government, and I am deeply convinced that it will bring clear benefits to our peoples and to many others. For the Ismaili Imamat, the Ismaili Community worldwide and me, this is a highly important day. I, therefore, wish this evening, to illustrate the full significance which it has in our eyes …

The Government and municipalities, the European Commission, leading civil society and business organisations are our partners in this moral enterprise, [AKDN’s Urban Community Support Programme in Portgual], known by its local name of Kapacidad, reflecting the conviction that people are inherently capable to look after themselves.

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Kabul Serena Hotel Opening Ceremony (Kabul, Afghanistan)

[T]here are some who will ask: why build an hotel in Afghanistan at this stage of its struggle for development? And why build one of a five star level? In 2002, the Government of Afghanistan asked the Aga Khan Development Network — the AKDN — to help in restoring Kabul’s hotel capacity, which had been almost totally destroyed by the civil war. The government wanted to ensure that state visitors, diplomats, government officials, foreign and local investors, donor agency representatives and tourists travelling to Kabul would have acceptable accommodation. The Kabul Hotel had been a notable landmark and centre of activity in the city since it was built in 1945; hence it was an obvious candidate for restoration….

[I would like] to explain briefly why we attach importance to our work in the field of culture…. Our experience in situations as diverse as remote parts of Northern Pakistan, to Delhi, Zanzibar and Central Cairo, is that the restoration of historic communities and important cultural assets serves as a trampoline for economic development. The restoration activity is a source of direct employment for workers and skilled craftsmen, many of whom live in adjacent neighbourhoods. The refurbished facilities themselves become an attraction for tourists, generating more opportunity. And as the residents of surrounding areas find themselves with new sources of income, they spend some of it improving their own homes and neighbourhoods.

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Inauguration of the Aga Khan Agency For Microfinance (Geneva, Switzerland)

It is my hope that through our micro-finance programmes we will eventually create a virtuous circle of income generation in which the poor — half of the world’s population — will break out of their economic and social exclusion and achieve a level of self-reliance that allows them, in turn, to help those less fortunate.

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The Aga Khan Agency For Microfinance 2005 Annual Report: Inaugural Statements (Geneva, Switzerland)

The Aga Khan Development Network agencies have been involved in micro-credit for more than 60 years. During that time, a variety of institutions offering a range of products tailored to specific needs have been established in many countries…. We have also extended loans for education and health care, which we believe can be important ways to break down the barriers to access to those services for the poor. It is important to note that the issue is not only the provision of services, but making them accessible to the poor….

We must be prepared to bank good character, good ideas and the willingness to work hard. If we do bank those attributes, micro-finance can be a formidable tool for poverty alleviation in large parts of the developing world. Its versatility allows it to be adapted to the needs and circumstances of the poor in urban and in rural environments. I am convinced we have only begun to tap into its potential.

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Address to the National Building Museum’s Scully Seminar/Symposium (Washington D.C., USA)

I profoundly believed that architecture is not just about building; it is a means of improving people’s quality of life…. I am pleased that 28 years later, we have had some success in achieving our original goals [of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture]. We are gratified that so many others now are engaged in the cause. We have created a momentum that has become a self-sustaining and unstoppable force for change in the human habitat of the Muslim world. And I am most pleased the principles we have established are having an impact in much of the developed world as well.

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