Wednesday, July 27, 2005

AGA KHAN FOUNDATION: Keeping A Sharp Focus

On the 21st of July, I posted an article about the Aga Khan Development Network. In that article I mentioned that there are eight agencies under the AKDN network. One of the most well known of these agencies is the Aga Khan Foundation.

The Foundation keeps a sharp focus on a small number of specific development problems. It does this by forms partnerships – both intellectual and financial – with organizations that share its objectives.

In addition to keeping a sharp focus, the Foundation has clearly defined objectives and maintains a consistent approach to its work. It concentrates its efforts in the areas of health, education, rural development and the strengthening of civil society.

The Aga Khan Foundation looks for innovative approaches to generic problems consistent with the thematic areas upon which it focuses.

Highly selective in its choices of programs, the Foundation’s principal criterion is the potential for bringing lasting benefit to project participants. And success is measured by is achieved and learned by the grantees and how that can benefit projects elsewhere.

Because of the way success is measured, the Foundation’s projects are designed to be learning experiences as well as achieve other goals. It is intended that project participants will come to understand complex issues attendant to their development problems and identify solutions that can be adapted to conditions in many different regions.

The Foundation states that “Replicability is essential to the creation of useful models.”
And “(w)herever appropriate, approaches are tested in urban as well as rural settings, and in different cultures and geographic environments.”

The Foundation operates in the African nations of Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda as well as in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, India, the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Portugal, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. In all of these countries, most of the Foundation grants are made to grassroots organizations that are testing innovative approaches in the field.

The locations for the Foundation’s projects are chosen based upon special needs in poor environments. Also, there must be a capable implementing organizations in the area to work with the Foundation and it usually engages in areas where there is a strong volunteer base to ensure knowledgeable and culturally sensitive management of its local affairs.

The recipient organizations are selected irrespective of their race, religion, political persuasion or gender. And even though the Foundation has a small staff – there are only about 490 worldwide – it funded over 140 projects in countries listed above with a budget of US $ 139 million in 2003. This was accomplished with the help of many cooperating agencies and thousands of volunteers.

The Foundation says that in every undertaking, the goals are essentially the same:

To make it possible for poor people to act in ways that will lead to long-term improvements in their income and health, in the environment and in the education of their children.

To provide communities with a greater range of choices and the understanding necessary to take informed action.

To enable beneficiaries to gain the confidence and competence to participate in the design, implementation and continuing operation of activities that affect the quality of their lives.

To put institutional, management and financial structures in place to ensure that program activities are sustainable without Foundation assistance within a reasonable time-frame.

Among other things, the Foundation is also helping community pre-schools in Africa to build endowments, and providing fund-raising advice and contacts to a host of current and former recipients of its grants.

It also owns a large number of properties for social and cultural activities, including several hospitals and hundreds of schools and health centers in the developing world. A portion of its income is used to maintain and improve them.

While the Foundation funds projects in several continents, below is just a partial listing of those projects, which were conducted in Africa in 2003.

Advanced Nursing Studies, East Africa
Coast Health Systems Strengthening Project, Kenya
HIV/AIDS Programme, Kenya and Zanzibar

Enhancing Primary Education in Kampala, Uganda
Kenya School Improvement Programme
Madrasa Programme Resource Centres and Research, East Africa
Professional Development Centre, Tanzania
School Improvement Programme Regional Research, Uganda
Support to Education in Primary Schools, Tanzania

Coastal Rural Support Programme (Kenya)
Coastal Rural Support Programme (Mozambique)

NGO Resource Centre Zanzibar, Tanzania
Young Development Professionals, East Africa

The grantees for these programs are normally non-governmental organizations that share the Foundation’s goals. In those cases, where no appropriate partner can be found, the Foundation may help to create a new civil society organization or may manage projects directly. Also, major projects are evaluated by independent professionals, and often in partnership with the agencies that co-fund them.

In addition to the Aga Khan Foundation, there is the Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC). AKFC is a non-profit international development agency that established in Canada in 1980 as part of the world-wide Aga Khan Development Network.

This Foundation supports social development projects designed to benefit the poor in Africa and Asia without regard to race, religion or political affiliation.

AKFC, like the Aga Khan Foundation, seeks practical and inexpensive ways to enhance the quality of education, improve health care and increase rural incomes. It is also says that it is concerned with gender equity, preserving the environment, promoting small enterprise development and strengthening non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Working in partnership with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), AKFC, again – like the Aga Khan Foundation – places great emphasis on innovation, effective management and careful evaluation, with the objective of finding solutions that can be used in many parts of the world.

One of AKFC’s projects is that it fosters links between Canadian universities, hospitals and other institutions and the developing world.

There is more going on at the Aga Khan Foundation than I can tell you about, so visit their web site at: and see the big picture.

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