The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is present in 30 countries. AKDN activities in India span the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh. These initiatives include schools and educational centres, a 162-bed multi-specialty acute care hospital in Mumbai, a rural support programme that has benefited over 1.5 million people in six Indian states and the restoration of a World Heritage site in the nation's capital.
This their website tells me - what had originally piqued my interest was how they'd restored the Humayun's Tomb in Delhi. As a resident of Nizamuddin East, I'd seen the derelict and the renewed, and marvelled at the mammoth restoration efforts.
On the sidelines of the Zee Jaipur Literature Fest a few weeks ago, I caught up with Matt Reed, the Chief Executive Office of Aga Khan Foundation (UK) and of AKDN. Reed had just come off speaking at one of the sessions where he'd stressed on the need to find out what kind of education was required in the country than use just an inherited curriculum. It struck a chord and I jumped at an opportunity for a one-on-one interaction later that day on the press terrace.
Here some excerpts of my conversation with him where he talks about how his organisation hope to create pathways of adaptability and development through education:
Education and Development
As a philosophy, for us development at its base is about making countries and societies more adaptable, to the modern world and modern economies and so, if you think about what it is fundamentally that will make societies more adaptable, education has to be at the base of it. The Aga Khan Development Network is in 30 countries - Central and South Asia, East and West Africa, Egypt and Syria. We work at every level from early childhood education, primary, secondary and universities. We think of it as a ladder of learning, to create pathways of development and advancement for people.
Helping the Marginalised
Wherever we work, we are working in the parts of the country try that are most marginalised, so often the most remote, communities that are most deprived. By working on all the levels, we want to help reform systems but also create role models for advancement. If you are from a village in remote Bihar or Gilgit-Baltistan…. Sometimes what is most important for you is seeing those people who have made it some how and what does that pathway do for them. We have a long-term commitment to these places , for example in some parts of India, our education institutions started 100 years ago.
Focussing on Universities
A lot of development organisations focus just on primary education and then the question is 'then where do you go?'. Is secondary education strong enough? Is the university system strong enough or relevant enough ? In a lot of these places we're focussed on the university level. We're focused on it because we feel that not enough attention is being paid to int. The second is that universities can be real beacons of quality for standards, for role-modelling good ethical behaviour.So our goal in these places has been to found universities that first and foremost will be high quality, will benchmark themselves against international standards, and which will try to bring international best practices to local context.
Universities as Engines of Growth
Universities can also themselves be engines of economic development for today from the point of view of making an economic impact. Look at the example of Aga Khan University that is there in five countries for over 30 years. The university itself employs about 700 faculty and has 2000 students, but that footprint then supports 42,000 jobs and a billion dollars in economic impact. Too many times countries don't look at universities as industries - there is a self-interest in doing that and at the same time, it is making an investment in your future.
Working With The Governments
India is unlike anywhere else we work. It is the largest country we work in, our programme in India is about $30 Million a year so it is quite substantial but for such a large country, we can be at $100 million and still not be at the scale that matters. We're in 6 states in India and we're working towards creating a collaborative environment and make the country's strategy on education more effective by involving communities and parents…
(Prasad Sanyal is Group Editor, Digital of Zee Media Corporation Limited)