Article Author :Farooq Mitha – July 2008
While many non-governmental organizations are actively engaged in projects within Syria, the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is one of the most intriguing. This is not only because of the types of projects the AKDN is implementing across the country, but also because of the context in which the organization operates in the developing world.
Since 2002, when the Syrian Parliament ratified the Framework for Development Cooperation
Agreement between the government and the AKDN, the AKDN has been engaged in development projects in Syria in many areas including culture, education, health, microfinance, and rural support.
Since the agreement was signed between the Syrian Government and the AKDN, the Aga Khan has visited Syria on a number of occasions to promote the work of the AKDN. In 2001 the award ceremony for the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture was held in Aleppo, Syria. The ceremony was attended by many dignitaries from both within and outside of Syria. In his opening remarks, His Highness the Aga Khan recalled the history of Syria and its role “at the crossroads of civilizations for over 2,500 years,” and “an ancient witness to the fruitful interaction of different peoples and cultures.” Award winners in this cycle of the award came from several countries including India, Turkey, and Malaysia.
The AKDN has implemented many projects throughout the country with a significant portion of its work focusing on economic development primarily through the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM). The AKAM’s programs are geared towards aiding Syria’s economy as it transitions from a state-run economy to an economy driven by a vibrant private sector. It has implemented a credit and business advisory services program throughout the country that serves rural and urban populations. This program disburses loans to encourage business development, and services agricultural activities. Within its first three years the program disbursed more than US$12 million and created 11,000 new jobs. Even more interesting is the fact that almost 25 percent of the loan recipients are women. The goal of the AKDN through this project is to build human resource capacity in Syria and to provide access to microfinance to those who do not have access to banking and credit.
Additionally, the AKDN is creating a national microfinance institution to increase the scale of its current microcredit programs. The Syrian government is working with the AKAM in developing the necessary infrastructure to enable the establishment of this institution, which would be the first of its kind in Syria.
These programs will go far in bridging the gap between the rich and poor and in giving opportunity and empowerment to those who otherwise would not have the chance to succeed.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) is also involved in the restoration of culturally significant historical sites in Syria such as the citadels of Aleppo and Masyaf. These projects are significant because they revitalize cities and increase tourism, while also promoting cross-cultural understanding. Aside from economic and cultural development, the network has implemented programs in several other sectors. The AKDN’s rural development programs deal with water management in rural areas, its health initiatives focus on preventative care, and its education initiatives specialize in teacher education and performance.
As the Aga Khan commemorates his Golden Jubilee this year, there has been increased awareness of the work the AKDN carries out and the impact it has on the lives of others. The Aga Khan describes the work of the AKDN as part of the Islamic ethic, which calls for people to come together in order to improve the quality of life for all humanity. It is this call to action that has been the inspiration of the AKDN’s work not only in Syria, but across impoverished communities throughout the Muslim world.
Farooq Mitha is an advisor to the Democratic Party in the US.
A history of doing good
The AKDN was founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, who is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, and is a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) through his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and his daughter, Fatima. The AKDN is a network of institutions that work primarily in Asia and Africa, and operate their programs regardless of the beneficiary’s faith, origin, or gender. The work the AKDN carries out in the Middle East is through individual agencies of the network, such as the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. As a whole, the AKDN is part of the Aga Khan’s vision to carry out the social conscience of Islam through institutional action.
The methodology of the AKDN’s work is most interesting because it is not an organization that merely helps communities with short term, cookie cutter solutions. The institutions have the vision of improving living conditions of the poor with solutions that not only have a long term focus, but also enable societies to become self sufficient in a dignified manner. It also takes into consideration both the cultural context and desire of the communities it operates within when implementing projects. This philosophy has been applied in projects in Afghanistan, East Africa, India, and the several other countries in which the development Network operates.
Courtesy find: http://ahmadladhani.wordpress.com