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Aga Khan Foundation

Azim A. Nanji, Maryanne Rhett
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Aga Khan Foundation

The Aga Khan Foundation is a private, nondenominational, philanthropic institution established in 1967 by the Aga Khan, the Ismāʿīlī imam, to put into practice “the Muslim ethic of care and compassion for those of the society in greatest need.” The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) was conceived as an outreach to the developing world and a way of relating Islam's humanitarian philosophy to issues of modern development. As a part of the larger umbrella organization, the Aga Khan Development Network, the ideals and ethics of Islam act as a springboard for the Foundation to address economic and social needs in an integrated manner for the benefit of Muslims and non-Muslims. Funding for the AKF's activities is provided by the imam, the community, international and local donor agencies, foundations, partners, and many individuals.

Since its inception, the AKF has become a recognized international development agency with programs on four continents: Africa (Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda); Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Syria, and Tajikistan); Europe (Portugal, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom); and North America (Canada and the United States). Its global presence has become one of its greatest strengths, enabling it to bridge the developed and developing worlds. The AKF's headquarters are in Geneva, and the various country units pursue common objectives under the guidance of a board of directors chaired by the Aga Khan.

Although it is a funding agency, the AKF also involves itself in the formation and development of projects, enabling local populations to create and manage sustainable institutions that are sensitive to cultural values as well as development needs. The AKF's substantial budget allows for the necessary flexibility to create and sustain programs of global importance. In 2004, the Foundation funded over 130 projects with a budget of nearly $149.4 million U.S. The Foundation concentrates its attentions on four major thematic concerns:

  • 1. Health: improving the health status of the poor and providing financial support and access to primary health care.
  • 2. Education: the emphasis has been on addressing the needs of young children and improving the quality of schools through better teacher training and involvement of families and communities.
  • 3. Rural Development: among the AKF's major initiatives is the transformation of degraded environments, generation of income, and institutional development to alleviate poverty in rural areas. These models have been judged by various international agencies to be suitable for replication in other developing countries.
  • 4. Economic: expanding access for the poor to a larger range of financial services, particularly microfinance.

One of the AKF's foremost goals is to build what the Aga Khan has called “an enabling environment,” in which individuals as volunteers and the private and public sectors contribute jointly to create favorable conditions for building permanent capacities in developing societies.

The following examples of projects in Asia and Africa illustrate the nature of the AKF's approach to program development and to the improvement of socioeconomic status by action at the grassroots level.

The highly successful rural development program in the mountainous northern areas of Pakistan has been internationally recognized for its innovative and effective approach. In January 2006, at the Seventh Annual Global Development Conference held in St. Petersburg, Russia, the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in Pakistan won the 2005 Global Development Award for Most Innovative Development Project. In its first phase, the program was able to motivate diverse Muslim communities in the area to form village organizations and women's organizations on a nonsectarian basis; to build consensus on program development; to act as a channel for the use of collective savings; to utilize grants for the building of small infrastructures; and to train men and women in farming techniques, organization, and fiscal responsibility. This model of participatory community organization and international aid has dramatically transformed the economy and the lives of people throughout the region.

Along the East African coast (primarily in Kenya, Mozambique, and Zanzibar), the AKF development involves preschool and education programs. In cooperation with parents and religious leaders, hitherto underutilized Muslim learning centers for children (madrasahs), which served as places for the instruction of the Qurʿān, are now equipped to provide children with educational skills that are not simply aimed at complementing religious education, but are also responsive to cultural, spiritual, cognitive, and total health needs. The integrated curriculum has facilitated entrance to and competence in primary-school education. Additionally, a teacher training program and a resource center have been created to disseminate materials developed by Muslim women teachers, thereby playing an important leadership role in linking families and communities in education. In 2004, the Mozambique program trained fifty-seven primary education teachers and an additional fifty literacy teachers. The work in these regions has allowed other governments and non-governmental organizations to enhance their own programs and reach larger populations.

The rural sustainability work in Afghanistan has focused on developing alternative livelihoods for Afghanis, in particular, reducing household dependence on opium cultivation. The AKF works with local organizations to diversify agricultural production and facilitate water and rangeland management programs, which will help improve sustainability and broaden narrow incomes. The Foundation also has projects for the establishment and rehabilitation of educational and community health facilities, and the provision of shelters for returning refugees—all necessary in the rebuilding efforts of the Afghani state.

The AKF has been particularly committed to improving the health of the poor through comprehensive primary health care programs specially suited for work in densely populated areas like the squatter settlements in Karachi, Pakistan. As a result, a new generation of health care professionals is specifically trained to work in such poor neighborhoods. Primary health care programs also exist in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, with particular attention to environmental factors, such as clean drinking water and sanitation.

The AKF is a part of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of eight institutions working in health, education, culture, and rural and economic development, which share a common philosophy and approach to development. Among the other major institutions with which it collaborates actively in the development network are the Aga Khan University, the Trust for Culture, the Fund for Economic Development, and the Health and Education Services. These programs and institutions reflect a breadth of interest that has given the network and the AKF the reputation of a unique and effective global philanthropic organization. See also AGA KHAN.


  • Aga Khan Development Network. www.akdn.org.
  • Aga Khan Foundation Annual Report, 2004. Geneva, 2004. Find it in your Library
  • Aga Khan Foundation Canada: An Institutional Review. Toronto, 1991. Find it in your Library
  • Aga Khan Foundation International Strategy, 1991–1999. Geneva, 1992. Overview of the history, mission, and program directions. Find it in your Library
  • Aga Khan Rural Support Program in Pakistan: A Second Interim Evaluation. Washington, D.C., 1990. Find it in your Library
  • Anderson, S. E., ed. Improving Schools through Teacher Development: Case Studies of the Aga Khan Foundation Projects in East Africa. Downingtown, Pa.: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers, 2007. Find it in your Library
  • Khan, S. S., and M. H. Khan. Rural Change in the Third World: Pakistan and the Aga Khan Rural Support Program. New York, 1992. Find it in your Library
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