His Highness the Aga Khan

His Highness the Aga Khan
His Highness the Aga Khan

Spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims

Lecture Date

His Highness the Aga Khan, P'95, founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), is the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. In the context of his hereditary responsibilities, His Highness has been deeply engaged with the development of Asia and Africa for more than 50 years.

The AKDN is a group of private, international, non-denominational agencies working to improve living conditions and opportunities for people in specific regions of the developing world. The Network’s organisations have individual mandates that range from healthcare (through over 400 health facilities including 13 hospitals) and education (with over 200 schools) to architecture, rural development, the built environment and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. Together, they work towards a common goal — to build institutions and programmes that can respond to the challenges of social, economic and cultural change on an on-going basis.

AKDN’s social development agencies include Aga Khan Health Services, Aga Khan Planning and Building Services, Aga Khan Education Services, Aga Khan Academies, Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance, Aga Khan Foundation, Focus Humanitarian Assistance as well as two universities, the Aga Khan University (with 5 campuses and 3 teaching sites) and the University of Central Asia (whose School of Professional and Continuing Education has served close to 50,000 students in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan). The Aga Khan Trust for Culture co-ordinates AKDN’s cultural activities, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme, Aga Khan Music Initiative, Aga Khan Museum, the on-line archive Archnet.org, and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (at Harvard and MIT). The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) is dedicated to building commercially viable enterprises — in tourism, banking, insurance, media, aviation, industry and infrastructure — in the developing world.

The Network works in 30 countries. It employs approximately 80,000 people, the majority of whom are based in developing countries, and has an annual budget for non-profit development activities of approximately US$ 600 million. In 2012, AKFED’s project companies generated close to $3b in total revenue — surpluses of which are all reinvested in further development activities. The AKDN enjoys close partnerships with public and private institutions, including amongst others, governments, international organisations, companies, foundations, and universities.

The Aga Khan, the AKDN and the Ismaili community have had long-standing ties to the United States. Among these are Agreements of Cooperation with the States of Texas, California and Illinois, which establish a framework for collaboration around issues of mutual interest that advance the human condition and better cross cultural understanding as well as partnerships with the United States Government in Central Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The Aga Khan has received numerous honorary degrees and awards in recognition of his work including, in the United States, the University of California San Francisco Medal as well as the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. In addition, Harvard University and Brown University conferred honorary Doctor of Law degrees upon His Highness in 2008 and 1996, respectively.