In the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, supporting communities to build inclusive, …

AKDN / Lucas Cuervo Moura

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Our Approach to Development

The Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.

AKDN / Gary Otte

Area Development

We believe that successful development occurs when a continuum of development activities offers people in a given area not only a rise in incomes, but a broad, sustained improvement in the overall quality of life. Our agencies therefore integrate their activities in order to reinforce each other’s efforts and multiply their impact.

We recognise that long-term positive change is a complex endeavour. Income disparity is only one aspect of poverty. Others can be just as damaging: a lack of quality education, the inability to withstand disasters, or an absence of effective civil society organisations.

Development is sustainable only if the beneficiaries become, in a gradual manner, the masters of the process. This means that initiatives cannot be contemplated exclusively in terms of economics, but rather as an integrated programme that encompasses social and cultural dimensions as well. Education and skills training, health and public services, conservation of cultural heritage, infrastructure development, urban planning and rehabilitation, rural development, water and energy management, environmental control, and even policy and legislative development are among the various aspects that must be taken into account.

His Highness the Aga Khan
Amsterdam, September 2002

The Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, Kenya.

AKDN / Lucas Cuervo Moura

Working Ethically

As the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims, His Highness the Aga Khan not only leads the interpretation of the faith but also – through AKDN – the efforts to improve the quality of life of his community, and of the wider societies within which it lives. The guiding principle of the Imamat’s institutions is to replace walls that divide with bridges that unite.

The ethics of Islam bridge the realms of faith on the one hand and practical life on the other – what we call Din and Dunya. Accordingly, my spiritual responsibilities for interpreting the faith are accompanied by a strong engagement in issues relating to the quality of life and wellbeing. This latter commitment extends not only to the Ismaili community but also to those with whom they share their lives – locally, nationally and internationally.

His Highness the Aga Khan
Paris, June 2007

The Aga Khan Foundation operates a training programme for civil society organisations (CSOs) in Egypt, funded by the European Commission. The programme has helped strengthen 25 local CSOs in 17 villages in rural Aswan. The activities have reached over 80,000 beneficiaries and created 450 jobs.

AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

Strengthening Civil Society

A vibrant and competent civil society is the cornerstone of a healthy and prosperous nation – and an essential part of AKDN’s work. Yet, in many parts of the world, civil society suffers from a dearth of technical knowledge, human resources and financial means. To address these gaps, we support robust institutions that experiment, adapt and accommodate diversity.

Founded on the ethics and values that drive progress and positive change, these civil society institutions – of education, health, science and research, and culture, to name a few – harness the private energies of citizens committed to the public good.

AKDN supports 35,000 civil society organisations that reach 9.7 million people. In South Asia, for example, AKDN works with the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy to help make NGOs more effective, accountable and relevant when responding to the social needs of the communities they serve. In East Africa, AKDN is using mobile devices to connect remote and marginalised communities to e-learning courses and to disseminate innovative agricultural techniques to poor farmers. Find out more

The projects of the Water and Sanitation Extension Programme (WASEP) in Pakistan, like this water filtration system in Gilgit-Baltistan, are being replicated with the support of governments, donors and partners.


Safeguarding the Environment

For over 50 years, AKDN has worked in resource-poor or challenging environments. We implement innovative responses to water, fodder and fuel shortages, land degradation, seismic risk, food security and other challenges. Climate change has intensified many problems.

Since the 1980s, AKDN’s award-winning rural programmes have helped farmers manage their natural resources and generate alternative sources of incomes. They have helped communities explore drip irrigation, biogas projects, community hydroelectric plants, windmills and solar energy. They have also helped build community assets that address climate issues over the longer term, such as the planting of over 100 million trees and the development of more efficient smoke-free stoves – amongst 70 other low-cost habitat improvements – that reduce the demand for fuelwood.

We work with communities, mainly in rural areas, to help them prepare for and respond to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. Activities provide safe housing design and earthquake-resistant construction, village planning and natural hazard mitigation, water supply and sanitation, and improved indoor living conditions.

Our environment and climate-related efforts are guided by the following principles:

  • Responsible stewardship of the environment, ensuring that the Earth can sustainably support future generations.

  • Focusing on improving the quality of life and well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable, in geographies of strategic importance.

  • Demonstrating socially responsible and values-oriented leadership on the most urgent issues of our time.

  • Leading by example, and sharing our experiences with others, to influence policies, raise awareness, increase impact and effect social transformation.

    Find out more

    The Première Agence de Microfinance (PAMF) branch in Boundiali of Northern Côte d’Ivoire provides loans primarily intended for income-generating activities, and are designed to improve agricultural productivity, acquire livestock and establish small enterprises in rural and urban areas.


    Promoting Gender Equality

    We are committed to highlighting the key role of women in the development process and to facilitating their participation. We also engage with men around the changes that flow from programmes that benefit women.

    AKDN’s commitment to gender equality is driven by research and experience. Both have shown that taking gender considerations into account in planning economic and social interventions greatly increases the probability of their success.

    In most countries and communities, gender determines both domestic and productive roles. Women generally have responsibilities for both, but their ability to contribute to society is constrained by social, cultural and political traditions. Compared to men, they tend to be less educated, more limited in their options and paid less. Yet women manage households, raise children, pass knowledge onto the next generation, tend livestock, grow and process crops and often run businesses to supplement family income. Families and communities benefit exponentially when women reap greater rewards for their own efforts and labour. Once sustenance needs are covered, women quickly address the health and education needs of other generations.

    Our work aims to raise the competence and confidence of women – and, correspondingly, to open up the thinking of men. We offer women village credit schemes, and training in forestry, masonry, crop and livestock management, accounting and marketing. We address barriers to education, as when we construct sanitation facilities in schools. We support research and action aimed at making women's participation in education, careers and decision-making a reality.

    One’s identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world, but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.

    His Highness the Aga Khan
    Toronto, September 2016

    The Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, Canada, undertakes activities to promote more inclusive societies that ensure that all people are recognised and feel they belong. Deborah Ahenkorah, a Ghanaian social entrepreneur and book publisher - and one of the winners of the 2019 Global Pluralism Award - delivers remarks during the Award ceremony. 

    AKDN / Patrick Doyle

    Promoting Pluralism

    We promote pluralism, or the embrace of difference, within many of our programmes, from the Aga Khan Museum in Canada to a reading programme for children in the Kyrgyz Republic; from integrating immigrants in Lisbon to teaching traditional music in Central Asia. Our ultimate aim is to nurture successful civil societies in which all citizens, irrespective of cultural, religious or ethnic differences, can realise their full potential.

    In our experience, respect for pluralism in society is an essential component of development. When it breaks down, the gains made by poor communities can be set back by decades, particularly when civil strife follows.

    To promote understanding of the vital role pluralism plays, the Ismaili Imamat and the Canadian Government created the Global Centre for Pluralism, a major international centre for research, education and exchange about the values, practices and policies that underpin pluralist societies.

    The Centre undertakes research, delivers programmes, facilitates dialogue, develops pedagogical materials and works with civil society partners worldwide to build the capacities of individuals, groups, educational institutions and governments to promote indigenous approaches to pluralism in their own countries and communities.

    The AKDN project company Frigoken, Kenya’s largest exporter of processed green beans, implements a comprehensive workplace wellness programme and provides young families with a day-care facility.

    AKDN / Lucas Cuervo Moura

    Improving the Quality of Life

    AKDN’s overall goal is to improve the Quality of Life (QoL). This encompasses improvements in material standards of living, health and education, and a set of values and norms which include pluralism and cultural tolerance, gender and social equity, civil society organisation and good governance.

    Our QoL assessments provide an overview of how people’s lives are changing over time, in order that we can analyse and adjust our interventions.

    By processing vegetables throughout the year, Frigoken, a project company of AKDN in Kenya, provides small-scale farmers in East Africa an all-year round guaranteed market for their produce.

    AKDN / Lucas Cuervo Moura

    Generating Sustainable Solutions

    Development models require time to demonstrate their effectiveness and to enable local communities to take full responsibility for their own future development. Our agencies, therefore, make a long-term commitment to the areas in which they work.

    They are guided by the philosophy that change can only happen and endure when it is informed by the choices people themselves make about how they live and wish to improve their prospects in harmony with their environment.

    The Reading for Children programme in Bihar, India.


    Alleviating Poverty

    A long-term strategy is required to lift those in need out of the cycle of poverty and develop community resources in ways that lead to self-reliance. This begins with an in-depth analysis of the multiple causes of poverty in consultation with the community. Next, we implement integrated programmes simultaneously.

    A poverty alleviation programme might encompass variables such as education and skills training, health and public services, the conservation of cultural heritage, infrastructure development, urban planning and rehabilitation, water and energy management, and even enabling policies and laws.

    To that end, we have been building institutions and long-term programmes for over 50 years, including:

    • hydroelectric plants that power nations and regions;

    • telecoms companies connecting individuals, businesses and continents through broadband and mobile services;

    • habitat plans to nurture safe, inclusive settlements from villages to cities;

    • schools, nurseries and teacher training;

    • health posts, clinics and hospitals;

    • companies offering essential goods and services such as pharmaceuticals or packaging;

    • early childhood programmes that give deprived children a head start;

    • environmental programmes that plant trees, counter soil degradation and protect biological diversity;

    • public parks in fast-growing cities;

    • award-winning hotels that set standards for environmental stewardship;

    • universities and nursing schools that provide essential human resources for developing nations;

    • savings groups and mobile banking that help underserved populations weather financial hardship and build a better future; and

    • an award that has influenced architectural discourse for four decades.

      In Tajikistan, the Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (MSDSP) trains volunteers as Community Health Promoters (CHPs) to help encourage healthy practices and assist in the distribution of contraceptives, micronutrients and oral rehydration solutions among others.

      AKDN / Jean-Luc Ray

      Encouraging Volunteerism

      AKDN relies on the Ismaili tradition of volunteer service to help implement and maintain projects, notably at health and education facilities. Others beyond the Ismaili community participate by volunteering their energies for the creation or maintenance of facilities that improve the quality of life. Many people participate in annual fundraising events, the proceeds of which go directly to programmes in developing countries.

      Examples of volunteer service include professional architects and planners volunteering their expertise to help rural populations with "self-help" construction projects; community-based women's organisations in remote villages operating primary healthcare centres; and communities in East Africa managing their own pre-schools.