Aga Khan Foundation, Ismailis, and DFID

From East Timor I answered an advertisement in the Economist for the position of Program Director of the Civil Society Programme of the Aga Khan Foundation, and was successful. This brought me to Geneva in December 2004 to this unique organisation which is part of the multi faceted AKDN (Aga Khan Development Network) which works in the for-profit sector with banks, insurance companies, newspapers, and in the non-profit sector with programs for health, education, rural development, civil society, and architecture and arts.

The AKDN is the development and philanthropic arm of the Ismaili religious group which is an off-shoot of the Chia branch of Islam, and its spiritual head and general manager is the Imam, the Aga Khan. I explained it to my friends as a cross between the Dalai Lama and George Soros. The AKDN works in places which have had, or will have importance to the Ismailis and these derive from their history. In the 12th Century they were the rulers of Cairo in Egypt, but were scattered by the Mongol invasion to a diaspora which took them to Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and from there to Africa (South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda), and from there in response to various civil disturbances to UK, USA, and Canada. An early convert to the Ismaili faith who came to Cairo in the 12th century and took the faith back to Central Asia meant that there are also Ismailis in Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Western China. In nearly all the places that there has been an Ismaili presence historically there remain links and these links have led to development programmes of AKF and other parts of the AKDN. There are also individual or small groups of Ismailis in Mali, Senegal, Congo and …..

While the resources of the AKDN are used to start many of its activities, long term programmes require the AKF to compete for and win contracts from the big donors. Thus shortly after my arrival I designed a civil society programme to respond to a request for proposals from DFID, and won it – providing a £11,000,000 budget for 5 years. This was presented as a draft to the Aga Khan who decided that it would work in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania (including of course Zanzibar), and Mali, in Africa, and Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. I was, at different times also asked to provide advice on civil society programmes in other AKDN countries but the DFID programme worked in those 8 countries.

The programme was to build and strengthen civil society organisations in these countries and seek to build a civil society there. This was a singular programme and consisted firstly of activities to create greater understanding of CSOs and their work, greater collaboration and a more enabling environment for their work, particularly in respect of government, greater competence and professionalism in CSOs – including financial self-reliance, and secondly of more corporate social responsibility, greater attention to integrity and civic education. There was a need to educate both staff of AKF and AKDN, as well as government and CSO personnel in the countries where AKF worked about the value of this approach, and then, once this had been achieved, to design programmes and activities to put this into operation.

The civil society programme had staff in each of the countries and two staff in Geneva (myself, and Hussein Faruque). The considerable administrative and financial back up of the AKF supported this work and was employed in a programme of research, education, training, convening, advocacy, expert consultancies and close monitoring.

Apart from Afghanistan where the AKF and national atmosphere was not conducive to the work of the Civil Society Programme, the Civil Society programme (CSP) was functional and useful. Ît was not just the funding of CSOs, but it had the purpose of building a strong civil society sector, getting recognition from power holders in the countries that this was a valuable thing to do – and would be supported, as well as the much more delicate task of getting the business sector to see that they had a responsibility to the country beyond making profits and had a responsibility to encouraging integrity and reducing corruption in their workplaces.

The CSP had two long-term partnerships with other organisations – the first was with the International Business Leaders Forum, based in the UK which concerned itself with corporate social responsibility: and the second was with Tiri (now renamed Integrity Action) which concerned itself with handling moral dilemmas and institutional integrity.

In year 4 of the 5 year program (2009) the Government of the UK changed from Labour to the Conservative/Liberal coalition. This immediately meant that the new people in charge of DFID focussed greatly on “Value for money” and the CSP found itself having to report on the number of people that it had influenced or affected which, as can be imagined from the nature of our work, was difficult and unhelpful.



It is difficult to ascertain responsibility in these accomplishments, but I think we supported:

  • Greater awareness in governments of the value of their own CSOs
  • New laws in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kenya which supported CSOs
  • Greater understanding in AKDN businesses of moral dilemmas and institutional integrity.
  • Design and use of a local government organisational capacity assessment tool
  • Greater understanding amongst businesses in the 8 countries of corporate social responsibility
  • Greater understanding amongst youth of the dangers of corruption



Beyond NGOs – CSOs with development impact
by Richard holloway and John Beauclerk. produced by AKF and INTRAC 2007

8 Booklets on the Administration and Management of Civil Society Organisations
by Richard Holloway for AKF 2006

18 Cartoon Worksbooks on different kinds of Ethical Dilemmas
edited by Richard Holloway. produced with TIRI (now Integrity Action) 2008

Integrity Guidance Manual and Teaching Guide
edited by Richard Holloway, produced with Tiri (now Integrity Action) 2008

6 DVDs on Youths understanding of corruption
produced by TIRI (now integrity Action) 2009

Teachers guide for using the DVDs
produced by AKF Secondary School Dar es Salaam 2009


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