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Aga Khan Urges a Civil Society Partnership Between Developed and Developing Countries-2004-06-18

Friday, 2004, June 18

“True regime change occurs when liberty is guaranteed by a people free to create or support institutions of their own choosing. True regime change occurs when that strength and that freedom are defined by the depth, breadth and quality of education shared across the society in question.”

His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary spiritual leader (Imam) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network, today called for a “wide civil society partnership” between the developed world and the developing world, saying that it was “especially critical where governments are weak or non-performing, as in situations of failed democracies or post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction.”

The Aga Khan was addressing the convocation of the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, after being conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of his outstanding contributions to community service, higher education and philanthropy.

“The nature of the true regime change we need,” said the Aga Khan, “is where the civil society of the industrialised world gives wide and encompassing support to that of the developing world.”

Noting that civil society was broadly defined to cover “a wide array of organisations that have a presence in public life but are not affiliated to the state,” the Aga Khan said that it “embraces an even wider diversity of spaces, actors and institutional forms that vary in their degree of formality, autonomy and power.” “Whatever definition is used,” he said, however, “a quality civil society is independent of government, pluralist and led by merit-based educated leadership.”

Canadian civil society, said the Aga Khan, both met these criteria and was empathetic to the needs of civil society in countries of the developing world. “Canadian civil society can mobilise its resources more vigorously to help improve the quality of life of the peoples of Africa and Asia,” he continued, by “sharing the many forms of human knowledge and experience that create, and then sustain a civil society of quality” rather than by the massive injection of monetary resources.

The Aga Khan underlined that whilst there were many opportunities for partnership between Canada and the developing world, such as the sharing of best practices, the twinning of institutions, the quality improvement in the delivery of healthcare and education and the secondment of leadership such as school head teachers or university professors in specialised fields, these were at present not being realised, or if they were, these were dramatically below the potential for change.

Urging the graduates to “reflect deeply on the needs of their world today,” and to “seize opportunities for sharing your knowledge with future generations here in Canada,” the Aga Khan reminded them that “the reach of your knowledge can go far beyond your shores and will be deeply welcomed.”

Earlier during his visit to Canada, the Aga Khan held meetings with Ontario Premier, Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Mayor David Miller.

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