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SPEECH BY HIS HIGHNESS PRINCE KARIM AGA KHAN in Toronto - 1983-04-27

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Event - 1983-04-27
Date: 
Wednesday, 1983, April 27
Location: 

Honourable Ministers, Your Excellencies, My Lord Chief Justice, Distinguished Guests.
It is a great pleasure both to be here in Toronto and to be addressing an audience whose concern with development questions in the Third World is far from academic. The activities of CIDA, of CARE, of Oxfam Canada, of AMI, of Canadian UNICEF, of such provincial organisations as Alberta Aid, and of many non Governmental organisations and church groups, has rightfully established worldwide esteem for Canada's strong sense of mission in helping less fortunate nations. The Aga Khan Foundation is happy to be able to collaborate with these organisations in its own programmes to promote development and social welfare in Asia and Africa.

Obviously, although the Foundation's activities range widely, it is impossible for it to address the complete spectrum of Third World needs. Therefore, it has chosen its areas of endeavour with considerable care and has always sought to analyse problems and to look for their root causes before developing responses. By the nature of the Ismaili Community's demography - members of my community live in large numbers in many Third World countries - the Foundation is in daily contact at all levels with both urban and rural citizens. So, although the Foundation's efforts are directed toward the welfare of all communities, these grass roots contacts do give an added dimension to the surveys we carry out and assist in evaluating plans against the background of national planning in the countries concerned.

Not surprisingly, since the Foundation was established in 1967, we have come to certain conclusions about how to make aid more effective and I hope that you will forgive me if, in explaining our thinking, I go back briefly to the basic considerations which face us.

As we approach the year 2000, international interest is understandably being focussed on the conditions in which mankind will find itself during the twenty-first century. One fact is inescapable, the world population will be substantially larger. Between 1950 and 1975 it grew from 2,500 million to 4,000 million. By the turn of the century it will exceed 6,000 million. Over 80 percent of these people will be in the developing countries. Despite the rapidity of Third World urban growth, the huge majority of them will be rural dwellers and, if present conditions are any guide. They will have lower incomes and suffer greater deprivation than urban citizens.

You may well comment that there is nothing very new about this. Enough has been said and written about the North-South dialogue for the citizens of a country as committed to overseas aid as Canada to be well aware of the demographic differences between the industrial world and the developing nations of Asia, Africa and South America.

But there is another dialogue which is in every way as important as the North-South one and that is the inter-action within the Third World between rural populations and the predominantly urban national decision makers.

I am under the impression that in most African and Asian countries, insufficient efforts have been made to create a permanent constructive and effective dialogue between the rural populations and National planners.

No matter how intellectually compelling we find such international objectives as 'Health for all by the year 2000' or the International year of Shelter scheduled for 1987, or the concept of universal primary education, these worthy objectives will not be achieved - not even be approached - if the world's rural populations do not participate in them. Equally, the objectives will remain unattainable if the drift to the cities is not stemmed by improvements in the quality of rural life sufficient to persuade rural people to stay on the land. It is a tremendous task, and it can only succeed through involving rural people, materially and emotionally, in programmes to generate employment, improve basic living conditions and provide education.

This genuine participation by the people whom schemes are intended to benefit, is an essential ingredient of the projects we undertake. So is a multi-disciplinary approach, tackling rural development problems of education, health and productivity in an integrated way. Even with the kind of grass roots contacts we enjoy, it is simply impossible at the launching of a rural support programme, for example, to determine exactly what elements will eventually have the greatest impact on the largest number of people. Consequently, in my view, the greatest chance of making a programme effective lies in giving it as all-enveloping an approach as possible.

Needless to say, we did not arrive at this concept in a blinding flash of inspiration. It derived from experience. We learnt very early of the importance of a professional approach to management of social welfare projects and the need to train local people as managers, and, remembering that our resources will always be limited by comparison with the intimidating scale of Third World needs, we arrived at four main themes to pursue in our programmes.

The first is seeking new, cost effective ways to improve the quality of basic education in developing countries. The second centres on community-oriented health development, tackling the fact that, because of the high cost involved, the majority of people in developing countries do not have access to conventional medical and health services. By 'community-oriented' I do not, of course, mean the Ismaili community but all communities at village level, for example in the Nyanza Province of Kenya. Thirdly, the Foundation is endeavouring to generate employment and income in rural areas through rural support programmes in which CIDA and Alberta Aid are interested. Fourthly, we are concerned with improving the management of the Third World's natural resources, for example by helping re-afforestation schemes in India, which stop the spread of erosion and consequent loss of arable land.

Frequently the practical application of these themes interlocks, as in the community basic services programme which we have instituted in the Northern areas of Pakistan, in collaboration with UNICEF and the Pakistan Government.

These mountainous districts are among the poorest and backward in the sub-continent and our programme's aspects include providing drinking water and sanitation to villages, training birth attendants and introducing schemes for curricula development and teacher training in schools.

At the same time, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in the northern areas - also a programme in which Alberta Aid and CIDA are interested - is underpinning the whole project by identifying and promoting income-generating opportunities for the villagers so that they are better able to contribute to their own welfare. It is our hope that the Support Programme will eventually work itself out of a job because it will have made the local population's endeavour self-generating.

Once rural people have adopted a concept - as in Northern Pakistan they have adopted ideas for the self help construction of village schools - they will often carry it through far faster than the planners would expect.

When confidence in development programmes is established, it may also be possible to unlock reserves of rural wealth which are at present unutilised. In the Third World rural people do not have bank accounts - at best they may have access to co-operative banks. They invest their savings in gold and silver, in small, portable, high value items which they can easily pass on to other members of their families. But this wealth might, given progress and stability, be persuaded into productive investment, into tractors and other implements, into seeds and fertilizers.

This brings me to what I believe is an extremely important point. Until recently too many aid programmes have been capital intensive and geared to the type of Western urbanised economies with which the donor countries are familiar. Programmes which would make rural people more productive have been pushed into the background.

Yet consider the nature of ordinary rural dwellers. In our experience they are extraordinarily resilient and - like most Third World people - possess remarkable determination to improve their own circumstances. A major turning point is reached in any family's outlook when it feels confident of its future and able to save for that future.

In the Third World we are not talking about saving for refrigerators or cars. We are talking about the ability to buy proper clothing and to send children to primary school, to live in a house - however primitive - not in a hovel. We are talking about improvements which do not require large amounts of money but do require a genuine understanding of the impediments to improving the quality of life of rural people. We are talking about stimulating a personal adaptability which does not feature often enough in the terminology of many Western planners.

I have noticed that countries in Asia have begun to create rural wealth, whereas Africa is slower to do so. But in both those parts of the world I have discerned a new sense of pragmatism, a new realism and openness in the discussion of economic problems. Ten years ago the prominence of political ideas in Third World economic planning at times prevented the white elephant schemes of development being discussed. Today, serious questions are being raised as to what to do with them and interestingly one solution frequently proposed is to offer them to the private sector.

The recognition of private sector capabilities, which in the past have often been considered politically unacceptable in developing countries, is extending into the sphere of social institutions. More and more countries are questioning why it was ever necessary to nationalise competent private schools and medical facilities. In Pakistan, for example, private schools are now being returned to their former owners.

Such moves are without doubt the product of the recession and of lack of resources. Developing nations have observed how the industrialised nations are dealing with recession and have themselves accepted economic restraints which they would have thought intolerable a few years ago. Along with this new pragmatism has come an increasing search for better management for the tools of evaluating economic benefit and for the management personnel to operate them.

Overall, I would say that the emotional and psychological context in which the Third World is discussing development is more rational today than it has been for many years.

The question is how long this environment will last and how the industrialised countries are going to react to the potential for effective development action which it offers.

My sincere hope is that as the industrialised world pulls itself out of recession it will give the Third World increasing access to its know-how and make available increasing material support. In the present context, this support will land on fertile soil and substantial results will be achieved.

If the industrialised world does not do this in the relatively near future, but builds barriers to protect itself against any recurrence of economic crisis, then the world recession will do even more damage than it has already to Third World economies. The pragmatists will be overtaken by failure of performance and their countries will return, through sheer frustration, to the strident conflicts of the past, and rational reflection will once again become endangered.

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