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Opinion: Aga Khan's contributions little-known, but significant 2018-05-09

Wednesday, 2018, May 9
His Highness the Aga Khan and Alberta Premier Alison Redford sign an Agreement of Cooperation between the Ismaili Imamat and the
Dave Mowat

s a banker and someone involved in the community, one of the ways I measure success is by taking a good hard look at results. Focus on what has been achieved, how have people been better served and how has community been fostered.

Over the years, I have served on many boards and been involved with dozens of community initiatives. I am grateful for the people I’ve met through this work. I have learned a lot from those who have challenged me and those who have offered me a differing perspective than my own.

Among these is a somewhat unlikely source — the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community, and a man who has made significant contributions to Canada and Alberta. My guess is that his contributions are little known by Canadians and Albertans, but they are significant.

I had the pleasure of being on the board of the University of Alberta Botanic Garden at a time when he pledged $25 million to create an Islamic garden, right here in Edmonton. The Aga Khan Garden is due to open in the coming weeks.

I have also been involved with the Aga Khan Foundation Canada’s annual golf tournament to raise funds to fight poverty and improve quality of life in the most deprived parts of the world. As the local Ismaili community prepares for His Highness’s arrival to our home province this week, there are two important lessons I’ve learned through his work that I believe are important, especially in today’s world of crisis and admonishment, potential and opportunity.

The Aga Khan is perhaps the leading community builder of our time, taking deliberate and repeated measures to cultivate a sense of community from the smallest villages on the other side of the planet to, literally, the entire world. At the basis for all this work is a deep-rooted commitment to improving people’s quality of life — from safe drinking water to telecommunications, from high quality education and health care to park preservation. He looks at communities holistically, recognizing that how we find contentment as individuals and societies is the sum of many, many parts.

While some would want us to believe the world is a simple place with quick-fix, simplistic solutions, I don’t think that is the case. The Aga Khan takes complex, difficult work and tackles it with undeterred focus and passion. He draws on many perspectives and finds synergies by putting many organizations together to form a solution.

Herein lies the first lesson: to appreciate things and their complexity and, instead of being overwhelmed and grabbing simplistic solutions, draw on connection points and bring them together to get work done.
The second lesson is his clarity of vision that our differences make us stronger as people, communities, societies, cultures and faith groups. This is true pluralism. He and others like him do not profess a world where we simply tolerate one another, but one where we gain from one another.

As soon as you are “pushing” only your own ideas, you are immediately limited to what you can think of. To appreciate other perspectives, opens us to possibilities that no one of us could think of, things that can be transformational.

The Aga Khan would push us even further. Real human progress — the kind where we all benefit and that brings deep happiness — requires us to purposefully seek one another out, to actively listen to each other’s ideas and to wholeheartedly collaborate. We experience chasms of misunderstanding, and fostering a pluralistic society may be the antidote.

And at this point in time, technology may actually be working for human interaction, not against it. The most recent work I have experienced with simple collaborative tools, like the Google Suite, allows us to work differently and makes collaboration more possible than ever before.

I am retiring from ATB Financial this summer, but I believe these two lessons are ingrained in our organization and will carry on. I am sure they will stay ingrained in my own everyday work. They change my perspective. They have allowed me to see potential, even when it’s not immediately obvious. And you know what else? They produce the results.

Welcome to Alberta, Your Highness. Thank you for your generosity and your perspectives.

Dave Mowat is the President & CEO of ATB Financial.

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