The Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently invited Mowlana Hazar Imam to address a full session of its Executive Board, which met at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

At the Executive Board's specific request, Hazar Imam's speech was preceded by a 30-minute slide presentation on the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) by Guillaume de Spoelberch, Executive Director of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and a member of the Board of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC).

Introducing Mowlana Hazar Imam to the Executive Board and the many assembled permanent delegates who were present especially for this session, Begum Attiya Inayatullah, the Executive Board Chairperson, called him a "leader of leaders," and described him as the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) through the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, and the Prophet's daughter, Hazrat Bibi Fatima.

The occasion provided Hazar Imam with a significant opportunity to address an international forum on issues that fall within its own mandate but that were also of close everyday concern to the AKDN.

Supplementing Mr. Spoelberch's introduction to the AKDN, Mowlana Hazar Imam began his remarks with a brief description of how the jamat was governed by a formal constitution. Hazar Imam explained that the jamat operated in countries of its residence through volunteer councils and boards established at national, regional and local levels, with responsibilities for such matters as health, education, economic planning, housing, social welfare and conciliation and arbitration.

Mowlana Hazar Imam took the opportunity of this speech to urge UNESCO and its member governments to re-appraise their development strategies to take account of changes in the post-Cold War world. He warned that failing such a re-appraisal, "frustration and pressures will result [that] can only be explosive." UNESCO's Fourth Medium Term Plan, he suggested, would need to address the changes represented by the near universal acceptance of a single political ideology, new and powerful regional alliances, greater realization of the linkages between cultural and development issues, and "donor fatigue."

"The emergence of free markets has meant that economic development in the Third World is following a path that will generate resources at an unprecedented rate outside the government sector," said Hazar Imam. Citing the recent performance of China and India as evidence of this trend, Mowlana Hazar Imam stated that these growth rates were independent of those being experienced in the West. He also noted the fact that "capital flows into the Third World, and within the Third World, are now dominated (with the exception of Sub-Saharan Africa) by the private sector, not the public sector."

"Private entrepreneurial thinking and good management," Hazar Imam said, "are becoming the driving forces behind economic development in the Third World." While applauding this trend, he expressed his concern that "it could result in the erosion of the social conscience of developing societies and lead to the disappearance of their remarkable traditions of mutual support and generosity." He warned of the danger of "'frontier capitalism' which fails to recycle its gains into society."

"Thus," Mowlana Hazar Imam said, "we must retain a certain creative skepticism as to the effects of the free market system at the same time as we take advantage of the utility and energy created by the freedom of the marketplace."

Drawing on the AKDN's experiences across Africa and Asia, Hazar Imam presented to the UNESCO Executive Board three strategic themes that he believed could enlarge the contribution to human opportunity that can be gained from the entrepreneurial energies evident in the developing world." The first was to concentrate on the qualitative improvement - to replicable levels - of institutions, services and skills. The second theme was to benefit from effective regional collaboration "in a world of rapidly expanding knowledge and international competition." And the third was "to cultivate the vitality and harvest the potential of the private sector" through government initiatives which will release wealth "imprisoned by unimaginative legislation often inherited from a colonial past."

Hazar Imam illustrated these strategic themes and their interaction through three examples from AKDN: the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme aimed at enhancing community resources; AKTC's Historic Cities Support Programme project in Zanzibar aimed at the conservation and self-sustaining utilization of cultural resources; and AKU, aimed at establishing a new standard of educational resource.

Responding to Mowlana Hazar Imam, Executive Board members representing Egypt, Nigeria and Mexico expressed their great admiration for the achievements of the Network and expressed the hope that they would inspire wider emulation in the fields of endeavour and geographic regions served by UNESCO.

In his concluding remarks, UNESCO's Director General, Mr. Federico Mayor, paid tribute to the Aga Khan Development Network's success in building capacity and empowering people - especially women - to manage their own development according to local models that respect the diversity of needs and resources.

Mowlana Hazar Imam's presence at UNESCO follows in a long tradition of his family's service in international affairs. Hazrat Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah was twice president of the League of Nations. Prince Aly Khan was Pakistan's Ambassador to the United Nations. Prince Sadruddin has been United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees, and United Nations' Executive Delegate of the Secretary General for a humanitarian program for Iraq, Kuwait, Iraq-Iran and Iraq-Turkey border areas. Prince Amyn was for a few years attached to the United Nations Secretariat, Department of Economic and Social Affairs. In December 1980, Mowlana Hazar Imam addressed the United Nations in New York on the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the presence of the then-Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. The AKDN continues to work closely with U.N. agencies, and Mowlana Hazar Imam maintains contact with senior U.N. officials.

Source: The Ismaili, Canada (March 1995)

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