The WorldFolio | The AKDN: Tajikistan’s biggest development implementing agency

Since beginning operations in Tajikistan in 1992, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) has grown to become an extensive force for improving the lives of people in the country.

Mr. Ali Akbar Pesnani, Resident Representative, discusses the history of the Network, its aims and successes, as well as its unique approach to development.   

Akbar Ali Pesnani, Resident Representative of The Aga Khan Development Network - Tajikistan

An interesting aspect of the AKDN is the sheer size of its operations. How widespread is it both in Tajikistan and internationally?

AKDN is the biggest implementing agency in Tajikistan. We have worked with various donor organizations including USAID, SDC, DFID, KfW, GIZ, EBRD, JICA and ADB, and we have a strong presence in all parts of the country. We have a special agreement with the government of Tajikistan which grants us the privilege of diplomatic status under the Vienna Convention and we have received much support from them for our work.

AKDN is one of the largest private development agencies in the world. We have good relationships with governments from various nations and are present in 33 countries. We are increasing our presence and aim to gain diplomatic status in the countries where we operate. In 11 of the 33 countries we have received such a status. The most recent was granted in Canada this year.

The AKDN is a very unique organization in terms of the influence of its history, religion and diaspora. How has this influenced its status in Tajikistan?

Ismaili presence in Tajikistan stretches back more than 1,000 – 1,200 years. Under the Soviet Union people were not allowed to practice their religion as openly as they are now, and the current government has been very supportive towards the opening of the new Ismaili center here in Dushanbe. This beautiful center is a symbol of permanent presence of the Ismaili community in Tajikistan. Historically, most of the community is settled in the Pamirs in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO). However, now the members of the community are present in almost all regions of the country and other parts of Central Asia.

How many people work for the AKDN?

AKDN has a core professional staff of around 3,000- 4,000 people in this country and over 90,000 people worldwide. But the main driving workforce of our organization is volunteer based. We have at least 10 times more volunteers than employees to support our activities.

Our current program, known as Time, Knowledge, Nazrana (TKN) – which means gift, was launched in 2007 during His Highness Aga Khan’s golden jubilee, when he completed his 50th year as the Imam of our community. People worldwide have registered online to offer their services for AKDN in volunteer capacities.

Today we have high level professionals from Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Oxford and other well-known universities doing voluntary work for our network. The basis of our success, I would say, is voluntary manpower. People spend 3, 5, or even 10 years of their lives providing volunteer services and many students take a semester break to commit to AKDN activities. Here in Tajikistan we also have many locals who help us as volunteers.

A well-known education project of the AKDN is of course the University of Central Asia (UCA). Could you tell us a little more about this initiative and how it is taking shape in Tajikistan?

The UCA is a unique education consortium created in three Central Asian countries, namely Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. It is being developed as an international university to ensure that people who live here in the mountainous areas receive quality education. The university will have campuses in all three countries and we will have good relations with institutions in different parts of the world, including Canada, USA, Singapore, Russia, China, India, Turkey, etc. Similar to the case of Aga Khan University in Pakistan, we want to build up strong relations with well-known universities like MIT, Harvard, McGill, Oxford, and Cambridge but with more focus also on the local needs of the region.

The construction of our Naryn campus has already started and hopefully the first enrollment will be in 2016. The construction of the Khorog campus will start in 2015 with the first enrolment in 2018. In the meantime students from Tajikistan will be able to go to Kyrgyzstan for the first two years of their education and afterwards move back to Khorog to continue their studies. We plan to have our first graduation in 2021.

The AKDN covers many areas, unlike the majority of development organizations which work on a thematic basis. How did this come about?

AKDN’s main focus is always to help people to improve the quality of their lives. When we look at the quality of people’s lives we do not just look in terms of economics. We look at education, health, living conditions, natural disasters, drinking water, and empowering women. Here in Tajikistan many men work outside the country and we therefore empower women to support their families because we strongly believe that when the woman is educated, the family is educated, and when the mother is empowered, the family is empowered.

We are mainly present in countries where people face challenges because we intervene to assist/help underprivileged members of the society. We are thankful to people in developed countries, such as in Canada, USA, and UK, who provide financial support for our activities. It is the Ismaili diaspora communities and the governments of those countries who give us the assistance we need to be able to do our work in the field.

Read the full interview via The WorldFolio | The AKDN: Tajikistan’s biggest development implementing agency

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About the AKDN Resident Representatives

AKDN Resident Representative is a position similar to an Ambassador. While AKDN is a non-denominational entity, it is supranational in the context of its reach and operations. AKDN is a contemporary endeavor of the Ismaili Imamat to realize the social conscious of Islam through institutional action and it is inspired by the ethics of Islam as interpreted by the Shia-Alid tradition. The diplomatic reciprocity AKDN enjoys in the global diplomacy arena speaks of the importance of the contribution, impact and relevance the Ismaili Imamat has in the community of nations in modern times.

Wikipedia defines, an ambassador as an official envoy, especially a highest ranking diplomat who represents a state and is usually accredited to another sovereign state, or to an international organization as the resident representative of their own government or sovereign or appointed for a special and often temporary diplomatic assignment.

AKDN Resident Representatives

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