Governor General of Canada’s letter to His Highness the Aga Khan: “Your belief in the value of working across physical and spiritual borders illuminates our world.”

The following are a few excerpts from the letter to His Highness the Aga Khan in the book The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation by His Excellency David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Diplomacy of Knowledge
Creating a smarter, more caring world

To His Highness the Aga Khan

Your Highness,
The Idea of Canada…..
Born in Geneva, you are a citizen of the world. Your many international honours attest to this fact, including your honorary citizenship of Canada and your status as a Companion of the Order of Canada. In this way, you abide by Scott’s ethos of humanitarianism: “The world is my country; the human race is my race.” You’re also a spiritual leader, yet you appreciate that the success and indeed survival of our increasingly interdependent world is based on people of many faiths, cultures, and values expressing tolerance, openness, and understanding towards others.

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Your belief in the value of working across physical and spiritual borders illuminates our world. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture recognizes the creative design of public facilities and spaces in order to revitalize architecture in Islamic societies. The Aga Khan development Network partners with a range of public and private organizations around the world to help improve the health , education, governments, and economies of people in developing nations.

His Highness the Aga Khan meeting with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, October 7, 2010. Photo: Governor General's website
His Highness the Aga Khan meeting with the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, October 7, 2010. Photo: Governor General’s website

I think your Global Centre for Pluralism best expresses your understanding of the value of working as widely as possible across physical boundaries and borders of mind to enhance people’s lives. This organization is housed fittingly in Ottawa, the capital of one of history’s great pluralist societies. Pluralism is the ultimate expression of working across borders because it recognizes that every person has something meaningful to share to improve the condition of all.

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As you know well, McGill University also played a key role in developing your Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. You may recall that we first met when it opened in 1981. The McGill team of epidemiology and public health, led by Walter Spitzer (an esteemed McGill epidemiologist), shared its community-medicine model to help the hospital deploy public health services outside the hospital itself.

I remember then being struck by how bold your venture was, introducing the best of Western education and health care into a culture with vastly different customs and traditions. One of the most striking of these efforts was to open a school of nursing to educate girls to become nurse practitioners, start these regional clinics, and overcome traditional barriers to women health professionals treating boys and men. I realize now what a supreme exercise in the diplomacy of knowledge it was on the p art of your hospital and McGill. You made the model work because you applied it while taking into account those customs and traditions.

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Something you said in your convocation address at the University of Ottawa – that a country’s standing in our contemporary world is no longer recognized by what it can achieve for itself but by what it can do for others – leads me to believe we agree on this point. In fact, I’m sure we both speak with one voice when I say everyone must use the beauty and power of the diplomacy of knowledge – as Frank Scott did, as you do – to help secure for all peoples the peace, prosperity, and personal fulfillment that is their birthright and create the smarter, more caring world that is the dream of all humankind.

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Excerpted from The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation by David Johnston. Copyright © 2016 David Johnston. Published by Signal, an imprint of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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