The Aga Khan Development Network is the endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to enact the ethics of Islam

“… my responsibilities as spiritual leader and interpreter of the faith are coupled with a deep commitment to improving the quality of life. These activities are not limited to the Ismaili community but extend to those who share their lives, whether on a local, national or international scale. Our duty is to try to free people from poverty. And to me, poverty means being without shelter, without protection, without access to healthcare, education, or credit, and without hope of ever controlling one’s own destiny. This means condemning one’s children and grandchildren to unacceptable living conditions.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
at the State Banquet, Antananarivo, Madagascar
November 27, 2007

His Highness the Aga Khan
His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the state banquet in his honour Antananarivo, hosted by the Prime Minister Charles Rabemanjara of Madagascar. Photo: AKDN / Gary Otte

The earthly life is a gift, but also a ‘bridge to, and preparation for, the life to come.’ The true purpose to life is service to God, which comprises not only worship, but also service to humanity. During his lifetime, Prophet Muhammad provided leadership on social and moral responsibilities, and obligations for the well-being of others, and to maintain the balance of daily life with the spiritual duties. ‘The Prophetic example remains a source of emulation for Muslims everywhere.’After his death, in the Shia interpretation, it is the mandate of each hereditary Imam – the legitimate successor to the Prophet – to provide leadership in the maintenance of the balance between spiritual and material obligations within the ethics of Islam, ‘of which he is the guardian.’2

The ethics of Islam include the pursuit of knowledge, care for the sick, care for the poor and marginalised enabling them to become self-reliant with dignity, environmental stewardship, pluralism, and inclusiveness.

Mawlana Hazar Imam ‘fulfills part of his hereditary responsibilities as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims through the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN)’2 which he founded during his Imamat. The AKDN, then, is the endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to enact the ethics of Islam.

Aga Khan Development Network
AKDN brings together a number of development agencies, institutions, and programmes that work primarily in the poorest parts of Asia and Africa to help those in need achieve a level of self-reliance and improve their quality of life. In all of AKDN’s work, respect for pluralism is an essential component of development. “Pluralism,” said Mawlana Hazar Imam “implies a readiness to listen to many voices – whether we agree with them or not – and a readiness to embrace a rich diversity of cultures.”1

AKDN’s Ethical Framework, Prepared by The Institute of Ismaili Studies
The first revelation to the Prophet was about knowledge and learning. The Quranic injunction and Prophetic tradition to seek knowledge led to the founding of many institutions of learning. Scientific research was considered a response of the faithful to the persistent call of the Quran to ponder the universe in order to understand God’s creation. Knowledge, according to Islamic ethics, is be used in the service of others, to improve the quality of life of the marginalised. Research was recognised as a way of intellectual growth, ‘an ethical duty since the human intellect is a divine gift to be cherished.’2

Compassion and sharing

‘Charity is not just sharing one’s material wealth. Generosity with one’s intellectual, spiritual, material or physical wherewithal is highly commended.’1  Voluntary service is a strong Muslim tradition.

Pursuit of knowledge

Aga Khan Education Services (AKES)
Currently operating more than 200 schools and educational programmes at costs which are affordable for families and governments, AKES provides pre-school, primary, and secondary education services to students in East Africa, South and Central Asia and the Middle East. The foundations of the present system were laid by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III, who established over 200 schools during the first half of the 20th century, the first in 1905 in Mundra and Gwadar in South Asia, and in Zanzibar in East Africa. Today AKDN reaches 2 million around the world.

Aga Khan Academies – founded in 2000 by Mawlana Hazar Imam for the establishment of an integrated network of schools to offer education of an international standard of excellence. Currently operating 3 campuses that will eventually form a global learning community of 18 schools in 14 countries (map).

University of Central Asia – the world’s firs internationally chartered university, currently with 3 residential campuses: Naryn, Kyrgyz Republic (opened in 2016); Khorog, Tajikistan (expected to open in September 2017); Tekeli, Kazakhstan (anticipated to open in 2019).

Aga Khan University – campuses and programmes in 6 countries. In Pakistan and East Africa, AKU operates the only hospitals accredited by the U.S.-based Joint Commission International.

Aga Khan Museum – offers an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and the enrichment of the intellect, through which we learn about other cultures, revealing a common humanity.

Respect for life and health 

‘Good health, like knowledge, is a divine gift, says the Quran, which forcefully urges the sanctity of human life, equating the saving of one life to the saving of humanity.’2

Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS)
AKHS, Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Aga Khan University (AKU), and Aga Khan Agency for Habitat (AKAH), together provide quality health care to five million people annually and work closely on planning, training, and resource development. AKHS also works with AKES and AKAH on the integration of health issues into specific projects such as water and sanitation improvements, smoke-free stoves, disaster preparedness, among others.

The AKDN operates one of the largest non-profit, private healthcare systems in the developing world.

Economic development to promote self-reliance

The Muslim ethic discourages a culture of dependency since it undermines one’s dignity, preservation of which is emphasised in the Quran. Since the time of the Prophet, the aim of charitable efforts has been to help the marginalised to become self-reliant. The initiatives of the agencies of the AKDN – Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) – aim to make the poor and marginalised to become self-reliant.

The new notions of free enterprise, of creating wealth, these are sound notions but they should be followed within the ethic of our faith…The question is, not only what have I achieved, the question is what have I helped others to achieve? That is the notion of social conscience in Islam.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
Press Conference, Maputo, Mozambique, August 1998 3

AKFED and its partners promote entrepreneurship and economic development in parts of the world that lack sufficient direct foreign investment. AKFED’s financial institutions create strong capital markets and provide essential financial services markets. The Fund works to create solutions to infrastructure needs which include systems for potable water and irrigation; sanitation systems that improve health; roads and bridges that provide access to markets; opportunities for women; hydroelectric plants that light homes and provide power for industry; opportunities for computer literacy among under-served urban communities; mobile phone networks that have helped restore national telecommunications, among others. The Fund is active in 18 countries.
AKFED companies

Access to financial services – microfinance – helps start businesses, create jobs, build homes and finance house improvements, purchase seed and livestock, smooth over the impact of unforeseen health costs, and make higher education possible under the Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM).
AKAM’s impact

Rural development
AKF Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) enables people in remote areas to create the services they need and receive access to the opportunities they want. The AKRSP rural development interventions now reach over 8 million people.

Energy for remote communities – A pioneering initiative by AKF in Pakistan enable remote villages in the country and in Central Asia that are too far from power grids, to receive electricity.

Rural development around the world
AKF’s current projects

Environmental and cultural stewardship
(also stimulates economic and social development)

Each generation is responsible to leave behind ‘a wholesome, sustainable social and physical environment.2

Green spaces – parks and gardens can be economic generators that drive – directly and indirectly – promote social development, local employment, entrepreneurial activity, and cultural development, and they can be self-sustaining. AKTC had developed 10 park and garden projects in the 20 years of its founding.

Agriculture and Natural Resources Management – addresses the sustainable management of land, water, soil, plants, and animals in areas that have fragile natural resources.

Trees planted – AKDN has planted over 100 million trees in Asia and Africa over the past 25 years, has made a commitment to plant over 10 million more trees.

Cultural preservation
AKDN’s activities are aimed at conserving and restoring cultural heritage, while stimulating local economic development and improving the quality of life for people living in surrounding neighbourhoods. Since it was founded, the AKTC has restored and rehabilitated over 350 monuments and historic sites. It has also received 13 UNESCO heritage awards for excellence in restoration.

Historic cities around the world  
Awards received

The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is given every three years to projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation, and landscape architecture.

Since 1977, the Aga Khan Award for Architecture has been working to influence the design of buildings and public spaces by promoting excellence, sustainability and human scale.

Aga Khan Agency for Habitat  works to ensure that

  • poor people live in physical settings that are as safe as possible from the effects of natural disasters
  • residents who do live in high-risk areas are adequately prepared to respond to disasters
  • people are able to access social and financial services to improve their opportunities for a better quality of life.

Awards received by AKDN


The ethic of governance is grounded in the principles of trust, equity, and accountability. ‘Those who control and administer resources for the benefit of others are bound by the duty of trusteeship. In Shia Islam Islam, duty is owed to the Imam.’2


“There are those… who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless these unfortunates can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam
Opening of the Aga Khan Baug, Versova, Mumbai, India, January 17, 1983


1Hazar Imam’s address at Opening ceremony of the IPI World Congress and 54th general assembly, May 22, 2005.
2Aga Khan Development Network: An Ethical Framework Prepared by The Institute of Ismaili Studies  (accessed June 2017)
Published in The Ismaili, Realising the Social Conscience of Islam, December 1998
Ethical Foundations, AKDN’s approach to development (accessed June 2017)

Compiled by Nimira Dewji


Previously on Ismailimail…

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