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Mawlana Hazar Imam delivers keynote address Rockefeller celebration: 1989-10-27

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Event - 1989-10-27
Friday, 1989, October 27
(Source: Canada Ismaili Oct27/89)
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Hazar Imam gave a keynote address at Rockefeller Foundation at a dinner hosted by the Rockefeller family at their Pocantico Hills, N.Y. home on the occasion of the 150th birthday of John D. Rockefeller. Hazar Imam was introduced by his former classmate at Harvard, Mr. David Rockefeller Jr. (Senator Rockefeller)

Mawlana Hazar Imam delivers keynote address Rockefeller celebration:

"It is both a privilege and a pleasure to address such a distinguished audience - one that is so knowledgeable about, and personally committed to, the intellectually challenging practice of philanthropy. That we are gathered in such pleasant circumstances to debate its future directions at the initiative of a family which has done so much to shape its illustrious past, is highly appropriate.

As someone who has been closely involved in the Third World for the past 30 years, especially in South Asia and Africa, my remarks tonight will focus on what I see as a new window of opportunity for philanthropy there and on what can be done to help it blossom.

From the perspective of most Third World governments I know, today's world is a radically different place from yesterday's. In most of the post-war era, these governments found themselves caught up and virtually obliged to take sides in a global struggle between two rival power blocs, each with its own set of economic dogmas and ideologies. The struggle polarised the Third World and, in many instances, contributed to distorting governmental perceptions of, and responses to, the pressing social and economic concerns of their peoples. Whatever the judgement of history on the breath-taking political developments through which we are now living, most Third World leaders believe that they are witnessing fundamental changes both abroad and at home, and that they must adapt their strategies and policies accordingly.

What, you might ask, does all this have to do with philanthropy? In the late 1970's, Third World governments began to increasingly realise the limited on their financial and bureaucratic capabilities in meeting the growing needs of their burgeoning populations. Even governments which had gone very far in suppressing or controlling private initiative and in establishing the preponderant role of the state both in the economy and in the delivery of social services, started backing away from extreme or ideologically rigid positions. In their search for a more pragmatic middle ground based on human values, watchwords became "liberalisation" and "private initiative": the emphasis on finding ways to make the individual as well as the private sector both the non-profits and the for-profits more productive for the benefit of society as a whole. This approach, though still timid in its application, clearly provides much greater "running room" for both indigenous and international philanthropy.

So does current international development philosophy, frequently described as "people-centred", which emphasises the importance of local action to implement locally defined aspirations, the central role of people as both the ends and the means of development, and the challenge to private voluntary organisations, or PVO's to take greater leadership in guiding, facilitating and acting as intermediaries for local, national and global development.

I am strongly in favour of the "people-centred" approach for two reasons. Firstly, the tradition of self-help has strong cultural roots in much of the Third World where the voluntary movement is becoming increasingly vibrant. Secondly, and more importantly, the approach - in my experience - works!

Let me illustrate my claim with three examples drawn from PVO work in the fields of rural development, health and housing. In Northern Pakistan, which I have visited regularly for the past 30 years, 800,00 inhabitants of what must be one of the poorest, most isolated, but spectacularly beautiful mountain regions of the world have taken their destinies into their own hands. Since December 1982, they have established more than 1,000 self-governing village organisations, built literally hundreds of irrigation channels and link roads, planted several million trees, sent 6,000 villagers for training as VO managers, plant and livestock protection specialists, and saved over $4 million - and this in an area where per capita income in 1982 was $50 a year!

My second example is taken from the Aga Khan Health Services, which serve over two million people of all races and religions each year. The emphasis is on women and children as the most vulnerable elements in society, complementarity with government, high standards, professional management, and a system of user charges designed to encourage appreciation of services, self-reliance and ultimately self-sufficiency. The reason for mentioning our Health Services, however, is the extraordinary contribution made by volunteers, which both augments the caring spirit and reduces cost. In Pakistan alone, more than 4,500 volunteers donate their time!

Finally, in Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank has been promoting a new concept of shelter for the ultra poor. Through loans at 5% interest, the Bank offers to finance the basic components of a safe and healthy shelter comprising a concrete floor slab, four concrete roof support columns, corrugated iron roofing and an external pit latrine. Since the programme began in 1984, 46,000 houses have been built, 84% of the loans have been given to poor women and the overall default rate has been 2%.

From these examples, a number of conclusions could be drawn which, I hope, will assist philanthropic organisations working in the Third World to be more effective in the coming decades. The first lesson is the power of the local community, when people are organised and through a decentralised participatory decision-making and priority-setting process - share a small number of simple objectives which can yield early tangible and identifiable results. The role of philanthropy, incidentally, is to support this process through the development of appropriate technologies and by being an intermediary to external resources, both technical and financial. The second lesson is the importance of priming the "income generating pump" to enable the poor to sustain and build on their early initiatives and to bear the cost of the social services they increasingly demand. The third observation is the need to challenge many of our basic economic concepts when applied to development issues in the Third World: credit, for example, and the fact that it is being responsibly handled by large numbers of what would normally be considered uncreditworthy individuals.

My thesis tonight is that while there are both expanding opportunities and a need for philanthropy to play a larger role in the Third World, if the new economic policies are to succeed, there is still a long way to go before it can function in a fully supportive environment. In North America, philanthropy flourishes in a favourable and structured climate characterised by positive political will, incentives for charitable donations, and an institutional cadre of professionally managed and financially stable philanthropies which enjoy access to data, to academia, to the media, and to government.

In most of the Third World, the situation is almost exactly the reverse. If the indigenous philanthropic sector shares a strong ethical commitment to helping the most disadvantaged groups in society, it lacks most of the contextual underpinnings taken for granted in North America. In the first place, the concept of philanthropy defined as a systematic attempt to apply private means for the public good by attacking the root causes of significant social issues - is not widely understood. In most Islamic societies, for example, the donor is not enjoined, and would probably consider it improper to assess the use of his gift, or the personal or societal priority for which it was used. There are deeply rooted historical, ethical and attitudinal differences between philanthropy in North American and charity in the Islamic world. Patience will be required until shared, common approaches can be found.

Moreover, in those parts of the Third World I know best, philanthropy frequently operates on a hand-to-mouth basis, a disproportionately large share of the funds expended by indigenous PVOs, for example, originates from abroad. Only a small number of philanthropic institutions there have the benefit of professional management. Most suffer from insufficient understanding, or weight, in the eyes of local public opinion and government, to permit meaningful dialogue on public policy issues or to secure fiscal legislation more conducive to philanthropic giving. What is more, most indigenous philanthropic organisations do not even understand the importance of the media in securing appropriate recognition of their role and contributions.

What can be done about this situation? I continue to believe that perhaps the most important thing is to create a genuine 'enabling environment" for the development of philanthropy in the Third World, notably by exploring and encouraging ways to bring about greater mutual understanding, cooperation and support between government, private business and private voluntary sector. This was the objective of a conference organised by the Aga Khan Foundation in Nairobi, In October 1986, as well as a follow up conference held in Nigeria last month. Traditionally, the three sectors have frequently been uninformed, indifferent and sometimes downright suspicious of each other's actions and motives. yet, I remain firmly convinced that they have much to contribute to each other. Government sets the general policy parameters and is looking for allies to expand the national economic and social services base. The PVO sector, with its tradition of self-help and voluntarism, can often reach the poor at the grass roots level more effectively than government. Private business has the entrepreneurial and managerial talents, and, in many instances, significant pre-tax profits which - with appropriate incentives - could be applied to strengthening the voluntary sector.

I would like to close by suggesting a few actions which First World philanthropy might consider to enable the philanthropic movement in the Third World to take advantage of the windows of opportunity currently open to it.

Firstly, the question of financial stability. It is absolutely vital that philanthropy in the developing world should build up stable resource base to ensure the continuity of its goals and objectives, as well as the ability to manage that base effectively. While it would be useful in the short-term if more resources could flow from the industrialised world to support the operational activities of philanthropy in the Third World, this is neither healthy, nor a long-term solution. Permanent endowments are needed.

As David Rockefeller pointed out in a speech in Forth Worth in 1985, the reasons why Americans are the most generous people on Earth are to be found in its cultural traditions and in its tax policies. I would like to see Third World governments encouraged, by all the means at our disposal - including the exhortation of such agencies as the World Bank and IMF - to forego a small portion of their immediate tax revenues to promote corporate as well as individual donations to reputable and effective indigenous philanthropies which meet the necessary standards of public trust and accountability. Can First World foundations and aid institutions not make more grants for privileged finance available for semi-endowment or endowment build-up?

Secondly, the development of appropriate management skills through training and technical assistance to indigenous philanthropies. There are a number of excellent academic programmes for post-experience fellows in this area in the U.S. Several American foundations and PVOs are actively engaged in supporting the development of indigenous PVOs in the Third World through Non Governmental Organisation Resource Centres, support for Women's Groups, etc. I still feel there is considerable need here for an expanded effort, which should also involve much more substantial inputs and expertise from the private business sector.

Thirdly, is it possible that more attention could be paid by both the philanthropic sector and the media in the First and Third Worlds to encouraging attention to the communications problems facing philanthropic institutions in the Third World? This could perhaps be done through programs to help them realise the value of, and to obtain, more informed public awareness domestically of their activities and perspective.

Fourthly, structured philanthropy in the First World has brilliantly demonstrated its capacity to focus its agenda, and problem solving talents., usually well in advance of the public sector, on significant issues with high priority and pay off, whether it be for the eradication of smallpox, support for human rights, the advancement of women, the environment or the development of genetically improved seeds and technology for the "green revolution". I hope that this capacity, even more than in the past, will be at the service of the Third World.

As the Conference cannot fail to highlight growing world interdependence, I am confident that the vision, dynamism and creativity of First World philanthropy will continue to be available for helping to resolve high-priority problems in the Third World, which ultimately affect the future of us all. And what better example could we have than that given by five generations of the Rockefeller family? Thank you very much."

(Source: Canada Ismaili Oct 27/89)

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