Daily Nation
Wednesday, May 7, 2003

Aga Khan roots for civil society

TASHKENT (Uzbekistan),

The Aga Khan today called for new concepts and institutions to create a better future for the people of Central Asia.

He called on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other financial institutions to "look in depth at the problems that should be addressed in supporting non-commercial civil society institutions".

The Aga Khan, who is the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, was delivering the Jacques de Larosiere Lecture at the EBRD Annual Meeting’s 2003 Business Forum which has brought 2,000 delegates to this Central Asian city.

"One clear lesson of the last half of the 20th century," he said, "is that governments cannot do everything."

He noted that in relations between governments and the private sector, "lack of clarity, or even confusion, dominate the field."

"No country to my knowledge," said the Aga Khan, "can achieve stable and continuous growth if civil society is constrained by institutional stability."

Recognising the fundamental problem of identifying financial resources to sustain civil society, the Aga Khan challenged his audience to ask itself: "Is civil society bankable?"

Drawing on his four decades of experience in development, the Aga Khan said: "Civil society institutions are rarely, if ever, part of a national planning process."

Relations between public and private sector in healthcare and education were "more often left to chance than a thought-through process driven by clear development goals".

With a series of examples drawn from the experiences of the Aga Khan Development Network, he illustrated why banks find it difficult to "tailor their financial support to non-commercial civil society institutions".

"How," he asked, "does a private hospital that has chosen not to offer services for commercial gain fund its expansion?"

The Aga Khan said the economic status of teachers, nurses and journalists "has to be corrected if the consequences are not going to be the progressive degradation of education, health and media."

Earlier, the Presidents of Uzbekistan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyz urged international investors to recognise the progress and efforts under way to address economic and political reform and to support regional projects.

The Aga Khan has been on a tour of South and Central Asia and has visited India, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan.