(Issued Jointly by The Government of The Republic of Portugal and The Ismaili Imamat)
Lisbon, Portugal, 19 December 2005 – The Government of Portugal and the Ismaili Imamat today signed a Protocol of Cooperation signalling their common intent to work toward the improvement of the quality of life of vulnerable populations in Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries of Asia and Africa.
The Protocol was signed at Ajuda Palace by Prime Minister José Socrates; Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Professor Doutor Diogo Freitas do Amaral; His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community; and Prince Amyn Aga Khan, brother of His Highness. The ceremony also was attended by Portuguese President Dr. Jorge Sampaio.
The Protocol establishes the framework under which the Government of Portugal will work with the agencies and institutions of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the largest private development networks in the world, to implement initiatives for social, cultural and economic development.
The Prime Minister underlined the significance of the Protocol to Portugal and Portuguese-speaking countries. “We now have a partner in the areas of international co-operation, social development and in promoting dialogue between different civilisations and religions,” he said. He further elaborated the importance of collaboration in the area of pluralism and noted that the country would greatly benefit from AKDN’s experience and knowledge in fighting poverty.
The Protocol covers the extension of existing partnerships for development in Mozambique, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and East Timor, along with continuing work with immigrant and disadvantaged populations in Portugal. It calls for future co-operation in other Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa and Asia.
It also envisages joint approaches by the AKDN and the Government of Portugal to the European Union and the United Nations to promote dialogue and educational programming to support peace and stability in geopolitically sensitive regions of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where the AKDN is active.
The Protocol expresses the conviction that efforts to alleviate poverty require a range of public-private partnerships with civil society, including faith-based organisations. To that end, it builds upon AKDN’s already existing relationships with a number of partners in the development field in Portugal, including the Instituto Portugues de Apoio ao Desenvolvimento (Portuguese Institute of Development Support), the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity, the Santa Casa da Misericordia de Lisboa, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, the Catholic Church, through the Patriarchate of Lisbon, the Municipalities of Lisbon and Sintra, and various private sector organisations in Portugal.
His Highness the Aga Khan expressed his appreciation for the collaboration of the Government of Portugal in extending agreement to the Protocol, the first to be signed by the Ismaili Imamat with a Western Government.
“What brings us together, is not only our historical similarities and our mutual respect for our past, but our wish to work together better to address the opportunities and the problems which will confront us in the decades ahead,” he said following the signing of the agreement. “Our respective histories have taught us to place our trust in human values and to root them in an ethical view of life.”
The Ismaili Imamat’s engagement with Portugal began with the establishment in 1983 of the Aga Khan Foundation, Portugal, now the fourth largest foundation in the country. Its range of activities includes groundbreaking research and innovative programming in the areas of early childhood education and responses to social exclusion and urban poverty. Its Urban Community Support Programme benefits over 20,000 vulnerable people in Alta de Lisboa, Mira Sintra and Ameixoeira in partnership with Santa Casa da Misericordia de Lisboa.
The Ismaili Centre, opened in 1998 in Central Lisbon, serves as a community meeting place and a regular venue for dialogue between different cultures and faiths in the country and has hosted numerous events in support of community development in the region.
In Mozambique, agencies of the Portuguese Government have collaborated on the implementation of the AKDN’s Coastal Rural Support Programme in northern areas of the country. The programme has improved the livelihoods of 70,000 people in 83 villages by increasing rural incomes, enhancing food security, improving overall health status, increasing access to quality education and strengthening the capacity of communities. Over time, it is expected that lessons learned from the project will be replicated and disseminated nationally.
The Portuguese Government has also partnered with AKDN on a programme in Northern Mozambique called Bridges to the Future. The programme aims to support long-term sustainable development by building capacity of civil society and enhancing the technical skills and qualifications of professionals.
Portugal has also supported AKDN resettlement of displaced persons in post-Taliban Afghanistan and as well as efforts by FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance, an AKDN affiliate, to assist populations in East Timor affected by major civil disturbances.
During the ceremony, the Aga Khan was awarded the Gra-Cruz da Militar de Cristo, or Military Order of Christ, one of Portugal’s highest accolades for outstanding service to the country. The honour was bestowed by President Sampaio. Speaking of the work of the AKDN in Portugal, President Sampaio said, “A distinguishing feature of all these activities is the fact that they follow a coherent, enlightened strategy of sustainable development, perfected in many years of field experience, based on a commitment to people- to their intelligence, to their will and to their enterprising spirit- and designed to make the beneficiaries of these activities their owners and leaders.”