Address by Mr Firoz Rasul

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim

The Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan
Trustees of the University
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Parents, Donors, Supporters and Distinguished Guests

And most importantly, Graduands

Hamjambo and Karibuni!

Welcome to the 2015 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.

Let me begin by congratulating the graduates for your goal! I recently heard from some of our alumni that they call AKU “the house of rigour.” It is definitely the case that no one earns an AKU degree without a lot of hard work.

Today we are celebrating not only the graduation of the class of 2015, but also AKU’s 15th year in East Africa. Over the past 15 years, we have a great many people and organisations to thank for our success. Let me begin by expressing our profound gratitude to the founder and Chancellor of this University, His Highness the Aga Khan for having the vision to start the University in East Africa 15 years ago and also for pushing us, those who are part of the University, to grow its programmes, to bring it to where it is today. Thank you, Your Highness.

I would also like to express our gratitude to our Chancellor for consenting to preside over today’s convocation ceremony, which is the very first time in East Africa. It is a momentous day for the University, for the graduates, for the faculty, and for all of this we are very very grateful.

We are grateful to all our financial supporters: individuals and alumni; foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Rotary International Foundation as well as the Lundin Foundation; corporations such as Johnson and Johnson; governmental and development agencies, such as BMZ and KfW from Germany, AFD from France and the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development from Canada. We are indebted to numerous people and institutions who have aided us as partners, advisors and volunteers. These include the University of Alberta in Canada and the University of California, San Francisco in the US.

I would also like to express gratitude to the Government of Tanzania that earlier this week granted the University recognition of AKU’s original charter. And we must single out for special thanks the Government of Kenya, which from the very beginning has recognized the important contribution that the Aga Khan University makes to this nation’s development.

I know our graduates will join me in thanking their families for their support and encouragement, through all the late nights of studying and long months away from home. I know they will wish to acknowledge the dedication of their professors. We are truly fortunate to have a faculty whose expertise is matched by its passion for teaching.

It seems to me that in addition to celebrating the success of the men and women who we are celebrating here today – our graduates – we ought to thank them as well. Ultimately, a university is measured by its graduates and their contributions to society. I have no doubt that our pride in you will only grow as we learn of your achievements in the years to come.

Yet the world in which you make your way will not be a simple one. For some time, we have been hearing and saying that our planet is getting more connected and more complex than ever before – a place knit together by instant communications and global trade.

Even so, it seems we have yet to adapt to this fundamental fact. Recent years furnish numerous examples of globally interconnecting events racing ahead of our capacity to understand or respond to them. The ripples from the 2008 financial crisis that struck the world’s most advanced economies. The public uprisings demanding change in the Arab world. The recent spread of Ebola in West Africa.

It is tempting when faced with such a world to think in terms of containment, or even isolation. But a “borderless” world does not just enable crises to spread. It also allows for the free circulation of good ideas, new perspectives and innovations that enhance our lives. How do you build a strong health care system that not only treats but also prevents disease? How can we improve the quality of education so that all children, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic background, are prepared for success later in life? How can governments foster development? Today, we know more about the answers to such questions than ever before. And thanks to the free flow of information, those answers are more widely available than they have ever been.

A “borderless” world also connects people to people. It opens up the possibility of real dialogue between individuals, communities, countries and civilizations that may have known one another only through hearsay.

As our Chancellor His Highness the Aga Khan has said, if we are to become full participants in the knowledge society of the 21st century, we must “embrace the values of collaboration and coordination, openness and partnership, choice and diversity.” Because, in his words, “The spirit of the knowledge society is the spirit of pluralism – a readiness to accept the other…to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat.”

Thus, a “borderless” world offers both unprecedented challenges and extraordinary opportunities. The Aga Khan University’s mission is to educate the leaders East Africa needs for this era. It is fitting that 2015 marks not only our 15th year in East Africa for the University, but also the 15th anniversary of the re-establishment of the East African Community. As a University, we have reflected long and hard on how we can contribute to East Africa’s development in a period of regional and global integration. We have concluded that we must expand well beyond our current outlines in order to develop versatile, agile and innovative leaders in a wide variety of fields.

As an East African university, we are building campuses and planning programmes in all the countries of the East African Community.

In Arusha, the headquarters of the East African Community, we are establishing AKU’s principal campus. We will offer undergraduates a liberal arts education at our Faculty of Arts and Sciences, as well as opportunities for graduate professional education. In Dar es Salaam, we are building a permanent campus for the Institute for Educational Development to help the school systems improve teaching, curriculum, pedagogy, student assessment as well as school administration.

In Kampala, we are planning to establish a teaching hospital to provide international standard health services as we train health professionals for the expanding population and the new disease burden.

In Kenya, we have several initiatives underway or in planning. Nairobi is the home to our health sciences programmes supported by the internationally accredited Aga Khan University Hospital, which as a teaching hospital produces outstanding medical specialists, such as those graduating today. To respond to the rising needs, we are also expanding the Hospital by adding new clinics and services in cancer and heart disease. The recently launched Graduate School of Media and Communications will help the media industry through training of journalists and media leaders. The new Institute of Human Development is focused on research on the holistic development of the child, including their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual development to make sure that the child has the best chance of success later in life. Our East African Institute is studying social and economic challenges affecting the region, including the aspirations and self-identity of a growing young population.

Together, these projects in East Africa represent a substantial investment over the next 15 years of over $1 billion. This is an extraordinary vote of confidence in this region’s future. Each of AKU’s campuses and programmes will serve students from across East Africa. They will be crossroads: places that bring the region’s people together to learn from the best in the world, and from each other. They will foster mutual understanding, a spirit of shared purpose and a sense of common identity.

Ours is a time in which opportunities for innovation abound along the intersections where different disciplines and professions meet. For example, we want to see educators and health professionals working together to prevent illness. We want to see business, government and civil society leaders building frameworks to protect the environment while promoting economic growth. We would like to see journalists and technology entrepreneurs connecting rural audiences to essential information. We want to create an environment in which conversations between biologists and sociologists, ecologists and philosophers, economists and anthropologists open up new perspectives on our world. Our aim is to produce graduates who are not only ready for demanding jobs, but who will have the skills and the drive to act as entrepreneurs to create new jobs themselves.

Graduands, you can contribute to the realization of this audacious ambition of your university by sharing your knowledge and ideas, proposing solutions, offering encouragement and advice, raising awareness and demonstrating the values and principles that you learned at AKU.

So stay connected with your classmates, your teachers and your fellow alumni. Be generous with your knowledge and your time, and imagine how you can collaborate to bring about the change that is necessary.

You are part of a remarkable community, the community of the Aga Khan University. Our journeys are linked – yours, the alumni’s and the University’s. If we all act on the basis of that understanding, I believe our shared future will be a very bright one indeed.

Once again, I commend you for your determination and congratulate you on your achievements. May the journey you begin today be all that you have dreamed of.

Thank you. Asante Sana.​

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