Ms Roshaneh Zafar, Managing Director, Kashf Foundation
President Firoz Rasul
The Board of Trustees
Students, Parents, Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to be here today. I am indeed honored to be amongst you today. I can just feel the energy here. It is not only palpable but infectious. It gives me great hope to see the shining faces and the immense potential that I see gathered here today.
I must remind you that it is faith and imagination that allows us to traverse the highest mountains and cross the most difficult of paths.
But before we go there, I’d like to tell you a story about a man from ancient China.
He was brought up in abject poverty and had a single mother who took care of him. And yet this man believed in the inherent good of each individual, provided he learnt the three virtues of justice, knowledge and integrity.
This man strongly believed that if you learnt these three virtues you could transform yourself from being ordinary human beings into extraordinary, phenomenal individuals; provided — and there was a proviso to this — you pursued communal and personal endeavor.
So as the story goes, a student came to this sage and said: “Sir, what is knowledge?” The sage looked at him and then enigmatically replied: “What you know, you hold to serve. That is knowledge. What you don’t know, you hold to learn. That is knowledge.”
So ladies and gentlemen let’s think about this for a minute. What Confucius told us thousands of years ago is why we entered universities and institutions of learning: to hold, to serve.
Let’s mull over this. True knowledge is really about serving others. We have to ask ourselves each and every day what did we do with the knowledge that we have learned?
Did we use it to better the lives of others or did we selfishly hold it to ourselves? And that responsibility, the onus of that lies on us.
There is a multiplier effect and I was really thrilled to learn that of the 15,000 graduates of this University, you together have transformed the lives of 15 million. That is huge, I’d like to give a round of applause.
This all may sound rather philosophical to you at the moment but there is a practical manifestation of what I’m saying. I was delighted to learn that 75 per cent of the graduates today are women. Let me give you a round of applause.
That ladies and gentlemen is a game changer. However, there is a downside. When we look at statistics — and being an economist I tend to study data —when we look at statistics women are four times less likely than men to enter the labor force. So if we stay at home and don’t use the knowledge, we will lose the knowledge and stop being relevant to society and others.
Again, I would urge you, you have stood up to the test of time. You are graduating today, commit to yourself that you will use this knowledge to be a process of change for others. That is very important.
As I stand here I am also reminded of a young lady that I met in 2012. And she stood up for girls’ rights in her region. And she coined something that I would like to share with you.
She coined the statement: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” And when she set up the first school through the Malala Foundation the motto on the school’s entrance was Enter to learn. Exit to serve.
So in today’s Pakistan we have to use our knowledge to change society. Nothing is given, everything is transformational but first we have to transform ourselves. That is the beginning.
Let us look at the second part of Confucius’s statement. And I think we also heard that from your leader the Aga Khan as well. That knowledge is about a constant process of learning. We may have finished our studies today but this process of learning can never end. So we must continue to use our knowledge to change the world that we are currently in. And that again must never stop.
I was also asking the context of the robes that we are wearing today and I was told that it goes back to our Islamic heritage.
If we go back to the golden age of Islam in the 8th and 14th century AD, scholars, inventors, poets from all walks of life, from all geographies, from all sects gathered in Baghdad.
Not only did they learn from ancient texts but they also invented and innovated along the way. I don’t know how many of you knew that in Baghdad there was a house of wisdom where scholars gathered and debated and argued and translated texts.
There was no bar on the conversation. In fact, the fundamental principle of this age of discovery was freedom of speech and freedom of expression. And through this age of discovery, the entire human civilization to this day has benefited and we can see the impact of that even in the texts that we studied in our universities and our institutions of learning.
I must also remind you that we tend not to talk about this. That women were at the forefront of this grand age of Islamic Renaissance. At the primary level they were agriculturists and farmers. At the secondary level they were spinners and dyers and construction workers. And at the tertiary level, like you, they were nurses and physicians and inventors and scientists.
There was no bar to what women could contribute to society and not only that in fact those days the most famous astrolabe. Astrolabe was an instrument with which they studied the cosmos and mapped the stars. The most famous astrolabe maker was a woman from Syria.
Women had no bar in what they could achieve. So it is very important when we think about the world, we have to be part of a society, we have to be part of an identity. And as I was mulling over writing this speech, it reminded me of the time when I was looking at the Islamic Renaissance. It reminded me of the time that I visited the Google office.
I was shown around in Silicon Valley by no one other than Larry Page, who is the founder of Google. As I traversed and looked around the Google office, I realized that it is a playground for a million ideas. Everybody’s opinion was given credence. It’s not like the corporate offices that we see around us and where we aspire to find a job. It was extremely different because innovation and ideas were the center of this. What it made me realize is that other societies and cultures have learned from our values and practiced them and therefore progressed and prospered. However, we have stymied innovation, growth, development and new ideas.
But you can change that. You have a huge responsibility on your heads to question what your forefathers did. To learn from our heritage and to take it forward and not to take anything as given. And that is very important. That is a role that you must play.
We have to be seekers of knowledge in order to change the world that we live in. The same way that Google has democratized access to information. They used the notion of rights to information and they democratized that the same way that our forefathers set up libraries in Baghdad to provide access to information to the common man.
There is a huge link with development and freedom of choice and freedom of expression. I’m sure you will carry this thought forward in your lives to come.
So ladies and gentlemen let me share with you a little bit of my own story. I have talked about the evolution of thought, I have talked about knowledge. I also want to share with you why I do what I do.
I absolutely believe that individuals can and do make a difference. One idea, one thought can change lives. This was really what connected me to a lot of women in Pakistan.
The women that I work with I realized that they have potential, aspirations, dreams but they lack opportunities. So my work is really about turning dreams into reality through a practical path. The path was to allow women to set up their businesses and be able through those businesses to earn an income through which they could invest in the betterment of their families and their children in particular.
Today, just with that one idea we have been able to impact 2.5 million women across Pakistan. So I want to remind you that young people have the power to change. Believe in yourself, remain authentic and be true to yourselves.
Take your idea, take your imagination. Never kill your imagination, let it spark the direction that your lives take.
Remember that it’s not about individual success but about collective prosperity. That is very important. What we are taught in our schools is to be individual achievers but it is very important that we look at the work we do in light of the impact it has on others. That is very important.
I would like to end here with a quote from Allama Iqbal. I don’t think we can end this occasion without remembering our national poet:
“Like the wave is part of an ocean, without that it has no meaning.
Similarly a person is part of a collective whole and that makes him strong.”
So long live Pakistan and my very best to all of you in all your endeavors.