Welcome Address​​​​​​​

​Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University

Bismillah-ir- Rahman-ir- Rahim
Your Excellency Mohammad Zubair, Governor of Sindh
The Honour​able Chief Minister, Syed Murad Ali Shah
Members of the Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University
Rector and Delegation from the Catholic University of Portugal
Members of Government
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Parents, Partners, Supporters and Distinguished Guests
And most importantly, Graduands
Assalam-u- alaikum.

Welcome to the 2017 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.

There is a well-known saying that success has many parents. Today, we are celebrating the success of our graduands. And we surely have many to thank for making this occasion possible.

We must begin by recognizing the support and sacrifices of the families of our graduands. The hard work of the University’s faculty and staff. The generosity of our supporters, donors and alumni. And we cannot overlook the role of government in creating an enabling environment for our efforts. We are most fortunate to have with us as our Chief Guest the Governor of Sindh, His Excellency Mohammad Zubair. The University has benefitted greatly from its strong relationship with the Government of Sindh for which we are grateful.

However, ultimately, Graduands, it is through your own determination, passion and talent that you are seated here, ready to make a difference in your chosen professions and in the lives of the people you will serve. Graduands, it is with great pride and pleasure that I congratulate you on behalf of everyone assembled here. You have proven you are among the best the country has to offer. Congratulations.

In your time with us, you have overcome many challenges. Yet the greatest obstacles you will encounter undoubtedly lie ahead. I am sure you will address them head-on, with confidence and vigour, using all the skills and capacities you have learnt and developed at AKU.

Nonetheless, I want to emphasize one thing in particular today: that if you are going to address these obstacles and help solve the most profound and enduring problems the world faces, today you must be prepared to innovate.

Innovation calls to mind technology companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Uber, as well as mobile apps such as M-Pesa, which has brought easy money transfer to millions of people in the developing world. And with good reason: these innovations or these companies have changed the way people communicate, the way we shop, the way we travel. They have generated dazzling rewards for their founders and investors. And they have altered everything from friendship to politics.

Yet entrepreneurs pursuing profit are not the only innovators, and not all innovation involves financial gain or digital technology. Some innovations involve thinking differently about what we already know.

Universities, for example, are engines of innovation. Indeed, many of today’s technology titans might not exist without the pioneering work done by university researchers. University research has been equally critical to the development of low-tech, low-cost solutions that have helped millions of people living in poverty. Among many examples, is the discovery that vitamin A can contribute dramatically to reduce infant mortality rates in the developing world. 

And innovation has been a part of the Aga Khan University’s DNA since the day it was conceived.

You are all aware that AKU was Pakistan’s first private university. What is less well-known is that its early growth and development were achieved against a backdrop of doubt regarding the value of higher education in low-income countries. At that time, many experts, including at the World Bank, argued that primary education deserved first priority. Our founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, sought both and was therefore swimming against the tide in seeking to establish a private university, and in committing the substantial resources necessary for AKU to achieve international quality standards, a goal that must have seemed daunting in those early days.

Thus, the very fact that we are here today – the fact that this university exists at all – is the result of his determination to innovate and to achieve excellence.

Given our origin, it is perhaps no surprise that ever since its founding, AKU has been a innovator. AKU has been at the forefront of efforts to improve the health of the people of Pakistan, as an educator of professionals, a leading care provider and a creator of new knowledge.

AKU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery has played a pivotal role in elevating nursing into a well-respected profession, and in improving the quality of health care in Pakistan. Anyone who knows the position that nursing occupied previously understands the boldness and persistence this required. It was particularly bold to seek to elevate the nursing profession by graduating professionals of the highest quality in knowledge, compassion and patient centred care. All these years later, these graduates lead schools of nursing across the country, and the number of nurses has substantially increased far beyond the number graduating from AKU. 

AKU was also the first in the country to train specialists in fields such as Emergency Medicine, where expert care so often makes the difference between life and death. More recently, we launched Pakistan’s first state-of- the-art centre for simulation-based learning, the Centre for Innovation in Medical Education. This facility makes it possible for students to safely practice everything from cardiac catheterization to dental surgery using virtual-reality simulators. 

The medical tests, treatments and technologies that AKU has introduced in Pakistan have saved the lives of premature babies, as well as individuals suffering from cancer and heart disease. As the first internationally accredited hospital, the Aga Khan University Hospital has raised the bar for quality of care, enabling thousands of people to lead longer, healthier lives.

Earlier this year, the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology reported that 7 of Pakistan’s 10 most prolific health researchers are AKU faculty members. Our research has resulted in new, evidence-based interventions or innovations that are improving children’s health and development in low-income communities.

Over the last several years, we have had great success in increasing the percentage of children vaccinated against polio and other deadly diseases. In partnership with the Sindh government, and in one year, AKU research faculty and team increased the vaccination rates in two administrative divisions of Tando Muhammad Khan district from 19% to 84%. Among the innovations they introduced was a smartphone app that vaccinators use to track their activity. This smartphone app won the Innovation in Preventative Care category at the Innovating Care Asia Pacific Awards in 2017. And the University looks forward to expanding this project with the government of Sindh.

We are keen on using technology to expand access to health care. AKU researchers have developed a patented method for analyzing cardiac electrical forces to diagnose patients suffering from a common form of heart disease. Our work, which is protected by a US patent, has the potential to lead to the development of a low-cost, portable device for diagnosing heart problems, which would broaden access to testing beyond urban hospitals.

The University also has broken new ground in primary and secondary education. The AKU Examination Board, Pakistan’s first national exam board is proving that we have a significant impact on the quality of education. Schools affiliated with the AKU Board mainly serve low- and middle-income students, and 90 per cent of our higher secondary school graduates are being accepted in higher education institutions.

A question naturally arises regarding this history of innovation and impact. How are we able to accomplish all this?

AKU enjoys remarkable philanthropic support. This support has enabled us to launch important new ventures, build new facilities and achieve ever-higher standards of excellence in academic and health services. We are very grateful to our donors and to the international agencies that have assisted us in this endeavour. 

Yet there is something even more important though less tangible in our achievements. It is a core value of the University, but one that is not often discussed in the context of innovation.

I am speaking of pluralism. I am speaking of the spirit of openness. Openness to different traditions. To people from other communities, faiths and countries. To novel perspectives and undervalued opinions. To faculty, staff and students with very different educational backgrounds. 

Because the innovator is above all a seeker. She feels in her bones that there is another and better way. But she also knows she does not possess all the answers. So she is driven to search for knowledge, to question the prevailing wisdom, to explore the world with her eyes wide open.

I believe a major reason AKU has been able to innovate is because the value we place on pluralism encourages us to seek out the new, and to engage with others. We have learned from some of the world’s best universities, by studying them and forging partnerships with them. And we have learned from local communities, by listening closely to their problems, forging enduring relationships with them and treating them as partners in a common endeavour. 

Today, we continue to build upon this tradition of openness, collaboration and innovation. With the strong support of the University of California, San Francisco, we will soon launch the Centre for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research here in Karachi to develop new treatments for a wide range of diseases.

Perhaps no initiative better embodies our commitment to pluralism and innovation than our plans to provide an undergraduate liberal arts education through our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences. At FAS, we will provide students with a broad education in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, exposing them to thinkers from a wide range of civilisations and traditions. Our goal will be to develop future leaders who are open to all perspectives, who use their knowledge to catalyze positive change in their societies, and who understand that it is our duty to help all members of society to prosper.

Graduands, this year marks His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee, commemorating his 60 th year as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. Nearly 35 years ago, AKU was created as part of His Highness’s Silver Jubilee. As our Chancellor has observed, “The spirit of the knowledge society is the spirit of pluralism – a readiness to accept the other, indeed to learn from him, to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat.” 

As you embark upon or return to your careers, I ask that you remember these words from the Chancellor.

In the quest for knowledge, there is no greater resource available to us than humanity’s diversity. By keeping our minds open to new ideas, new possibilities and new perspectives, the spirit of pluralism prepares us to innovate.

Remember these words of the Chancellor.

Carry that spirit with you, and I am confident that you will make an extraordinary difference in our world. As alumni keep in touch with us. We hope to see you soon and often on this campus again.

Congratulations to all of you and thank you.
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