Address by Mr Firoz Rasul

President, Aga Khan University


Our Chief Guest
Chairman Ambassador Saidullah Khan Dehlavi
Members of the Board of Trustees
Provost Dr William Doe
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Graduands and students

Parents and Distinguished Guests,

As salaam walaikum and Good afternoon.

Welcome to the 2010 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University. To the graduates and their families: This is a day of great celebration as you pass this important milestone. Congratulations!

Today you will be conferred with a degree that recognises your mastery of a professional field, which at AKU means mastery at an international standard. You have earned that degree through hard work and meritorious performance.

We have among our graduates today, 97 newly qualified doctors and 24 Master of Science graduates, 150 nurses, 12 Master of Science in Nursing graduates and 21 Master of Education graduates. I would also like to extend very special congratulations to our first graduating class from the Master of Science in Bioethics programme. Congratulations to each one of you. Today you leave this University as ambassadors, prepared to work hard to contribute to the development of this country.

This has been a difficult year for Pakistan. A challenging economic situation in the country has been exacerbated by extensive flooding, that has left millions homeless and some hopeless. Pakistan also continues to grapple with volatility on the political and security fronts. All of the forces have converged at a complicated juncture in the country's history, which will need concerted leadership and action.

Doing its part, to assist victims of the floods, AKU dispatched over 100 doctors, nurses and midwives in interdisciplinary teams to meet the needs of those affected by the natural disaster. We worked in partnership with the federal, provincial and district level health departments to help over 93,000 men, women and children in fourteen districts of Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. Now, as the people return home, AKU is continuing to support them through mobile healthcare units.

While many bemoan the state of the country, I would suggest adversity creates opportunity. This can be an occasion for the reform of institutional structures and long-standing practices; structures and practices that may no longer benefit the population. However, for this to occur, it will require courageous thought leadership.

As His Highness the Aga Khan, Founder and Chancellor of Aga Khan University, stated last month at the Lafontaine Baldwin Lecture in Toronto, Canada, and I quote; "Institutional reforms will have lasting meaning only when there is a social mindset to sustain them. There is a profound reciprocal relationship between institutional and cultural variables. How we think shapes our institutions. And then our institutions shape us."

If we look at history, we can see how great leaders have been able to effect change by challenging the way in which a society thinks about and shapes its institutions. Nelson Mandela withstood 27 years in prison on the basis of a principle. That steadfast determination won him his personal freedom, but it also won the freedom of an entire nation of people from an unjust system of apartheid. Similarly, the Fatimid Caliphs in Cairo brought together the best minds from across the region to create a flourishing milieu for intellectual search and knowledge generation. Their resolute belief in pluralism and intellectual development meant that Jews, Christians and Muslims alike were welcomed and worked together to create new knowledge during this time.

As you can see, leadership manifests itself in many forms; from the great orator who can move a crowd to action to the community worker who works quietly and steadily to ease the suffering of those around them. There are great leaders who have risen to prominence during times of crisis or the birth of a nation, like Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. There are still many more, who have made significant differences in the fabric of society, without any recognition at all.

What type of leadership do we need now?

We need resilient leadership; which means leaders, who have the capacity to bounce back from misfortune, disruptive change, and crises; who have the ability to step up, see a new horizon with greater opportunities, and then engage those around them to achieve that vision.

The ability to be a resilient leader is driven by our ethical framework, intrinsic qualities, attitudes, and behaviors. It comes from the ability to look at challenges as opportunities to grow, to change, and to learn from mistakes rather than seeing ourselves as victims of circumstances and feeling we are not in control of our own destiny. It comes from our willingness to take the initiative rather than feel sorry for ourselves and inspire those around us to believe in their own capabilities.

Today as we celebrate your graduation, ask yourself - are you a resilient leader?

Your graduation is the culmination of a significant process of personal intellectual development. During your time with us, you have learnt technical skills to become competent doctors, scientists and researchers. You have also learnt to be creative and innovative with compassion for others.

And as you embark on your new future, uphold the leadership qualities you developed at AKU and inculcate new mindsets. Challenge what is not working. Ask questions - even when the questions are difficult and the answers elusive. Give generously of your time and knowledge, sharing what you have learnt, in the service of others. Make no compromises on ethics or quality; you are graduating from an institution that consciously built its reputation on high standards and an adherence to its values. Build your own reputation the same way. Ethics and quality standards are often the hardest to uphold and yet, in difficult circumstances, they are what define courageous leadership.

Pakistan has a bright future. There are a myriad of ways your skills and abilities can benefit Pakistan in its time of need; to create new opportunities and introduce new ideas and changes. I hope you will implement your new ideas and create those opportunities for Pakistan. There is no doubt the recent flood calamity demands unprecedented rebuilding, a massive modernization, and upgrading across the country. The task is daunting, but recovery and rebuilding will take place - one step at a time.

That step begins with you - and it begins today.

Thank you.

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