​​​Welcome Address​​​​​​​

Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University​

Our Chief Guest, Mr. Lila Mkila, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Tanzania
Members of the Government
Members of the Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University 
Parents, Partners, Supporters and Distinguished Guests
And most importantly, Graduands,

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

It is wonderful to see you all gathered here – I know many of you have long dreamed of this day. It is an honor to be able to host our many donors, who have shared their success with the University and placed their trust in us. And we are grateful to our Chief Guest Mr. Lila Mkila for sharing this occasion. The presence of all our guests is a humbling reminder that the work we do at AKU depends upon the sacrifices, generosity and support of a great many others. 

Graduands, this is a day when all of us celebrate your achievements – parents, faculty, staff, leaders and friends of the University. It is a day when you feel an unmistakable pride in your accomplishments, and with every justification. That you are sitting here is proof of your determination and passion for learning, and it demonstrates that you can compete with the best the world has to offer. 

Yet if you look within yourselves, I think you will recognize another emotion as well: the sense of being connected to something larger than yourselves. That something may be the community of friends you have built here. It may be your family, whose love and support you have honored with your achievement. It may be the University and its vision, or the great enterprise of learning and innovation that spans the globe and the centuries. But that sense is certainly there. 

It is there because as humans we naturally seek a higher purpose. We seek a great task or calling – a challenge that brings meaning to our lives, and that leaves a mark on the lives of others.

One need not look far to find such challenges. They are all around us. All of you have studied them in your time here, and witnessed them in your lives and careers. 

Seventeen years ago, the nations of the world, Tanzania included, came together to commit to reducing poverty, hunger, illness, illiteracy and prejudice. They called the goals they adopted the Millennium Development Goals, and they aimed to achieve them by 2015. 
The goals were ambitious. And to its credit, Tanzania met a number of them, and took great strides toward meeting others. It was, for example, one of just a dozen low-income countries worldwide to reduce its child mortality rate by two-thirds or more – a most impressive performance. 

Yet, graduands, much remains to be done, as I know you are well aware. Too many people are living in poverty. Too many pregnant women, babies and children under 5 are dying from preventable causes. Too many children are not learning enough in school. 

But what do such problems represent, if not the great task that we are all seeking, and for which your education has prepared you? With the skills you have developed at AKU, you can help to bring about the world we all want to see, in which suffering and injustice have been consigned to history.

2015 is behind us. Yet the urge to unite behind a common agenda for the betterment of humanity has not diminished. 193 countries, including Tanzania, have committed to achieve a new set of goals by 2030, the Sustainable Development Goals. If Tanzania were to meet them, it would be a country transformed – a place where no child suffers from hunger, every boy and girl is taught by well-qualified teachers, and all people have access to high-quality health care. 

Together with its fellow agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network, AKU is working to make that vision a reality, as an educator of leaders, a provider of high-quality health care and education and a partner that helps public-sector institutions to improve the lives of those they serve. 

Already, Aga Khan Health Services Tanzania provides health care to nearly 400,000 people in Tanzania annually. That number is set to rise significantly: the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam is in the midst of a major expansion that will see it double its capacity, add specialties, and open 22 health centres, all with the financial support of the French Development Agency.

At the same time, the Hospital has gone to great lengths to provide patients with outstanding care. Last year, it became the first hospital in Tanzania to be accredited by the U.S.-based Joint Commission International. That was the culmination of a two-year process of preparation leading to an on-site examination by experts who evaluated the Hospital on more than a thousand standards. 

As part of the Hospital’s transformation, the University has expanded its Postgraduate Medical Education programme. In addition to training family medicine specialists, we are now training surgeons and internal medicine specialists. Graduates of these programmes will play a key role in making advanced care more widely available, both as clinicians and as educators. 

We also continue to invest in our School of Nursing and Midwifery. Last year, the University completed the renovation and expansion of Salama House here in Dar es Salaam to give our faculty and students new classrooms, laboratories and other facilities – a project made possible by the financial support of the Federal Republic of Germany. 

With the support of the Johnson & Johnson Corporate Citizenship Trust, which has provided scholarships for our nurses for 15 years, we undertook a major study of the School and its alumni. That study found our graduates are making a significant impact on health systems and the quality of nursing care. Nearly four in 10 are senior leaders, managers, educators or researchers, and the rest are at the bedside, directly involved in patient care. Currently, the University is talking with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and Ministry of Health about offering either a bachelor’s or master’s level midwifery qualification to help ensure expectant mothers and their babies get the care they need before, during and after delivery. 

Our Institute for Educational Development, East Africa (IED, EA) is collaborating with other AKDN agencies on a five-year project to increase learning among pre-primary and primary students in marginalized communities across East Africa. Already, the project has trained more than 1,000 educators and officials in Tanzania.

IED, EA has today seen 30 graduates conferred with a master’s degree. After today’s convocation, the Institute has over 300 graduates practicing across East Africa, a truly regional programme with wide representation from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The School of Nursing and Midwifery awarded 17 bachelor degrees, leading to a total of 623 diploma and degree holders in Tanzania to date. In medicine, there was one graduate from the Postgraduate Medical Education programme.

Notably however is AKU’s significant impact in Tanzania over the years, and through this commitment today Tanzania enjoys tremendous improvement in the public education system. The Strengthening Education Systems in East Africa (SESEA) which is now fully established in Mtwara and Dar es Salaam has trained over 1,000 teachers who impact at least 75,000 pupils. The Fursa Kwa Watoto programme in Mwanza trains head teachers, deputy head teachers and pre-primary teachers and to date about 600 are beneficiaries of this programme- impacting about 10,000 pupils in Tanzania in the past year alone. At least 90 public schools in Mwanza and Kilimanjaro are beneficiaries of the Fursa Kwa Watoto projects.

That same goal is at the heart of a new project the University and other agencies of the AKDN are undertaking in Mwanza with the support of Global Affairs Canada and Aga Khan Foundation Canada. There, we will be working with district hospitals, dispensaries and health centres to improve the health of more than 250,000 pregnant women and newborn babies over four years.

At the same time that the University is helping more Tanzanians to lead healthy lives, it is also working to improve the quality of education in the country’s schools. 

Our Institute for Educational Development is collaborating with other AKDN agencies on a five-year project to increase learning among pre-primary and primary students in marginalized communities across East Africa. Already, the project has trained more than 1,000 educators and officials in Tanzania. In November, the Institute’s National Education Conference in Dodoma brought together more than 100 stakeholders from across East Africa to address education challenges and opportunities. The construction of its permanent home on Sam Nujoma Road awaits the outcome of discussions with the Government.

Still to come is the University’s largest project ever in East Africa: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in Arusha. Students in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will receive a liberal arts education that prepares them for leadership, inspires them to pursue audacious goals and instills a desire to make a difference in the lives of others. They will develop the ability to think critically, write clearly, tackle problems creatively, value pluralism and ponder the deepest questions. When they graduate, they will have the skills employers covet, and the capacities needed for a life of active and engaged citizenship.  Design work on the campus continues. Construction will be planned once discussions with the Government are concluded.

All these projects are in support of the Government’s goals to improve the education and health of the people of Tanzania.

Graduands, some of you may have read or heard about the Tanzania Youth Survey conducted by AKU’s East African Institute. It asked 1,900 Tanzanians between the ages of 18 and 35 about their values, ambitions and anxieties. 

In some cases, their answers offered cause for concern. Yet the survey also made it abundantly clear that a large majority of Tanzania’s young people are full of optimism, passion and a sense that the most valuable things in life cannot be measured in shillings. 

Seven in 10 said education is more important than money. Asked to name the three things they consider most important, they chose faith over all contenders by a large margin. Approximately three-quarters said that hard work will be rewarded with success, that people should help those in need, and that it is important to embrace change. Two-thirds felt they have the skills needed to be good citizens, and six in 10 said they have the power to make a difference in the world. 

We are not in the least surprised by such results. For it is precisely such qualities that have enabled you to succeed here at AKU. During your time with us, you have demonstrated integrity, perseverance, creativity and a deep desire to enable others to develop their talents and lead a fulfilling life. 

Now, you have the opportunity to join the countless people here at AKU, across Tanzania and around the world who are working to address the toughest challenges humanity faces. 

You will notice I have used the word “opportunity” rather than “responsibility.” I have done so deliberately. Having been president of this University for a decade, I speak from my own experience when I say that to work on behalf of a great cause, to seek to do what has never been done, is an experience as thrilling as any you will ever know. 

There is no greater reward than the knowledge that your efforts have deeply and positively impacted the lives of a great many people. The chance to experience that knowledge for yourself is an opportunity indeed – one I urge you not to miss. 

Thank you, and congratulations to all of you. I look forward to learning of your many achievements in the years to come.