Our Chief Guest, Professor Eleuther Mwageni, Outgoing Acting Executive Secretary of the Tanzania Commission for Universities
Members of Government
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Members of the Board of Trustees of the Aga Khan University
Provost Carl Amrhein
Deans, Faculty and Staff of the University
Parents, Partners, Supporters and Distinguished Guests
And most importantly, Graduands,
Hamjambo and Karibuni. Welcome to the 2018 Convocation Ceremony of the Aga Khan University.
Graduands, congratulations to all of you on completing a truly arduous and rewarding task – earning a degree from AKU.
You succeeded because you are dedicated. Many of you piled your studies on top of the burden of demanding jobs, yet you did not falter beneath the weight. Though for many of you AKU was far from your homes, your jobs and your loved ones, you never wavered in the pursuit of your dreams.
You succeeded because you have the confidence that befits a leader. Some of you are the first in your family to earn a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. But rather than being deterred by the unknown, you forged ahead, embracing your role as pioneers.
You succeeded not just for yourselves but for others: your family, your community, your country. And you succeeded because when you encountered obstacles, your professors and classmates were there to help you surmount them.
You have also been fortunate to attend a university that has received vital financial support from numerous individual donors, corporations such as Johnson and Johnson, and bilateral and multilateral organizations such as Global Affairs Canada and Dubai Cares. We thank all of them for helping AKU to provide an outstanding education, and we thank the government for its encouragement and efforts to create an enabling environment. And, of course, we cannot forget the ongoing generous support of our Founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Graduands, this is a remarkable time for you to be receiving your degree. Across the continent, we are witnessing a surge of creative activity. People everywhere are tackling formidable problems in novel ways. The spirit of innovation is infectious. Like a song that pulls us out of our chairs and onto the dance floor, it is prompting more and more individuals to take action.
Indigenous innovators are developing new medicines to fight malaria. They are creating low-cost tests that allow people to diagnose deadly diseases at home. In countless settings, they are making ingenious use of limited resources to deliver life-saving health care.
From the countryside to the cities, people are tapping the power of mobile phones. Educators are downloading locally developed content for classroom use, farmers are gaining access to crop insurance, and mobile banking is fuelling entrepreneurship.
As graduates of the Aga Khan University, you are poised to join the innovation generation. You possess the knowledge, the skills and the leadership abilities needed to address some of the most important challenges facing Tanzania and the East African region.
Those of you who are educators will be called upon to increase enrolments, improve learning outcomes and encourage persistence to graduation. To create schools that welcome all members of the community. To deal effectively with large classes, and to foster the spread of engaging teaching strategies, without compromising quality.
Those of you who are nurses will be asked to ensure that more women give birth safely and that children grow up healthy. To educate the public to adopt healthier lifestyles and demand higher quality health care. And to respond to the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
You will not meet such challenges by applying prefabricated solutions. Instead, you will analyse the local context, assess the knowledge and assets at your disposal and scrutinize the challenges you face. And then you will craft creative strategies for change. In short, you will succeed by innovating.
That you will succeed I have no doubt. But just as surely you will encounter obstacles. Hence, I want to share a few pieces of advice that you may find helpful on your journey.
Build a constituency for change. To overcome the inertia within organizations, you need to create a critical mass of support – a constituency for change. Find the people who share your outlook and work with them to increase the ranks of your allies. Remember that it is not the title that makes a leader, but the capacity to inspire and engage others to achieve a goal.
Create a culture of openness. Nothing stifles innovation like fear. And nothing inspires it like an atmosphere in which people are encouraged to speak up and share their perspective. It is the exchange of ideas and experiences that gets our creative juices flowing and sparks new approaches to long-standing dilemmas.
Expand your network. The more extensive and diverse your network of contacts, the more information you will acquire. And very often, superior access to information breeds innovation, by making it possible to perceive overlooked opportunities. Time spent expanding your network is therefore time well spent.
Be a lifelong learner. Today you are earning your degree. But that hardly means your education is at an end. The extent to which you succeed will reflect your capacity to continue learning, adding new knowledge and skills, and growing both as a person and a professional. So, identify your weaknesses and the gaps in your knowledge, and take steps to address them.
Broaden your horizons. Your capacity to make an impact depends on many factors. There is the profession to which you belong, and the practices embedded in it. The industry in which you work, and the policies that structure it. The community in which you live, and the culture that shapes it. The country of which you are a citizen, and its relations with other nations. How does each of these either aid or inhibit your ability to achieve your goals? Asking this question will help you to identify the areas where action is needed.
Rest assured that while you strive to innovate and improve quality of life for Tanzanians and East Africans of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the Aga Khan University will be doing so as well, together with our fellow agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network.
The Aga Khan Health Services now provides health care to nearly 450,000 Tanzanians annually. And that number is set to increase substantially in the years ahead, as the Aga Khan Hospital in Dar es Salaam more than doubles in size and nearly triples the number of its outreach centres. To ensure that the Hospital is affordable and accessible to all, last year it opened a low-cost inpatient unit. In total, AKDN is investing $80 million in the expansion of its health network in Tanzania, with financing support from the French Development Agency.
Meanwhile, AKU is launching new projects and programmes to save the lives of mothers and children. In Mwanza, the University, the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Health Services are working to improve the quality of maternal and child health care in 80 government facilities. More than 700,000 women and children will benefit from the project, which is funded by Global Affairs Canada and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada.
In 2020, the University will graduate its first surgeons and internal medicine specialists in Tanzania, helping to increase access to much-needed care.
To help the government improve the quality of pre-primary and primary education, AKU’s Institute for Educational Development has trained more than 1,000 government educators in Tanzania in recent years, benefitting 75,000 students.
Our Graduate School of Media and Communications has trained 1,200 journalists and communications professionals, including more than 80 from Tanzania. This month, it launches its MA in Digital Journalism to provide reporters and editors with a world-class education that prepares them to be leaders in their field.
Here in Dar es Salaam, the AKU Institute for Human Development and its partners recently brought together scores of experts for a three-day conference focused on enabling young children to thrive in school and in life. And last year our East Africa Institute and the Aga Khan Foundation convened young Tanzanian entrepreneurs to help them start and scale-up new businesses.
Perhaps no initiative better embodies the University’s commitment to innovation than our plans to provide an undergraduate liberal arts education through our new Faculty of Arts and Sciences. 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 are imbued with an ethic of service.
Graduands, 35 years ago AKU was launched as part of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Silver Jubilee. This year, we are marking His Highness’s Diamond Jubilee, commemorating his 60th year as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.
As His Highness 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 on the next phase of your journey, I ask that you remember these words.
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.
Carry that spirit with you, and I am confident that you will make an extraordinary difference in Tanzania and beyond.
Congratulations once again, and thank you.