​​​Welcome Address​​​​​​​

Mr Firoz Rasul, President, Aga Khan University​

Our Chief Guest, the Honourable Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister of Health
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 in Uganda. 

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 attend university. 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 so many quarters. First and foremost, from our Founder and Chancellor His Highness the Aga Khan. But also from numerous individual donors, corporations such as Johnson & Johnson, and the development agencies of Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States. The support we receive has helped us to subsidize your education by setting tuition fees far below the University’s costs, and to offer generous scholarships. 

We are grateful to all our partners. And we are grateful to the Government of Uganda for creating an enabling environment that allows the University to thrive.  

Graduands, this is a remarkable time for you to be receiving your diploma or 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.

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 Uganda 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 and midwives 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 graduating. 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 Ugandans of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the Aga Khan University will be doing so as well. 

We will do so as a private, not-for-profit institution. And we will do so as a university that partners with the Government to help it meet the needs of citizens. We did just that when we stepped in to provide free cancer care to patients affected by an equipment breakdown at the Uganda Cancer Institute. 

An outstanding example of our efforts to c the complement the Government’s efforts in serving the public is the new Aga Khan University Hospital that we will build in Kampala. This is the largest project the University has ever undertaken in Uganda, and it would not be possible without the Government’s encouragement and support. 

The University Hospital will be a transformational force in Ugandan health care. It will save countless lives by providing international-quality care where it is needed most: right here in Uganda. The University Hospital will offer care in an array of specialties where capacity is currently very limited, including maternal and child health, surgery, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and emergency medicine. 

As a teaching hospital, it will educate outstanding nurses, midwives, doctors and allied health professionals. They will elevate the quality of health care across the country, and develop new strategies for preventing and treating diseases that kill tens of thousands of Ugandans every year. Patients will no longer have to leave Uganda for international standard care. And because we believe that everyone deserves access to excellent care, we will establish a Patient Welfare Programme at the Hospital to make it affordable for low-income individuals.  

Meanwhile, we will continue to bolster the Government’s development efforts by building human capacity for both the public and private sectors. In fact, more than half of our students in East Africa come to us from government or public-sector institutions. 

To help improve the quality of pre-primary and primary education in Ugandan government schools, AKU’s Institute for Educational Development has trained more than 1,200 educators in West Nile, benefitting 140,000 students. 

Our Graduate School of Media and Communications has trained over a thousand East African journalists and communications professionals, including 130 from Uganda. This month, it launches its MA in Digital Journalism to provide reporters and editors with a world-class education. 

AKU is also generating and sharing locally relevant knowledge. In Uganda and beyond, the University’s East Africa Institute and the Aga Khan Foundation have teamed up to help young entrepreneurs start and scale-up new businesses. Our Institute for Human Development and our Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health have brought together experts to analyse the most effective strategies for improving early child development and health. 

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 t​han 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 Uganda and beyond. 

Congratulations once again, and thank you.


Convocation 2018​​​​