On September 28-29, 2018, a special programme was hosted at the Aga Khan Centre in London for major supporters of its three resident institutions: the Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan Foundation-UK and The Institute of Ismaili Studies. The event was attended by Prince Amyn Aga Khan and Princess Zahra Aga Khan and more than 350 donors and supporters from around the world.
The programme was organized to express gratitude to donors for their long-standing generosity; to provide an opportunity for the attendees to learn more about the work of the three institutions; and for donors to learn how their many decades of giving has had a transformative impact. The occasion also provided a chance for guests to experience the recently inaugurated Aga Khan Centre — a new permanent home for the three UK-based institutions.
Supporters were offered a tour of the magnificent new building in London’s King’s Cross, to explore its architectural features, including its six outdoor gardens, terraces and courtyards, each inspired by various regions of the Islamic world. The Aga Khan Centre was designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Fumihiko Maki, a third in a trilogy of projects designed by Maki and Associates, alongside the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa.
In addition to the tours, guests participated in presentations and talks on subjects ranging from AKU’s pioneering work in stem cell research and environmental journalism, to the IIS’ study of manuscripts and AKF’s grassroots programmes in girls’ education in countries such as Afghanistan. All these projects and programmes were made possible through the generosity of the donors.
At an evening reception and dinner, Prince Amyn expressed gratitude to the guests for their support, and remarked on the tradition of giving in Ismaili history.
“The notion of sharing one’s wealth to support educational and charitable endeavour for the benefit of others is a well-established principle of our faith,” he said. “It is something which I think distinguishes us as a community and which has enabled us over the generations to create and to build institutions which have supported the quality of life not only of our Jamat but also of those amongst whom we live.”
The following day, President Firoz Rasul shared highlights of AKU’s achievements over the past 35 years, and the ambitious vision of the Chancellor that will inform its future, central to which is its move into becoming a liberal arts university.
Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, delivered a keynote address in which he expounded upon the power of a liberal arts education.
“As the challenges facing our world grow, so too does our need for universities and our need for talented, educated, resourceful and thoughtful scholars and graduates. We must rely for our answers not only on the scientists and engineers, but on the experts in the humanities and social sciences; so the evolution towards the liberal arts at Aga Khan University is fundamentally important.”
A panel discussion with AKU’s leadership including Trustees Princess Zahra Aga Khan and Naguib Kheraj, President Rasul and Provost Amrhein, discussed the university’s future growth, and its aspirations to become a liberal arts institution. During the discussion, Princess Zahra spoke about the vital importance of the liberal arts, as a means through which students can “access the broadest possible number of topics to allow you or any student to learn.” She added, “It’s about acquiring the skills to review something critically, to approach a problem in a creative way, and not just be focused on one solution; to be able to access multiple solutions, of your own volition.” For AKU, such an approach will be critical as it further evolves towards fulfilling its mission of developing and harnessing human capacity and talent for leadership.
Guests who participated in this two-day programme said that they came away with a deeper understanding of the institutions they so generously support, learning that their contributions have indeed had a transformative impact. Such is the power of generosity.