Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 4 - Evidence - June 20, 2006
OTTAWA, Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs met this day at 5 p.m. to
examine the development and security challenges facing Africa; the response of
the international community to enhance that continent's development and
political stability; and Canadian foreign policy as it relates to Africa.
Senator Consiglio Di Nino (Acting Chairman) in the chair.
The Acting Chairman: Colleagues, I am not sure that I am happy to
inform you, but I think it is important that I inform you that I am chairing the
meeting today because our chair is otherwise occupied. I am pleased to pitch in.
Let me first of all introduce Khalil Shariff who I want to particularly
praise and thank for waiting an hour and ten minutes. Regretfully, we do not
control our own time and the Senate just adjourned; therefore, a particular
thanks and gratitude to you for waiting. Mr. Shariff is CEO of the Aga Khan
Foundation of Canada.
Welcome to the Senate of Canada. The Aga Khan Foundation Canada is a
non-profit international organization that supports various international
development programs in four broad areas: health, education, rural development
and community organization capacity building.
Its programs tap the initiative, entrepreneurship and resources of poor
people in order to develop their capacity to improve the quality of life of
their families and communities. Sectors receiving support include micro-finance,
the improvement of livelihoods and micro-enterprise development, as well as
rural development, health and education.
The Aga Khan Foundation Canada operates in Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique
and Uganda, among others.
We are delighted that you could join us today. Without further ado, I would
like to turn the floor over to Mr. Shariff.
Mr. Shariff, you may speak in either official language.
Khalil Shariff, Chief Executive Officer, Aga Khan Foundation Canada:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to be here today and to offer some
thoughts on what is clearly an important and timely study on Africa. My remarks
this evening will follow the structure of the written testimony that we have
provided, which is under tab 1 of the binders, but of course will not fully
cover its contents because I will be rather brief and then we can elaborate in
the question period if there are questions.
The binder looks daunting, but it is meant to be a resource binder for you
and for the committee. Many of the programs I will mention today in passing are
referred to in the written testimony. Further details can be found in the binder
at the committee's leisure.
Aga Khan Foundation Canada is a Canadian international development agency
that works with Canada and Canadians to mobilize financial, intellectual and
technical resources to create high-impact programs in the developing world. We
do this in collaboration with our sister agencies within the Aga Khan
Development Network, which is a family of private international development
agencies founded by His Highness the Aga Khan to advance human development and
improve the quality of lives in some of the poorest parts of Asia and Africa.
The individual agencies of the AKDN, as we refer to the network, address all
the key drivers of development, including education, health, housing and
building services, micro-finance and private sector development and culture,
with a particular emphasis on the development of civil society across all these
areas. In one form or another, the AKDN has been active in Africa for over a
century and today has activities in many countries in Eastern Africa, Western
Africa, and Egypt.
The Government of Canada, principally through CIDA, as well as tens of
thousands of Canadians from across the diversity of this country, has been an
important partner of our work in Africa and elsewhere. My remarks this evening
are drawn from our many years of experience working together.
Before I discuss the four specific areas where we think Canada can usefully
direct its support to Africa, I would like to make three general points by way
of guiding principles.
Although we will speak of Africa in general this evening, it is important to
note that Africa exhibits a great deal of diversity and that specific priorities
and programs must be sensitive to local contexts. Even poverty itself is highly
uneven across the continent and even across different countries, and it is
important for us to be able to prioritize particularly poor pockets of the
continent and begin work in those areas.
We believe that regional approaches across all the issues we discuss today
have been seriously under-leveraged. The extent of external constructive
thinking and support to regionalization has been minimal, despite the potential
of achieving economies of scale and scope in addressing essential structural
needs, such as regional industries, tourism, responses to HIV/AIDS, and quality
higher education, just to mention a few.
Finally, in our experience, sustainable improvements in quality of life are
not the result of any one or two key interventions. Instead, they result from
long-term, multi-input area development approaches that integrate initiatives
across health, education, income generation and cultural renewal, while building
strong institutions that engage local people in setting priorities and taking
With these three overarching principles, I will suggest four areas where we
believe Canada could take a leading role in supporting the development of
pluralist, peaceful and prosperous democracies in Africa. These areas will help
to build communities that are confident in their own identities, in control of
their development destinies, and engaged with the world. These four areas are,
nurturing civil society, building human resources capacity, creating new models
of economic development, and supporting cultural development and revitalization.
I will speak briefly about each one in turn.
Strengthening democracy is a critical priority throughout Africa. While
investments in government are important, governments alone do not make democracy
work. Private initiative is essential, including importantly the institutions of
civil society, consisting of everything from mass media and research and policy
institutions, to commercial, labour, and professional organizations, to
education, culture, and religious associations.
The importance of civil society in countries like Canada is self-evident,
although often taken for granted. In weak or failing democracies, a dense
network of civil society institutions can act as a bulwark against fragile
governments, provide a safety net, and deliver critical social services when
governments malfunction, thereby underwriting social and economic stability. In
this way, improving governance in Africa is about far more than improving
government. It is rather about supporting the entire institutional landscape of
Canada, with the second largest non-profit and voluntary sector in the world,
which is second only to Norway, has lots to offer Africa in this area. For
instance, helping Africa to engage in far more structured and rational thinking
about the respective roles of private and public sectors in social service
delivery, as one example, would be essential. In addition, ensuring that current
donor trends toward exclusive support to government through sector-wide or
program- based approaches are complemented by support to high-quality civil
society could be a distinctive Canadian contribution. In any case, leveraging
the experience and expertise of Canadian civil society institutions in this
effort would be particularly impactful, especially through twinning and other
partnerships with African civil society.
We see considerable insufficiencies in the human resources necessary to
address the entire spectrum of development priorities in the continent. On the
one hand, we have the debilitating effects of disease, notably HIV/AIDS, with
which the committee will already be familiar. On the other hand, we have
educational systems, which across the continent continue to be fundamentally
incongruent with the needs of Africa's economies and democracies. We see
substantial imbalances in educational planning, with an emphasis on primary
education at the expense of early childhood education, secondary, and tertiary
education. Education for young men and young women must be seen as a system of
mutually reinforcing parts. One particularly troubling consequence of this poor
planning, for instance, is that professions critical to development — nursing,
teaching, journalism, all come to mind — are being severely underserved by
higher education on the continent. In response, the AKDN is currently working
across the entire educational spectrum, from improving the quality of secular
education offered at madrasa preschools, to establishing advanced nursing and
teacher training institutions through the Aga Khan University, with a particular
focus on the professional advancement of women.
With respect to education, the current focus on access must be balanced with
an attention to quality, both to sustain gains in access we have made, as well
as to ensure graduates are of the calibre necessary to address Africa's
We must leverage the efforts of civil society — to echo my first theme — in
the delivery of social services such as education, and simultaneously harmonize
civil society efforts toward the long-term development goals of the continent.
Our current effort with CIDA, for instance, in the Kenya School Improvement
Program, is an example of strong civil society and government partnership with
promising results. Again, Canada has much to offer if it ensures a system-wide
approach, supports quality improvements in the role of civil society and
encourages the development of critical professions.
The third area of focus we suggest is encouraging new models of economic
development, especially Canada's role in supporting innovative approaches and
public-private partnerships. Too often the poor have been left behind or even
exploited by economic progress in Africa. Instead, it is important to ensure
tangible linkages between growth and poverty reduction so that the poor
participate in and benefit from wealth creation, spurring self-reliance rather
than dependency. This can involve integrated rural development programs that
create sustainable gains in livelihoods — especially among women — in poor,
marginalized rural communities, as we have done in partnership with CIDA in
Northern Mozambique and coastal Kenya. It could involve the provision of
micro-finance products to create positive cycles of self-sufficiency and wealth
creation, as we have learned from the work of the Aga Khan Agency for
Microfinance and others. It could even involve large-scale industrial
investments that are sensitive to the needs of the poor, such as the work of
Frigoken, which provides business development services to 30,000 small-scale
farmers and has become a successful enterprise as the largest exporter of
processed green beans in Kenya. The point is to find ways of reducing
vulnerability and dependency among the poor while creating sustainable economic
The fourth and final area of focus is supporting cultural development and
revitalization. Restoration of key cultural assets — whether they be public
spaces, such as our major park development in Cairo; monuments, such as the
restoration of parts of Zanzibar's old Stone Town; crafts; music — all can
improve incomes through tourism and the revitalization of traditional art forms,
especially when they are complemented with a portfolio of social and economic
Our approach has been to identify pockets of deep poverty and to use the
restoration of cultural assets as a catalyst for poverty alleviation and social
cohesion during times of rapid social and economic change. After all, the
creation of vibrant, peaceful, and prosperous democracies cannot be premised on
a rejection of the past, which leads to a profound sense of alienation and loss.
Rather, the process requires Africa's diverse peoples to feel a sense of
connection between material progress and modern institutions, on the one hand,
and traditional, cultural, and civic identities, on the other. Unfortunately,
there are few resources to upgrade cultural assets and to make them economically
Canada's own tradition in fostering pluralism is an extraordinary example and
source of inspiration for the entire world. Investing in cultural renewal and
making Canada's own experience available to the world would be a significant
contribution. We have been working to establish, in partnership with the
Canadian government, the Global Centre for Pluralism here in Ottawa with this
very aim of bringing Canada's experience to the world.
Mr. Chairman, these four areas — nurturing civil society, building human
resource capacity, encouraging new models of economic development, and
supporting cultural development and revitalization — would create a strong
platform for Canada's ongoing and commendable commitment to Africa's
The Acting Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Shariff. The first question is
from Senator Dawson.
Senator Dawson: I am very impressed by the fact that at the outset,
you identified four sectors of activity. The greatest challenge for the
committee in the coming months will be to identify those areas in which the
Canadian government must take some form of active involvement abroad. You have
close ties with CIDA and you will no doubt stress the importance of our
carefully selecting our priorities. As an organization, you have targeted
certain countries around the world as beehives of activity for your foundation.
I am not asking that you identify these priorities for us. However, can you
suggest to us the best way to go about making our choices? I am willing to
accept your recommendation as to the types of activities we should pursue, but
how do you recommend we go about selecting our target countries? Should we focus
on countries with the most pressing needs or on those that have enjoyed some
measure of success as a result of help received in the past? Should we choose
countries that accept our recommendations without question or those willing to
develop a partnership with Canada?
I am asking for your help in how to go about choosing those areas in which we
should get involved. I like your suggestions, but can you recommend a process
for selecting our target regions or countries?
Mr. Shariff: Mr. Chairman, I thank the honourable senator for his
challenging question. I can see why the committee will face some difficulty with
it. I can tell you a bit about the way we think about this issue. It has been
our tradition and our practice to identify critical pockets where we believe
that deep poverty is persistent and where we believe that sensitive and
thoughtful engagement can result in long-term sustainable change. However, I
have to say that our priorities are also driven by the fact that we are making a
commitment to be in these areas for the long term. It is important for us to
realize that the development process is complex, and unless we are prepared to
take a long-term approach in the areas where we are working, then it is perhaps
better for us not to engage.
From our perspective, donor agencies in general, and CIDA in particular, need
to think through what it would take for us to choose a number of areas, based on
their need, as well as a capacity to get traction and advance in those areas,
and then to say we commit to these areas for the long term, and we will stay
engaged. Development is a complex business. We will see success and we will see
failure. Ultimately, success will be measured and gained through seeing it
through over the long term. One of the principal ways that we should think about
prioritizing is: Do we have the appetite and capacity to remain engaged in the
The issue of priorities and focus is driven by a desire for us to get a bang
from our buck, to ensure that our relatively small aid program is highly
leveraged, that we punch above our weight. I think it is an admirable intention.
Focus priorities, while they clearly are important principles, are not the only
considerations. The committee, CIDA and donor agencies in general ought to think
carefully about other ways in which we can get leverage from our investments. I
have mentioned some of these already, but we need to keep in mind certain other
principles, such as long-term engagement and taking a multi-input approach.
There are no magic bullets. The ability to work across a spectrum of activity in
a region over time is very important.
CIDA, of course, does not have the capacity, nor does any donor agency, to
implement all the projects that it takes on. Strong partners are needed, trusted
partners, partners who have a deep knowledge of the areas in which they are
working. Picking partners carefully is another important area of leverage for
As the committee thinks about the priorities that CIDA ought to have, on the
one hand focus is important, focusing in countries where we believe we can make
a long-term difference, as well as gaining traction, and keeping in mind certain
principles that will ensure that our aid dollars go far.
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you, Mr. Shariff. It is good to see you
again. You are one of the people who I run into on the ground in Africa. Not
only do you put it down on paper, but you are actually monitoring and doing the
work. Canada's arm of the Aga Khan Foundation is well represented and certainly
well known in Kenya.
You talk about the need to be in a place over the long term and the need for
a consistent program. You have been in Mombasa working on education for an
awfully long time. Do you have any reports that would outline your success
there? I heard you say that there is too much emphasis put on primary education
and not before and after the primary period, and yet much of CIDA's emphasis has
been — supported by many people and many other NGOs — on getting girls into
school at the primary age, so that we will have the best chance of changing the
dynamics in the community. Yet, you are here saying: Do not put the emphasis on
primary education. I did not hear you mention the women's part of it in there.
Could you comment on both your success and why you are putting the emphasis
at a different point than CIDA and other NGOs, and the UN, for that matter?
Mr. Shariff: Thank you, senator. Let me answer the second part of your
question first and then come back to the first part.
Senator, you have raised an important issue and I want to make sure that we
are clear on our perspective. Primary education is very important. However,
education systems are not simply slices along an age continuum. They are
systems. If we are building in African countries for the long-term
sustainability of their economies and their democracies, we must think in
system-wide terms. Our concern is that there are massive imbalances in
educational planning, so today we are investing a great deal of attention and
time in primary education. What will happen when these students finish their
primary education? How is it that we are underwriting the quality of the system
if we are not thinking carefully about what advanced teacher-training
institutions look like? How is it that we can combat HIV/ AIDS, or any other
health condition in the developing world and in Africa, without having solid,
advanced nursing training? There are certain principles and certain
prerequisites that are necessary for strong and stable societies, and a
comprehensive education system is one of them. Therefore, our concern is not
that primary education emphasis is misplaced; it is that it cannot come at the
expense of other parts of the education system. When we are working with
governments in the developing world, we must work with them to take the
system-wide perspective in view. We do not see evidence of that happening today.
Our own work, and I can talk about the work in coastal Kenya, Mombasa, Kwale,
Kilifi, in the coastal provinces, we have been working, for example, in early
childhood development. If you look at entry into grade one, as a result of
investments into early childhood education, especially among girls I will add
here, you see extraordinary differences between the success rates from young
people who have had early childhood education and those who have not.
We are also working in advanced teacher training. For instance, the Aga Khan
University in Kenya will be establishing an institute for educational
development, which is a mechanism to make sure that teachers who are already
teaching will receive the support they need to ensure that the quality of
education they are providing is of the top standard.
One other point on the successes in Mombasa — which I will point to because
we also work in primary education — is a program we affectionately call KENSIP,
the Kenya School Improvement Program, and this is a program of which Canada
should be proud. It is a collaboration between the Aga Khan Foundation and CIDA.
It has innovated mechanisms and models for improving quality at the community
school level among primary teachers and primary school students — involving the
community through innovative governance mechanisms. The Ministry of Education in
Kenya is now picking this up and is thinking about how to mainstream the
approach across the entire country. This is a great example of how CIDA, civil
society here in Canada, civil society in Kenya and the government in Kenya can
work together to make significant advances in they way we are working in primary
We do have successes. I will also point you to the tab under ``education'' in
your binders. There is a brief on our work in early childhood development where
we talk about the programs in Kenya and East Africa more generally, and to say
that primary education is important but unfortunately we need to think about the
whole system, which is the only way for this to be sustainable.
Senator Andreychuk: Canada spent money and time on teacher training
programs in Kenya. However, as you rightly point out, you can consistently work
on that because that is your capacity, but if the rest of the system is
crumbling around you, you keep starting over again. The key is not the UN, not
you, not CIDA, but the government and unfortunately, the governments have
changed, some have fallen back in their capabilities and some have misused
monies. If they are key to making this whole education thrust work, what have we
been doing wrong and what have we been doing right in supporting governments?
Mr. Shariff: This is a critical issue. We need to work in
collaboration with government, no question about that. We also need to ensure
that all the resources being invested in a country are harmonized and are
consistent with the overall effort, the overall development priorities of the
continent. This goes for civil society as well as for donor agencies. All manner
of civil society institutions, church groups, faith groups and international
development agencies need to ensure they are not only servicing their own back
yards and that they are not being parochial or ad hoc in their efforts. We have
to be consistent with our priorities and we need to work with government, but we
must simultaneously invest in government and invest in the institutions outside
of government which will underwrite stability over the long term.
We will never be able to count on government all the time. Unfortunately,
governments fail frequently on the continent, so while we must support
government and underwrite government strength over time, we must also recognize
the stark reality. That is, we need to create safety nets for the society as a
whole to ensure that there are other avenues for provision of important social
services. It is in the magic of interaction between strong civil societies and
strong governments where citizens benefit.
We cannot only bet on one, unfortunately, and one of our concerns about
current donor agency trends is that there is a trend toward exclusive support to
government through sector-wide approaches and program-based approaches. The
intent is admirable — which I believe is what the senator is actually suggesting
— which is that we must shore up government. As I said, government alone does
not make strong societies and strong democracies. There is a rich and complex
institutional structure to democracies that include civil society. We need to be
very cautious in making sure we invest simultaneously in high quality programs
in both government and civil society and then expect them to work together.
Senator Andreychuk: The NEPAD concept, the process started by the
African leaders has resonated on the continent as well as the UN Millennium
Development Goals, which is an international process. To what extent do you pay
attention either of those processes in developing your programs?
Mr. Shariff: We pay a great deal of attention to both important
initiatives. The idea behind NEPAD is that African governments ought to have
accountability for their own results and then hold each other accountable. Of
course, that is very important and admirable and we support that a great deal
and keep an eye on the process. The Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, of
course, are very important. Our only concern with the UN goals is that in some
senses they are a floor but they have become a ceiling in much of the discussion
around donor priorities.
The MDGs provide a very nice way of galvanizing and focusing effort, but they
are not the complete spectrum of needs or priorities in the developing world. As
I say, our own perspective is we need to work on multiple fronts simultaneously.
We wish it was easier, but it is not. While the MDGs are a good rallying call,
they are not a complete picture of the priorities for the continent.
Senator Merchant: When you decide to go into a country, do you prefer
to work with a certain type of government? Do the countries that you work in
have some semblance of democratic government? Are there certain situations that
you would not get involved in because of the type of government? With the
poverty in Africa, I do not know how you would decide on which countries to
Mr. Shariff: Our practice has been to spend quite a bit of time with
government before we make a significant programmatic entry into a country. In
every engagement we are working with across the continent, it is either under a
formal agreement with the government, or at least in consultation and
collaboration with the government.
His Highness the Aga Khan has most recently signed a major protocol of
cooperation with the government in Mali, where we are beginning to do some major
cultural restoration work. This restoration work will be augmented with a very
significant social development component on which we hope to engage CIDA in
The work we have been doing in Egypt, through the Al Azhar Park, and the
social development work with the communities around the park has been with the
happy collaboration of the government in Egypt. In East Africa, we have a long
engagement with the governments in each of the three countries and in Zanzibar.
The work we are doing today in northern Mozambique is the result of our proposal
with CIDA, which included a letter from the foreign minister of Mozambique
encouraging the work and testifying to its consistency with the government's
We work in countries where we believe that the collaboration with government
will be fruitful, and where there is openness and a willingness on the part of
the government to work together. We find that is the area where we can make the
most effective change.
Senator Merchant: A few years ago, I travelled around Canada with the
Prime Minister's task force on women entrepreneurs. We heard that Canadian women
have difficulty accessing loans from banks because there is a perception that
the risk of lending to women is higher than lending to men.
What is your experience with women in Africa and in what kind of projects do
Mr. Shariff: I would say that none of the projects I have mentioned,
nor any of the projects I suspect that are profiled in the binders we have given
to you, do not place a priority on involving women. It is, of course, what we
call in development speak a ``cross-cutting theme,'' which simply means it is
everywhere. It is an issue that we take as a priority on almost every
programmatic intervention. Our experience has been that when it comes to private
sector development women have performed extraordinarily well. When it comes to
micro-finance products our experience would be consistent with international
experience, which is that repayment rates are very high, the proceeds of their
wealth tend to go and be directed toward the family and toward the children, and
so working with women is high leverage. It has impacts well beyond just simply
the particular woman with whom we are working.
I will comment on our work on higher education. It is important to note that
we believe that there are certain professions, which are pillars for social
progress. Two of them are teaching and nursing. These are professions which are
largely dominated by women. Much of our work in bringing advanced, international
standard education — professional education to nursing and teaching in
particular — is driven by a desire and an aspiration that the women develop a
stature in the countries that will attract the very best talent. We hope the
women will receive full credit for the contribution they are making to national
We are concerned and have been concerned for some time, not only in Africa
but also in other parts of the world, that these professions are marginalized,
sometimes because they are heavily dominated by women. These are critical
professions and another area of work where gender issues are very important.
The Acting Chairman: Obviously the initiatives that your organization
undertakes are done in partnership with a number of other organizations. How
often do you work with private organizations?
Mr. Shariff: The private sector, we believe, is an important part of
what we call the private initiative — this area outside of government which is
an important part of democratic life. I will talk about the Aga Khan Fund for
Economic Development, which is a private sector, for-profit part of our network
that invests in critical infrastructure and industries in the developing world,
but with a view to ensuring that we spur among the poor communities in which we
work a spirit of self-reliance and reduced vulnerability. It is not always the
case that large-scale investments spur self-reliance and reduce vulnerability.
In fact it can be the opposite. I will give two examples of where we work in the
One example is Frigoken, which is an innovative private sector enterprise
that works with small-scale farmers and provides them with business development
services in order to create what has become a successful business as the largest
exporter of processed green beans in Kenya. Their work is entirely for-profit.
It is a profit-driven enterprise. The farmers are meant to be economically
sustainable and they are doing so by creating self-reliance on the part of a
whole set of small suppliers for their product.
Another example is the Serena hotel chain, which is a chain of hotels in the
developing world, many of which are in Africa and many in Eastern Africa. This
hotel chain builds high quality international standard hotels with environmental
and cultural sensitivity as key principles. The chain invests in local human
resource capacity in the sector so that the employment benefits of a world-class
hotel chain in parts of the world where private enterprise would normally not
enter are brought to these countries. We now see highly qualified local human
resources in the tourism sector, which as you will know is the largest employer
in the world. That is another example of the way in which we will work with
private sector but we work with them in a spirit of ensuring the benefits of
economic advancement flow also to the poor.
Senator Jaffer: I have a separate question, but Senator Andreychuk
mentioned Mombasa and I understand you have a centre of excellence there. What
is the concept behind this centre of excellence?
Mr. Shariff: The project is the new Aga Khan Academy, the first one of
which is in Mombasa. The Aga Khan Academies are envisioned to be a network of
schools in the developing world. At last count there were 20 cities in the
developing world, across Africa, Central Asia and South Asia, which have been
identified. These schools are meant to be international standard schools that
will teach the International Baccalaureate curriculum. They will aspire to
create the next generation of leadership in the developing world. They are for
students from the developing world. Over time, when the network is built, you
will see students being able to spend time in other places in the developing
world, to be fluent in English as well as one or two other languages, and to
have not only a scientifically world-class education but a focus on the
humanities because we are trying to build citizens and leaders. Moreover, these
schools will have a mandate to invest in the professional development of
teachers. Each school will have a PDC, a professional development centre that
will invest in the quality of teaching and learning not only in the school
itself but in the neighbouring community schools as well. The aspiration is that
these schools will be an example and a model for international cooperation when
it comes to secondary and primary education in the developing worlds, and will
create for exceptional students in the developing world a whole new generation
of leaders that the continent and the developing world sorely need.
Senator Jaffer: Going from that extreme, Mr. Shariff, the challenge is
madrasas. Do you work with madrasas and how are you building partnerships with
madrasas? As we know madrasas are religious schools, and you may have a better
definition. I would imagine there are a number in Africa.
Mr. Shariff: The work we are doing in early childhood development on
the Swahili coast, the coast of East Africa, and in Zanzibar, has been focused
on working with the long tradition of community schooling, which are really
madrasa schools that historically have focused exclusively on religious
instruction. It is not only the content of the instruction that is traditional,
but also the methods are by rote. For many years, we have been working in
coastal Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zanzibar, with these traditional schools to
bring best practice secular educational techniques and content to augment the
traditional religious instruction with world-class secular learning.
What we have seen in these schools and in these projects is that over time,
first, the community gets mobilized and is responsible for raising money for the
schools, for building the school, for hiring the teachers. We often provide
technical assistance and over time, we have seen other communities in the
villages, non-Muslim communities, attracted to these schools because of the high
calibre of the instruction. Therefore, we have created pluralist microcosms of
the diversity of the communities themselves in the secular early childhood
development centres, which are augmenting traditional madrasa schools.
The model is important for a couple of reasons. It is important because it is
a way in which we are marrying material progress and modern institutions with
the cultural traditions of these communities rather than separating it from them
and causing alienation.
The second reason it is important is because the way the community is
mobilized these are sustainable. Many of these small communities have created
what we call ``mini endowments,'' which over time will sustain the salary of a
teacher. We provide training for the teachers, but the communities must fund the
salaries. To do so they will mobilize the community and they will create mini
endowments to sustain these over time. Of course, the women are really the ones
who lead the charge. Mothers come together to ensure that their children have
high quality learning opportunities. It has been an interesting and successful
set of experiments in East Africa, and I would again refer you to the tab under
``education'' in the binder that talks about this in the contours of our early
childhood development efforts overall.
Senator Jaffer: I am keen to know what special efforts you make so
that girls attend school. I understand that the schools are for all
denominations, please comment.
Mr. Shariff: I should say on the last point that all of our activities
are non-denominational. Wherever we work our services are open to all and, in
fact, over time, as you would imagine, high quality services attract many
people. Therefore, we develop microcosms of the full diversity of the
communities where we are engaged.
On the specific issue around women in education, it is terribly important to
encourage women, young girls especially, to go to school, and there are often
specific barriers to that. One clear, tragic barrier is that often young girls
stop going to school when they become older because they do not have
appropriate, separate bathroom facilities of their own. An early intervention is
to work with the community to build separate latrines for girls. It is
incredible the effect just that can have on helping women and young girls get to
Another set of interventions has been simply that often for the families
involved the opportunity cost of not having children to help you with the
economic activities of the household is very difficult. Therefore, much of our
agricultural productivity work is designed to lessen the burden on women. For
instance, the building of a water well, again, has to be done in a thoughtful,
sustainable way so that the community is involved and can maintain it over time.
Often, a water well can reduce the burden on a woman who has to travel for hours
and hours in the beginning of the day and hours and hours again at the end of
the day to fetch water. Freeing up those hours for women in a village allows
them then to focus their work on other things and then allows the children to go
to school. Again, often the beneficiaries are young women.
Finally, one other example is that almost all of our teacher training
activities have an important strain. We talk to teachers around unintentional or
unconscious or unwitting biases they may have toward boys or men in their
classroom. Surfacing these biases often allows them to treat girls or women in
their classrooms much more equitably. That on the quality dimension ends up
being very important.
Remember that bringing girls to school is the first step; keeping them there
is the next challenge. Without quality, without girls and families themselves
seeing real improvements in education and learning outcomes, they will drop out.
We ensure that by investing in teacher training, girls' needs especially are
considered so that they also experience the gains in learning outcomes to be
able to sustain their own activities in school.
The Acting Chairman: It is quite topical these days to talk about
madrasas. Do you have any role in evaluating the curriculum, which is probably
the most diplomatic way that I can put it, of schools you support so that the
content is educational rather than problematic?
Mr. Shariff: I would say that madrasas exhibit the full diversity of
early childhood centres one would expect in any context. I know that the media
images and the media commentary have focused on a certain type or strain of
madrasas in a particular part of the world. It is, frankly, a part of the world
in which we do not work with the madrasas. Our work with madrasas really has
been in East Africa and the Swahili coast, and there in general we have not had
issues with the content of the type I think you are diplomatically suggesting.
The Acting Chairman: I will give the last question to Mr. Peter Berg,
our researcher, analyst, who has an issue on which he would like an explanation.
Peter Berg, Economics Division, Parliamentary Research Branch: You
have as one of your priorities economic development and within that developing
the private sector of these countries. You say in your written presentation that
successive Canadian governments have had this as a focus as well, and yet the
instruments, the specific mechanisms to help in developing the private sector
are still evolving. What would you recommend as Canada's policy on private
sector development? How can Canada invest in that area and be effective? You
focus on Canada dealing with private sector development agencies as opposed to
governments directly. Could identify a few key ways for that to happen?
Is there too much government in Africa and is it hampering the development of
the private sector? What role can Canada play to encourage countries to put in a
more conducive investment climate?
Mr. Shariff: On the issue of private sector development policy, we
ought not to burden CIDA or the Canadian government too deeply because this is
actually an issue with which the development world in general is still
struggling. There are no easy answers to these questions. We could have made the
same comment around policy in this area still evolving of almost any donor
agency in the world. This is not a uniquely Canadian issue.
Our experience suggests several directions we ought to take when it comes to
private sector development. The first one is that we ought to think very
carefully about engaging rural populations. This is not only an urban
phenomenon. We ought to think about the ways in which we can support rural
populations to take advantage of market opportunities that may well be in urban
centres. We might do this through business development services, market linkages
and education for entrepreneurs. There is a suite of activities that are
important for rural populations and we ought to keep that in mind.
A second area would be micro-finance. I use the word ``micro-finance'' not
``micro-credit.'' I use the word ``micro- finance'' because in fact there is a
whole suite of different products that budding entrepreneurs would find useful
and helpful. Micro-credit, that is to say loans, is one of them. Savings
products are another, which are surprisingly unavailable for most of the poor
people in the continent. Micro-insurance is another area where we are beginning
to do some important work; crop insurance, business insurance of all kinds. We
are right now collaborating with the Gates Foundation on a major product
development study in Pakistan and Tanzania on micro-insurance.
There is a suite of micro-finance products that are simply essential for
Canada to invest in. It would be useful for Canada to think about developing a
specific expertise in this area, building human resources, building a track
record of success in this area, finding the right partners in this area and
investing heavily to advance entrepreneurialism through micro-finance.
A third area would be to think about supporting private sector models that
are not only economically sustainable, that is to say profitable, but also focus
on working with poor communities and ensuring they can benefit from this model.
What it usually will require is a whole set of approaches that include some kind
of private sector development component but may also require micro-finance for
villagers and community members who are participating in a big industrial
enterprise. It may also include education, health and rural support initiatives
to allow villagers to have the time and the capacity to advance on private
sector enterprise initiatives. There is an issue of innovative models that
Canada could be supporting and thinking through in its private sector
development policy as well.
Senator Smith: I have known many members of your community over the
years, all over the place, and I have always been very impressed. When I look at
this map, I have been to Mombasa, and I see all the locations in East Africa,
Mali, Syria, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Where is the largest
Ismaili community? I am trying to get a better feel for the size of the
community and how it is distributed throughout the world. I am thinking not so
much of North America but of the other parts of the world.
Mr. Shariff: Let me say a few words about the community and its
relationship to the Aga Khan Development Network, which I think is the issue
underlying your question. The Ismaili community is spread across East Africa,
South and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, et cetera. The
community supports the network, although increasingly the community itself is a
small beneficiary in terms of service provision of the network. For instance,
although East Africa has historically been an area of some concentration for the
Ismaili community, today the vast majority, I would suspect 90-plus per cent of
the beneficiaries, are non-Ismaili beneficiaries. However, we draw a great deal
of volunteer strength and resources from the Ismaili community in those areas.
The Ismaili's are not present in northern Mozambique and there are very few in
Mali. The relationship between the Ismaili community and the network is one of
extraordinary support, even in this country. While increasingly our support
comes from outside of the Ismaili community, the Ismaili community is a
wonderful supporter of our work. The work is non-denominational, and the areas
where we work tend to have both Ismailis and non-Ismailis. Increasingly, we are
working in areas where there are no Ismailis present at all.
The Acting Chairman: Senators, before we commenced the proceedings, I
was sharing with Mr. Shariff my long-term relationship with the Ismaili
community and the very positive aspect of that relationship.
I too would like to express our congratulations for the many good works that
the Aga Khan Foundation has been involved in over the years, and certainly to
congratulate you, Mr. Shariff, and your organization for all of the good work
that you are doing in Africa. Lastly, I want to once again thank you for your
patience and for sharing some wisdom with us, which has added great value to our
report. Thank you very much. I hope to see you soon.