"Communities can take ownership of their own development"
News from 2018-03-12 / KfW Development Bank
Michael Kocher, General Manager of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), explains the development approach of his organisation
Mr. Kocher, the Aga Khan Foundation has been active in the field of development cooperation for more than fifty years. What would you say are your major achievements?
Our impact in northern Pakistan, where we have worked for decades, is high on the list. The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme model was first created and implemented there in 1983. It was founded on the principle that communities can take ownership of their own development by establishing and working through representative village organisations. Our work has shown that through these organisations, communities are better able to improve their quality of life.
One of the most recent adaptations of this approach is in Northern Afghanistan. Under the Stabilisation Programme for Northern Afghanistan (SPNA) – which is financed by KfW with funds provided by the German Federal Foreign Office – AKF, the French NGO ACTED and Mercy Corps work with district-level citizen assemblies and prepare them to interact with local government authorities. KfW makes a pool of "district development funds" available for these assemblies , helping address critical local needs and building the capacity of government and citizens alike. Over EUR 100 million has been programmed through 50 District Development Assemblies and over 420 projects, building vital roads, schools, water facilities, and other critical infrastructure – improving local conditions and local civil society along the way.
Working with these community-focused models that enable local people to pursue their own development is our hallmark.
AKF’s rural development programmes now reach over 8 million people living in remote areas of Asia and Africa. The organisations and programmes inspired by the model have impacted hundreds of millions more.
Do you also conduct cross-border programmes?
Yes, our cross-border programmes in Central Asia are also a cause for optimism, not least due to the collaborative spirit in which they are implemented. Before the Soviets, the Afghan and Tajik communities on either side of this border were linked by family, language, and tradition. For over seventy years, they stayed apart. Over the past decade, the Aga Khan Foundation has built five bridges and markets, partially financed through the PATRIP Foundation and KfW with funds provided by the German Federal Foreign Office, to link these lands, bringing people into contact again, sparking local trade, and supporting local livelihoods. The impact has been significant. Prior to the markets, getting staple goods like salt or flour was a two-day donkey ride for villagers on the Afghan side; now they just have to cross the river on market day. The same was true of hospital care, but we have worked with Tajik authorities to enable emergency services for Afghans in this corner of the country.
The logic for developing shared services in this remote part of the world is compelling. Energy is an important example. After the fall of the Soviet Union and a five-year civil war in the 1990s, the Tajik side suffered a collapse in energy infrastructure; the Afghan side never even had such services. In 2002, with support from IFC, the World Bank, and the Government of Tajikistan, the Aga Khan Development Network formed the first public-private partnership in energy in Central Asia, a Tajik company called Pamir Energy. Today 98 % of Tajiks in this area, some 220,000 people, now have access to affordable, reliable and clean energy and Pamir Energy are now exporting power across the border to Afghanistan, providing electricity for more than 40,000 people for the first time.
KfW and the PATRIP Foundation have been vital partners in this work, supporting it since 2010. This has helped to bring other development partners to the area, including the European Commission, which is now working with AKF, KfW and the PATRIP Foundation on a sixth bridge and market. The momentum is positive, and growing.
What development sectors does AKF focus on?
In order to address the inter-related causes of poverty affecting the poorest and most marginalised in society, especially women and girls, we take a multi-sector approach. As such, we work across agriculture and food security; economic inclusion, including enabling infrastructure like energy and water, as well as enterprise development; and education and early childhood development. Underpinning all our work is a commitment to helping develop a robust and sustainable civil society that will continue to deliver services after the duration of individual projects.
And in how many countries are you working?
The Aga Khan Foundation has operations in 20 countries including: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, India, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Madagascar, Mali, Mozambique, Pakistan, Portugal, Syria, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Through the broader Aga Khan Development Network, we operate in a total of 30 countries overall.
How important is religion for your work?
The Foundation is a non-denominational organisation that works with people of all backgrounds and faiths. His Highness the Aga Khan created the Foundation to improve the quality of life for the most marginalised: the ethos and work of the Foundation are underpinned by key ethical principles of Islam, including consultation, solidarity with those less fortunate, self-reliance, and human dignity. Pluralism is a central pillar of AKF’s ethical framework and something we strive to promote in all our programmes.
Is the collaboration with other development organisations also important for your work?
Collaboration with other development organisations, as well as myriad other partners, is fundamental to the success of our work. First and foremost are the communities and the governments of the countries where we work. Then there are our critical institutional partners like KfW and the Government of Germany, as well as other governments. We have long-standing partnerships with multi-lateral organisations like the European Commission or the development banks, and we collaborate with trusts, foundations, corporates that share our values, and other NGOs. We implement all of the work on our own or in partnership with civil society organisations – each year we partner with 40,000 CSOs. And we collaborate with business as well. Partnerships like these are a cornerstone of our approach – creating these networks ensures that programmes and benefits live on well beyond projects and contracts. Partnership and collaboration are essential to our work. This way we are able to learn from other organisations, leverage strengths, and mobilise different skills and abilities to help us address some of the most important development issues in the world today.
What are the special skills and abilities of AKF?
A few things stand out:
One, we make a long-term commitment to the regions in which we work. This means that once we commit to a country or region we plan to be there for as long as it takes until a significant and durable transformation to people’s quality of life is achieved.
Two, related to the first point, we are able to commit our own funds to a country or region which means that we pursue long-term development needs beyond donor funding windows or budget limitations. Partner funding is essential and allows us to do more and more quickly, but once we are in a country we can stay committed.
Three, we take a regional and integrated approach. This means that in the case of places like Central Asia or East Africa we have partnerships that allow us to work across multiple countries to address regional challenges, such as climate change or access to energy.
Four, we are focused on the best quality interventions possible within the context we are working. We set our self a target to become the benchmark and to create development models that can be replicated and adapted by others.
What are the major difficulties you are facing in your work?
Political instability and working in fragile contexts is high on the list, particularly in places like Afghanistan and Syria. We try to mitigate the risk for our partner communities and staff but we are committed to these countries and will continue to work in them.
Climate change is having a profound impact on the livelihoods of mountainous and coastal communities that we work with. Safe-guarding food security in the context of a changing climate is, and will continue to be, a significant objective of our operations.
Population growth, urbanisation, and a youth bulge in Africa and Asia are placing huge stresses on public services. Responding to the jobs agenda is very much a priority of ours.
And your goals for the future?
The Foundation, along with the other agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network, will continue to work toward a more inclusive and pluralistic world where difference is regarded as a strength and not a weakness. We are committed to lifting millions of more people out of poverty. We will continue to focus on the poorest and most marginalised communities to help them develop self-reliance and resilience to face the future with a greater sense of optimism.