While fast becoming a cliché, in a space of just nine months, the way of life of virtually the whole of humankind has changed. SARSCoV-2 respects no geographic, gender, ethnic, or religious boundaries. Dealing with it has required coordinated efforts between the government, the commercial sector, civil society, and individuals.
On behalf of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), I would like to congratulate the Nation Media Group (NMG) on holding the second edition of the Kusi Ideas Festival – Towards a Post-Covid Africa, in these unprecedented times and under the most challenging of circumstances. NMG’s resilience, flexibility, and ability to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic is reflective of the capacity of AKDN agencies, of which NMG is one, to respond to crises beyond immediate interventions.
Founded by His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, AKDN has a presence in over 30 countries, with its agencies operating in Africa in the sectors of education, health, finance, media, culture, tourism, and industry for nearly 100 years. Addressing complex issues in healthcare, education, and certainly during a pandemic, requires enormous resources and AKDN has a tradition of working with partners with mutual interests to produce mutually beneficial outcomes that improve the quality of life.
This has been evident in our response to the Covid-19 pandemic; AKDN has been working with its partners – governments, development banks, diplomatic donor agencies, and numerous organisations at international and national levels – to provide short and long-term strategic support to mitigate the harmful consequences of the pandemic.
The three key themes for the Kusi Festival this year are health; Africa’s hidden strengths and resilience; and re-engineering Africa’s future. During the festival, you will likely hear about some remarkable organisations and individuals that have responded to the challenges arising from the pandemic with innovation, creativity, tenacity, and ingenuity. Our own experience at AKDN includes examples of widescale adaptation by our agencies in multiple sectors to transform their business and programmatic models in reaction to the pandemic.
In the health sector, AKDN through its Health Services and the University Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya, supported governments through the provision of isolation facilities, additional ICU beds, Covid-19 testing, personal protection equipment (PPE), and the training of thousands of doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers in management and care protocols for Covid-positive patients. Recently, the Aga Khan University (AKU) and the Aga Khan Health Services in Kenya and Tanzania received a grant of six million euros from KfW, the German state-owned development bank, towards the purchase of PPE for health workers and Covid-19 test kits. Part of the grant will also fund a Covid-19 patient welfare programme.
Our media and educational institutions responded to and embraced the digital transformation that has taken place on a global scale: NMG launched its digital brand Nation.Africa and transformed its thought leadership series – the Nation Leadership Forum – into a digital platform; the Network’s schools and university developed online curricula for distance learning and the training of health workers; public education was conducted extensively through AKU’s webinar series, with the participation of renowned subject matter experts; and Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) provided fasttracked financial relief and a swift transition to cashless and online banking for thousands of its clients.
In the public domain, AKU is working with globally renowned partners for a rapid response in vaccine development, drug trials, and research to improve the care and management of Covid-19 patients; DTB signed an agreement with the International Finance Corporation for a $50 million loan – part of IFC’s fast-track Covid-19 global facility – to enable the bank to continue supporting its small and medium enterprise clients; and the Aga Khan Foundation, working with its partners, leveraged its extensive network of nearly 2,000 civil society organisations to channel online content on Covid-19 prevention measures, trained community groups to produce PPE, and provided food relief to thousands of vulnerable families and their communities.
Although these are just some examples of the measures implemented by AKDN agencies over the past few months, all the agencies are transforming their programmatic and operational strategies to facilitate an emergence into a post-Covid-19 era over the next few years, from positions of sustainability and strength. As we anticipate a wide-scale rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and a hopeful return to a safer, albeit much changed world, AKDN will continue to work with its multi-level partners to support the continent’s people and their development to engender self-reliance for all and to improve quality of life. All of this is underpinned by strong ethics and values, including compassion, concern for vulnerable people, generosity, and excellence.
Dr Azim Lakhani is the diplomatic representative of the Aga Khan Development Network Kenya.
This article was first published in a pullout in The EastAfrican on December 5, 2020.