The change that Covid-19 has introduced into every aspect of human society has been unprecedented in its magnitude, strength and rapidity.
The pandemic has highlighted the shared vulnerability of humanity and has targeted the most weak and at-risk members of society, without regard for race, gender, background, ethnicity or socio-economic status. Yet in the face of this vulnerability, the virus has emphasised the necessity for collective interconnected and multifaceted response at the global, regional and local levels.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to re-evaluate the way we interact with one another and also to question the morals and ethics that underpin our collective action. This includes the manner in which we care for our most vulnerable, and the value and dignity we ascribe to essential workers. The success of measures such as safe travel, quarantine, social distancing and masking are actions that demand collective trust and action alongside personal responsibility.
Covid-19 has prompted a re-assessment of individual, collective and global priorities. For the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), as well as others in the field of international development and those in the private sector, the pandemic has prompted a re-examination of the very essence of our work, the impact on our beneficiaries and our definition of an ethical partnership in an increasingly complex world.
An effective development partnership, we believe, is one in which the primary beneficiaries are the public. The pandemic has highlighted the valuable and constructive role that civil society organisations and the private sector can play in assisting governments — and that they are not a replacement for, or threat to government, but rather an essential contributor.
Effective partnerships are also those that involve a high level of multilateral and regional co-operation. Partnerships of this nature involve complexities of multi-stakeholder governance. Critics often point to challenges and concerns including the encroachment of private sector interests on public resources and the absence of concentrated accountability.
The public stands to benefit the most when these concerns are effectively addressed through the sharing of risk and when there is increased co-operation among governments, the private sector and civil society.
To use an AKDN example, Ruzizi III, is a hydropower project that responded to the need for energy through a partnership between Industrial Promotion Services (an AKDN agency), SN Power (a Norwegian international renewable energy company) and the governments of Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda.
The Ruzizi III project will harness the power of the Ruzizi River to provide 147MW of power to 30 million people across the three countries of Burundi, the DR Congo and Rwanda. Once commissioned, Ruzizi III will double Burundi’s current capacity, increase Rwanda’s installed capacity by 33 per cent and provide much needed baseload power in Eastern DR Congo, a region otherwise isolated from the country’s interconnected grid.
An example of a Pan-African partnership is the Kusi Ideas Festival, launched in 2019 by the Nation Media Group, also an AKDN agency. Its second edition in December 2020, focused on Africa’s resilience and recovery in a post-Covid era and encouraged and fostered cross-disciplinary thought, leadership and collaboration in response to diverse challenges facing the African continent. In his speech made at the opening of ‘Kusi 2’, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta remarked “As governments, and in the spirit of pan-Africanism, it is necessary for us to consider responses that do not just seek to address direct and immediate impacts of Covid-19 but also those that result in wider sustaining of systems for the wellbeing of our people.”
Within AKDN, an Environment and Climate Committee was recently established to develop a policy framework on environment and climate change priorities for implementation by AKDN globally. Acknowledging that some needs are of such magnitude that no individual organisation will have all the resources necessary to address them adequately, the AKDN, through this committee, made the decision to become a Founding Partner of the Earthshot Prize, a prestigious global environmental initiative established by Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in the UK, under The Royal Foundation.
The areas of healthcare, education, economic and environmental sustainability, food production, manufacturing, energy and utilities, and information and communication technology will continue to remain areas of increasing importance in the years and decades ahead. Effective partnerships in these areas often mean establishing strong local and community-based relationships.
If it is a shared vulnerability which binds us together with a common mission, then the values of compassion; respect for health and life; generosity of time, knowledge and resources; and the inclusiveness of pluralism — all values that are intrinsic to the AKDN’s ethical framework — will help us to focus our priorities towards the dignity of those around us and to lead us into a post-covid era from a place of strength and sustainability.
This is a joint opinion editorial by the AKDN Diplomatic Representatives of Kenya (Azim Lakhani), Tanzania (Amin Kurji), and Uganda (Amin Mawji OBE). The AKDN is a global Network founded by His Highness the Aga Khan and brings together a number of development agencies, institutions, and programmes in many countries and across numerous social and economic sectors to improve the quality of life of the populations where the AKDN is present (www.akdn.org)