In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, Munir M Merali, diplomatic representative of Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Bangladesh, discussed the organization’s activities in the country and future endeavours
What is the main focus of the AKDN mission in Bangladesh?
The main responsibilities of the AKDN representative's office in Bangladesh are to coordinate AKDN activities and enhance collaborative efforts with the government and other prospective partners of the network in the country.
AKDN in Bangladesh looks forward to working with the government of Bangladesh, and with our other partners – local and international – to help improve the quality of life of all the people in the country.
How many projects does AKDN already have, how many are being implemented and what are its future projects in Bangladesh?
AKDN has been working in Bangladesh for nearly six decades, since the time the Network made investments in a thriving jute mill industry in Bangladesh. AKDN is currently working in the field of education and the financial sectors in the country.
The Network is committed to enhancing its investments in the education sector with the establishment of the Aga Khan Academy Dhaka (AKA-D), in a sprawling 20-acre land in Bashundhara residential area. The award-winning Aga Khan Academy Dhaka will have world-class facilities for its students and staff and will be part of an integrated network of 18 academies across the globe.
The construction work of the AKA-D is going on well, and the phased completion of the campus is expected to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence, the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh.
Aga Khan Education Services has been administering the Aga Khan School Dhaka (AKS-Dhaka) for the past thirty years. Considered to be one of the leading English-medium schools in the country, it offers international quality education to more than 1,200 students.
The Aga Khan Foundation has also sought to improve the capacity of civil society organizations and the government to increase access to and quality of early childhood development (ECD) services for disadvantaged children. In the area of employable skills, the foundation has worked with local partners to develop leadership and professional and communications skills among youth through a novel approach, consisting of a slew of online and face-to-face courses.
Investments by Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) are designed to foster strong, cooperative partnerships with local institutions – government, private sector and civil society organizations. The current portfolio of AKFED in the country includes Habib Bank Limited. HBL has been operating in Bangladesh since 1976 with six of its branches – 4 in Dhaka and 1 each in Chittagong and Sylhet.
It is important to note that AKFED and other affiliate commercial entities operate on a business model and re-invest their surpluses to help support development initiatives of the ‘not-for-profit’ entities within the Network, through contributing to the implementation of social infrastructural and cultural projects in the country.
Aga Khan Trust for Culture focuses on the physical, social, cultural and economic revitalisation of communities in the developing world.
Does AKDN face any problems in operating in Bangladesh either from the government side or others?
Overall, AKDN is warmly welcomed and appreciated by all – and we enjoy cordial and excellent working relations with the government and members of the diplomatic corps, civil society and the business community in the country. AKDN agencies and the Mission look forward to exploring areas of cooperation with other development partners and agencies. The AKDN Mission completed five years of its operations in July 2019.
What are the new areas in which Bangladesh and AKDN should work more?
Education remains a key area of interest for the Network. With around forty million young students in the primary and secondary education system, the quality of education and teaching is most important. For this and other reasons, AKDN is committed to help improve the education sector by developing models of excellence in education, such as the Aga Khan Academy, and investing in and developing programs for teachers’ education with the establishment of the Professional Development Centre.
What is your take on the Rohingya crisis?
The response of Bangladesh – from a humanitarian point of view – is laudable and recognised globally. This is an important issue not only for Bangladesh but also for the region. I believe it is in everyone’s interest – especially for the refugees – that an amicable and sustainable solution to the crisis be found at the earliest.