His Highness, the Aga Khan, is one of the most iconic figures in the world. As the Imam of the ism-strong Shia Ismaili Muslim community worldwide, he is more than a leader and a guide.
As a direct descendant of Muhammad, the Holy Prophet of Islam through his daughter Fatima and his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, he is seen by his followers as the unbroken link between today and the very foundation of the global religion. His influence, not only within his own community around the world but also in the societies and countries in which Ismailis reside, is incalculable in terms of social development and spiritual upliftment.
The Aga Khan Development Network, which coordinates the activities of over 200 institutions, employing approximately 80,000 paid staff, is dedicated to improving living conditions and opportunities for the poor, without regard to their faith, origin or gender. It operates in more than 30 of the poorest counties in the world. Its annual budget for non-profit development activities is approximately $lbn.
In Africa, particularly in East Africa, the Aga Khan educational and health institutions--accessible to all irrespective of religious or class distinctions--are regarded as the benchmark for excellence.
But the Aga Khan is also a thoroughly modern global citizen, equally at home in the West (the title His Highness was conferred on him by HM Queen Elizabeth II of the UK in 1957, the year of his accession) as he is in South East and Central Asia and Africa.
His institutional interests through the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development encompass a wide range of entrepreneurial domains including prestige hotels (for example, the Serena Group), tourism and industrial promotion, power generation (e.g. the Bujugali hydroelectric power dam in Uganda), agro-processing (Frigoken, Kenya), telecommunications, manufacturing, media (Nation Media Group), banking, insurance and property management. All companies have a clear social development mandate; all surpluses generated are reinvested in further development activities.
Cultural initiatives also span a range, from urban revitalisation to music. The triennial $lm Aga Khan Architecture Award, established in 1977, has become the most prestigious prize in this discipline, with winners coming from an astonishing range of countries, including Burkina Faso. Hie Award goes to projects around tne world that set benchmarks of excellence in finding solutions to challenges of the built environment.