During the month of March, Concordia is playing host to the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, an exhibit designed to showcase the work of the foundation, which invests heavily in building infrastructure in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. The exhibit, “Bridges that Unite,” has been touring Canada for the last two years, and is making its final stop in Montreal at the university until March 26th.
The AKFC is part of the larger Aga Khan Development Network, which is chaired by its founder, the 49th Aga Khan, who is a spiritual leader to over 15 million Ismaili Shia muslims around the world. According to Elizabeth Bloodgood, an assistant professor in political science at Concordia, this has given the foundation an advantage in many countries.
“Even though it’s a different sect, the fact that they’re Muslim makes them preferable to some Christian groups. Also, unlike a group like World Vision, they’re not ideological or aggressive in proselytizing,” she said.
Bloodgood also said that the group’s approach is responsible for much of its success. “Even though they’re a non-governmental organization, they’re almost run like a business,” she said. “Typically they invest heavily in infrastructure in a region. They set up local companies in regions such as Pakistan, and with the created infrastructure these companies become self-sufficient and profitable. So they then take that money and reinvest it in further developments.” According to their website, the global network currently generates around $1.5 billion per year from its companies.
Clarence Epstein, Concordia’s director of special projects and cultural affairs, said the exhibit came after consulting with a group of professors. “We asked around seven professors about the organization, to see what they thought. It turned out that many professors had had some contact with the group, and several Concordia students had gotten internships working with the corporation.”
Concordia’s administration is closer with the AKFC than some past exhibits, such as the anti-psychiatry 2009 exhibition. Many administration and faculty members, including President Judith Woodsworth, attended a wine and cheese event put on by the foundation on Tuesday. “We’re quite pleased to have them here,” Epstein said. “We’re hoping we can develop more partnerships, including perhaps in the future a chance for more internships for staff and students.”
But Concordia isn’t doing it for free; while the Foundation, like all charities, pays less than private companies, Concordia is still charging an undisclosed amount for the space. The group is sponsoring talks at Concordia on March 16 and 17 about public space and storytelling, and international journalism. On March 24, a concert by an Afghan-Canadian artist and a documentary film will be featured.