At a special dinner hosted in Lisbon on 13 April 2019, the Aga Khan University (AKU) celebrated its partnership with Portuguese universities on research and development initiatives. The event was attended by Mawlana Hazar Imam and Princess Zahra.

The AKU Board of Trustees welcomed representatives from Portugal’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Higher Education; the Catholic University of Portugal; Nova University of Lisbon; and leaders of the Jamat and Aga Khan Development Network. The evening included a keynote address by Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation.

In his remarks, President Firoz Rasul highlighted how the values shared by AKU and its public and private sector partners in Portugal had acted as a driving force for a range of innovative projects.  

“At the heart of our work is the conviction that an outstanding university, based in the developing world, can improve the quality of life for countless people,” said Mr Rasul. “But to do so, we believe it must do two things simultaneously: it must strive to achieve international standards of excellence, and it must address the problems that confront the societies in which it operates.”

Mr Rasul stated that AKU and its partners were working on a range of projects that aim to combat the effects of climate change, tackle the public health threat of infectious diseases in Africa, advance the study of regenerative medicine, and deepen our understanding of crucial periods in European and Asian history.

In his keynote address to guests, Carlos Moedas recognised the role played by Mawlana Hazar Imam, AKU’s Chancellor, in building partnerships across cultures and borders, saying, “there were two reasons I thought today, before coming here, why I respect so much your leadership. The first is that as a supra-national leader you have always been a bridge builder... you have really been one of these men that has built bridges to connect us all and we need that today.”

“And as a religious leader, I think that you have also something that always inspired me, which is this link that you always make between spirituality and the problems of today. Spirituality, and solving the problems that we have from climate change to inequality. And that’s extremely inspiring.”

Mr Moedas also noted how innovation occurs at the intersections of various disciplines and geographies. Developing such initiatives requires a creative mindset, attention to detail, teamwork and a realisation that one needs to bridge the gap between the physical and digital worlds.

“If you look at the new breakthroughs, they are all at the intersection. At the intersection of disciplines, at the intersection of countries, or religions,” he said.

Mr Rasul noted that a belief in the transformative potential of knowledge and in expanding access to opportunity was central to the AKU’s founding in 1983 as Pakistan’s first private university, and instrumental to its expansion across three continents since 2000.

“Like the legendary Portuguese explorers of the Age of Discovery, we are all participants in the greatest and most exciting human quest: the quest for knowledge. In the 10th century, that quest led our Chancellor’s ancestors to found Al-Azhar University in Cairo. A thousand years later, it led to the establishment of the institutions represented here,” he said.

“With values such as these in common, I am certain that we can help to increase understanding; reduce prejudice, poverty and disease; and expand access to opportunity. Let us all set sail together, and chart a course towards the better world we all wish to see.”