Knowledge Discovery Challenge sparks innovative solutions to address global development problems
For decades, refugees in the Hangu district of Pakistan have been plagued by socio-economic and health concerns, including high rates of maternal and infant mortality. Realising that such deaths were preventable, Anisa Shivji and her team — the Hangu Helpers
— came up with a solution that involved training and supporting traditional community birth attendants, and supplying them with tools such as clean home delivery kits to be assembled by local women as a way to earn income.
The innovative proposal, which combined community self-reliance with improved access to health care professionals through mobile phone-based telemedicine, earned the team first place in the Knowledge Discovery Challenge
, a competition that invited Ismailis in Canada to create solutions that would address important development issues around the world. The Challenge was a component of the Aga Khan Education Board for Canada’s Spark of Knowledge
Golden Jubilee initiative, which explored the diverse historical traditions and values of Ismaili Muslims and the ways in which the Jamat and the Imamat have applied knowledge to facilitate social change.
The Hangu Helpers innovative proposal combining community self-reliance with improved access to health care professionals, earned them first place in the Knowledge Discovery Challenge. Left to right: Rahim Shivji, Anisa Shivji, Anisa Daudji, Zeeshan Hemraj. Photo: Courtesy of Anisa Shivji
The Hangu Helpers — which in addition to Shivji also included Anisa Daudji, Zeeshan Hemraj and Rahim Shivji — was one of 112 teams from across Canada that tested their creative powers major development challenges. Other submissions sought to address a range of issues including social isolation among the aged, the growing cadre of unemployed yet well-educated youth in parts of the developing world, and the need for a sustainable and renewable supply of electricity in isolated mountain communities. Submissions were evaluated by a panel of judges comprising university professors, business executives, and development professionals with experience from the Aga Khan Development Network, Focus Humanitarian Assistance, the Google Foundation, and the World Bank.
“We worked on this project with our hearts,” said Shivji, adding that her team’s motivation stemmed from a 1983 speech made by Mawlana Hazar Imam in India, in which he explained of how poverty can deprive people of the means and motivation to improve their lot. “Unless these unfortunates can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination,” said Hazar Imam, “they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation and despair.”
“That is what our project aimed to do,” said Shivji, “provide that spark.”
As the winning team, the Hangu Helpers had an opportunity to visit a number of Aga Khan Development Network projects in Kenya, including the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi, the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, the Frigoken vegetable factory, and the Nation Media Group. The team members also met with local communities and saw first-hand the long-lasting impact that the institutions had on their quality of their lives.
“The attention to detail, the success, the sustainability [of the AKDN projects] — not to mention the beauty of the places we visited — made us feel proud,” said Shivji. Although they had read about the work of the Imamat institutions, the visit brought them much closer to the projects.
Shivji and her team were deeply touched by the hospitality of the Kenyan community and the humility of the staff at the AKDN institutions. “We left with the hope in our hearts that we would one day come back and serve these communities,” she said.
Organisers of the Knowledge Discovery Challenge competition were impressed with the range of high-quality solutions submitted, and they hope to repeat this competition in the future. AKDN is also looking into implementing some of the key ideas outlined in top submissions, and Shivji and her team would like to see their project implemented.
“We are hoping we can make a difference in the lives of the Hangu people.”