Each year University for a Night brings together leaders from around the world and from different sectors of society to share ideas and inspiration about systemic solutions to poverty and other complex problems.
Held annually in New York since 1997 and for four years in Johannesburg, the event was held in Europe for the first time on October 22 in London and featured 155 participants. Major sponsors of the event were the Hashoo Foundation, Kim-Samuel Johnson, and Shell, who each brought guests from a range of backgrounds and organizations to share their experiences, and David Rockefeller.
Recognizing bridging leadership for development
Participants joined Synergos’ Founder and Chair, Peggy Dulany, in honoring His Highness the Aga Khan, Founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), with the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award. Mr. Rockefeller, in a letter to the Aga Khan, wrote, “Through the Aga Khan Development Network, you have leveraged the social conscience of Islam in ways that benefit people of all faiths, promoting tolerance, pluralism and broad-based development.”
- His Highness the Aga Khan
In acknowledging the award, His Highness spoke about the importance of civil society in development. “As I have done my work over the past decades, I have concluded that one of the most important forces in development is civil society,” he explained. “If you think about the countries around the world which have had fragile governments but which have still made progress, there are umpteen examples of countries which have made progress because they have had strong civil society.”
The AKDN is a group of private, international, non-denominational agencies working to improve living conditions and opportunities for people in specific regions of the developing world, particularly in Africa and Asia. The Network’s organizations have individual mandates that range from the fields of health and education to architecture, rural development and the promotion of private-sector enterprise. Together, they work towards a common goal - to build institutions and programs that can respond to the challenges of social, economic and cultural change on an ongoing basis. The AKDN enjoys close partnerships with public and private institutions, including governments, international organizations, companies, foundations, and universities.
The Aga Khan went on to commend Synergos for its work, commenting that “civil society means mobilizing all the forces that can be mobilized in support of human development, and that is why I am so happy and gratified by the prize that you have given me, because you are bringing these forces together in the most remarkable way.”
Two past recipients of the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award - Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder of BRAC, and Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation - were on hand at the event in London. Other past recipients include Bill Clinton; Sir Richard Branson; Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates and William H. Gates Sr.; Nelson Mandela; and Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan.
The Aga Khan and Peggy Dulany then had an on-stage dialogue so that the audience could learn more about His Highness’ development work. In responding to a question about the relationship between philanthropy and development, the Aga Khan spoke about the importance of impact investment: “I happen to believe that impact investment is one of the most important concepts that I can recollect in the last 50 years. And the reason is that it harnesses social ethic to economic purpose. And the harnessing of social ethic to economic purpose enables you to do things which you could never do otherwise because what you’re talking about is a double dividend. You’re talking about a reasonable dividend on the investment and you are talking about a reasonable dividend in social development. Both of those can be measured and therefore those who make an investment in the impact domain can know what they’re achieving with that impact investment.”
Sharing ideas and inspiration
After this dialogue, guests met over dinner at tables organized around particular topics. Led by our “Distinguished Faculty,” topics included “Philanthropy to support peace and development,” “Supporting women and girls for social change,” “Indigenous people, inclusion, and sustainable development,” and “Economic growth and social entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa.” Synergos’ President and CEO remarked “We always hope the table discussions are both thought-provoking and useful in making connections among people on similar issues. From my table, which explored impact investing and development partnerships, and from feedback from others, the event was a success and we look forward to the next University for a Night in Europe.”