The Canadian Press
ATLANTA — The Aga Khan, billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Muslims worldwide, ended an eight-day tour of the U.S. stressing the importance of tolerance and education.
He did so as he announced his initiative to establish schools in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
His trip also included stops in Texas, Illinois and California.
It was part of the Shia Ismaili Muslim commemoration of the Golden Jubilee, which marks the Aga Khan's 50th year as imam of the religious sect.
In a speech Friday at a high school in Atlanta, he sought to raise awareness about the Aga Khan Academies, a $1-billion education initiative to build 18 schools in 14 countries in Africa, Central and South Asia and the Middle East.
The project grew out of a need to develop well-educated, global citizens who would make a difference in their communities, the Aga Khan told the audience.
"Our Academies Program is rooted in the conviction that effective indigenous leadership will be the key to progress in the developing world, and as the pace of change accelerates, it is clear that the human mind and heart will be the central factors in determining social wealth," he said.
"Too many of those who should be the leaders of tomorrow are being left behind today. And even those students who do manage to get a good education often pursue their dreams in far off places and never go home again."
The Aga Khan, who was born and educated in Switzerland, is a Harvard-educated businessman who is a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad.
In his capacity as imam, he is also chair of the Aga Khan Development Network, a group of private, non-denominational development agencies focused on social, cultural and economic development.
The Aga Khan Academies are an initiative of the network's Aga Khan Education Services and, under the plan, 18 schools are planned in 14 countries at a cost of about $50 million per school.
That's a commitment of nearly $1 billion.
The first school opened in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2003, and others are planned in India, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Tanzania and Uganda.
The academy curriculum is based on the International Baccalaureate program, which is derived from a program rooted in academics, critical thinking, and a respect and appreciation for cultural diversity.
The program is celebrating its 40th anniversary in Atlanta this week and the Aga Khan addressed the organization as its speaker for the Peterson Lecture, named for the program's first director general.
Previously rooted in Judeo-Christian communities, the Aga Khan Academies represent the first expansion of the IB curriculum into Muslim cultures.
"Squaring the particular with the global will require great care, wisdom, and even some practical field testing, to ensure that it is really possible to develop a curriculum that responds effectively to both the global and the tribal impulses," the Aga Khan said.
"The people with whom we will be dealing will present different challenges than before."
To that end, there will be an emphasis on inclusion, ethics, global economics, world culture, and comparative political systems, the Aga Khan told the crowd of educators, administrators, followers and observers.
"The failure of different peoples to be able to live in peace amongst each other has been a major source of conflict," he said.
"Pluralism is a value that must be taught ... As we work together to bridge the gulf between East and West, between North and South, between developing and developed economies, between urban and rural settings, we will be redefining what it means to be well educated."
The 70-year-old leader - also known as Prince Karim Aga Khan IV - succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, at age 20 on July 11, 1957, becoming the community's 49th imam.