Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. It's a great privilege to have the opportunity to be here and to share the experience of the Aga Khan Development Network in the area of the private sector's role in achieving international development objectives.
I want to begin by commending the committee for taking up this issue, because it is both important and difficult. I think you've already heard in previous testimony that there is now a very strong consensus around the pivotal role that economic growth plays in reducing poverty, and of course a central role that a robust private sector plays in underwriting economic growth. But you have also heard—and I think correctly—that not all economic growth is the same and it does not always translate into poverty reduction.
So your study, I think, allows us to explore the different dimensions of the issue and to figure out exactly how it is that the private sector can support growth, which in turn will support important development objectives across the entire spectrum of private sector actors: from large multinational firms to small enterprises, from commercial banks and insurance companies to microfinance institutions that reach remote villages, and from a business owner employing thousands of workers to an enterprising small farmer.
I'd like to start by saying a few words of background about our institutions and the experience we're drawing on in making this submission.
The Aga Khan Development Network, or the AKDN, is a collection of individual non-governmental development agencies established by His Highness the Aga Khan, each of them with a specific mandate ranging from health, education across the spectrum from pre-primary to higher education, microfinance, rural development and livelihoods, culture, and the promotion of private enterprise.
In Canada, Aga Khan Foundation Canada is a not-for-profit charitable Canadian international development agency that has been working for over three decades with Canadian institutions and individuals, including CIDA, to support high-impact initiatives in Africa and Asia that improve sustainably the quality of life of poor, marginalized communities. We have also been involved in Canada in establishing the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa as well as the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
We have prepared a written submission with our key perspectives, so I'm going to limit my remarks here to just some of the key highlights, but I'll be happy to go into any of the details in our question period.
Before I get into any of the specific lessons around the private sector and development, I want to make one general point that is a conclusion from our many decades of work in Africa and Asia. That lesson is that there are very few silver bullets in development. We take a multi-input approach, where we try to take initiatives and interventions that span social, cultural, and economic development. We think that's the most promising way to underwrite sustainable change.
The work we do in the private sector that I'm going to focus on today is one of several areas of activity that also include substantial commitment in not-for-profit areas of health and education and microfinance, etc., as I've talked about.
I would like to focus today on the one AKDN agency that is singularly focused on that issue, and that is the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development. It has the distinction of being the sole AKDN for-profit institution, but it is equally dedicated to international development. The fund is known as AKFED and it is dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship by building viable enterprises in the developing world, with a focus on fragile or complex regions that lack foreign direct investment.
AKFED's profits are reinvested in future development efforts. It is involved in more than 90 separate project companies, directly employing more than 30,000 people, but with a downstream employment impact many times that. It had revenues in 2010 of over $2 billion and spanned a range of sectors integral to the developing economies of Africa and Asia: from agro-processing and infrastructure to financial services, tourism, aviation, telecommunications, and manufacturing.
The experience of AKFED over the last half century has suggested some important principles of maximizing the development impact of private sector engagement in the developing world, and I want to share three of those lessons with you today.
The first lesson is for private sector actors to find ways to maximize the multiplier effects of their investments. Growth is spurred when investments, whether public or private, create multiplier effects. Economies are interdependent, which means that the growth of a particular sector relies on the availability of certain services or products from other sectors. This means that certain large-scale investments in key sectors such as power generation, telecommunications, and hard infrastructure can help businesses across sectors to grow and unleash new economic opportunities. It turns out, of course, that some of the investments in those infrastructure issues are also essential to public and social services as well.
Let me give you an example. In 2003, AKFED established a mobile phone company in Afghanistan called Roshan. It was an early investment to help kickstart the nascent and rebuilding Afghan economy. Roshan today is now reaching close to four million subscribers, many in remote rural areas, and employing over 1,000 people directly, and more than 30,000 indirectly through activities such as selling airtime credit. The infrastructure of a strong national mobile telephony has also allowed Roshan to seek to maximize its multiplier impact across the economy. For instance, Roshan now provides mobile money transfer services, which extends financial services to the 97% of Afghans who can't access banks. We're also using Roshan today on the not-for-profit side to support telemedicine, allowing Afghans to access health expertise from around their own country, and indeed from around the world. Another measure of Roshan's multiplier effects is the fact that it is one of the largest taxpayers in the country, contributing approximately 5% of the government's total domestic revenues.
So the first lesson is to maximize multiplier effects.
The second principle is for the private sector to look for ways to promote new business models that innovatively combine sustainable commercial and development objectives. With a full understanding of the full value chain of a targeted sector such as tourism or agribusiness, there are many opportunities that can be created for local development impact. Again, I will cite an example. AKFED's tourism promotions services owns and manages a series of high-quality hotels under the Serena brand name that have an explicit policy of minimizing environmental impacts while maximizing the socio-economic fallout benefits to the region. Each hotel seeks to work with the community in a variety of ways, such as investing massively in training for local residents for employment, the reinvigoration of local designs and craft industries, locally sourcing goods and services, and cooperating with the community to recycle waste.
The second lesson, then, is looking for business models that combine both sustainable economic returns but also sustainable development impact.
A final principle I want to share today is for the private sector to look for ways to target marginalized segments of the population in order to amplify development impact. Many marginalized groups, such as the very poor, women, uneducated or undereducated youth, and rural and remote populations, are often excluded from private sector activities because the obstacles to sustaining growth for these populations are often poorly understood or addressed. The combination of entrepreneurial energy and a development mindset can unlock real gains. An example here would be Frigoken, an AKFED company that has sought specifically to create a sustainable business model geared toward income generation for small-scale farmers in Kenya by identifying and responding to the key obstacles these farmers face in marketing their surplus produce. In this instance, Frigoken provides a range of services to Kenyan bean farmers—price guarantees, the provision of seeds, quality control, processing, transportation, and marketing. Today, Frigoken is the largest exporter of processed green beans from Kenya, most of which are sold on European markets. The impact is that not only does the company provide direct employment to 2,700 people, most of whom are women, it also now supports over 45,000 small-scale farmers in rural Kenya.
Focusing on maximizing multiplier effects, creating innovative business models that combine both development and commercial objectives, and seeking ways to target otherwise marginalized populations can, with the right mix of entrepreneurial energy and solid development thinking, provide both sustainable profits as well as meaningful development impact.
Absorbing these principles may have some implications for the private sector here in Canada. I thought I would share with you some early thoughts on what some of those implications might be.
First, of course, there are opportunities for direct investment by Canadian firms in the market opportunities in the developing world, especially if they are structured along the principles I have discussed today.
Second is opportunities for knowledge transfer. After all, the Canadian private sector is a leader in a number of areas that are essential drivers of the future of the developing world: agriculture and fisheries; financial services; international trade; aviation; and the sustainable management of natural resources, including mining, oil and gas, forestry, and hydro power. There is much capacity in the Canadian private sector, including management approaches, knowledge, and technology, that we would consider simply standard forms of competent practice here but are simply not available in the developing world.
Third is financial contributions. Through corporate social responsibility and philanthropic budgets, the Canadian private sector has long been a major driver of civil society here in Canada, supporting important efforts across a spectrum of social and cultural activity. As Canadian enterprises become more globally integrated, their philanthropy will also have opportunities to make thoughtful contributions to civil society in other parts of the world, and indeed should be encouraged to do so.
The final implication is that we could all become a more active part of the global conversation and experimentation on this set of issues. There are multitudes of experiments under way in many parts of the world: new innovative financing mechanisms to spur these kinds of enterprises, different business models, and interesting public-private partnerships. Launching some experimentation ourselves, as well as learning rigorously from others, could be a major boost to Canadian efforts.
Before I end, I want to simply extend an invitation to the committee and your colleagues to visit some of these initiatives in the developing world. It would be a privilege to be able to share the experience on the ground from the people who are managing these efforts as well as benefiting from them, in both the work the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development is engaged in and in some of the other not-for-profit work that is significant for us.
Let me thank you again for providing the opportunity to share some thoughts. I very much look forward to learning from the results of your study.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.