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Guests being welcomed by Akbar Verjee, Diplomatic Relations for Ismaili Centre, while Tareq al Gurg, CEO Dubai Cares speaks with Nicola Lener, Italian Ambassador to the UAE Image Credit:

Dubai: Ismaili Centre Dubai hosted the second Annual Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) Diplomatic Luncheon.

The event brought together representatives of various diplomatic missions in the UAE from more than 32 countries, along with representatives from numerous international agencies such as Unicef, Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative, Mohammed Bin Rashid School of Government, Dubai Cares amongst others.

The Ismaili Centre Dubai provided the backdrop to the annual event designed as an expression of appreciation for the support and collaboration of the many governments and agencies in attendance. It also highlighted the work of Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), an agency of the AKDN.

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Restoration and rehabilitation

In a keynote speech delivered by Dr Ali Esmaiel, CEO of Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) Syria, the audience was informed about the work of AKTC in relation to the preservation of the old city of Damascus, the rehabilitation of Souk al-Saqatiya in Aleppo (designated by Unesco as a World Heritage Site), a project funded and implemented by AKDN and winner of the Grand Award from the International Centre for the study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property — Sharjah Chapter for Good Practices in Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management in the Arab Region (2019-2020), and the Arab Cultural Heritage Award for the Young.

The opening address delivered by Khalil Muhammad, vice-president of the Ismaili Community in the UAE, highlighted that AKTC will present the theme ‘Culture as a Catalyst for Social Development at the Expo 2020’. It is expected that a formal announcement on the collaboration between AKDN and Expo 2020 Dubai will be made in the near future.

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Key executives attended the Annual AKDN Luncheon at the Ismaili Centre Dubai

Historic Cities programme

AKTC’s Historic Cities programme covered Cairo and Kabul and restored a Mughal emperor’s tomb in Delhi. This social emphasis is characteristic of the urban regeneration projects that AKTC has undertaken across the Islamic world as apart of the Historic Cities programme. Well known examples of such projects include the Al Azhar Park in Cairo, Baltit Fort in Hunza and the restoration of Mughal Emperor Humayun's tomb in Delhi,” Muhammad said.

Aziz Merchant, president of the Ismaili Community in the UAE said: “The Ismaili Centre Dubai intends to continue to host the Annual AKDN Diplomatic Luncheon with the objectives of stimulating the intellect, encouraging dialogue and supporting tolerance and international cooperation.”

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Dr Ali Esmaiel, CEO of Aga Khan Trust for Culture in Syria delivering the Keynote Address at the culture as a catalyst for social development event at the Ismaili Centre Dubai on Thursday, 23 September 2021

‘Non-discriminatory contributions’

Richard Stockdale, managing director and CEO of Sustainable Energies Scotland Limited and a guest at the event, said: “For many years, I have followed and admired the ethos, ethics and the positive, non-discriminatory contributions to needy societies, made by the worldwide Ismaili Community, led by Aga Khan and executed by the Aga Khan Development Network. The Annual AKDN lunch brought together a senior international audience whom I know from conversations and who have shared the same positive views as I hold.”