Guest Profile

Matt Reed

Chief Executive Officer, UK

Tinni Sawhney

Chief Executive Officer, India

About Matt Reed

Matt oversees strategic partnerships, long-range business development, and project management with European and Asian governments, corporates and foundations, and multilateral institutions.

 

Between 2013 and 2016, Matt led the Foundation’s work in India as its CEO, focusing AKF on the needs of marginalised communities, establishing significant new relationships, and launching multi-state programmes in education, financial inclusion, livelihoods, and water and sanitation. 

 

Earlier, Matt held the position of Director of Programmes for the Foundation in the UK. Previously, he worked at the Getty Research Institute, the Salzburg Seminar, the MacArthur Foundation, and Keck Graduate Institute at the Claremont Colleges.

As CEO, Matt’s focus is on expanding AKF’s partnerships in the UK and Europe and building greater public awareness about the work of the broader Aga Khan Development Network.

Matt has a Ph.D. and M.A. in European History from Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles.

About Tinni Sawhney

Tinni Sawhney has over 30 years of experience on sustainable livelihood development in rural India and has worked extensively on issues of agriculture and livestock development for smallholder farmers, particularly in the rainfed regions of India. She has also worked on strengthening gender perspectives in development, and building robust community institutions to lead development processes.

 

She is currently the Chief Executive of the Aga Khan Foundation in India and has previously worked with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s South Asia Pro Poor Livestock Policy Programme, the Danish International Development Assistance (DANIDA) and the World Wide Fund for Nature. 

Note: Below are episode notes from two separate conversations. The more recent conversation of May 2020, features the CEOs of the Aga Khan Foundation UK and India, and provides an account from the front lines.  The earlier episode of October 2019, features the CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation UK and provides a global strategic overview. It's best to listen to both episodes back-to-back.

Episode Overview - May 2020

CEOs of Aga Khan Foundation in UK and India, Matt Reed and Tinni Sawhney, join Alberto Lidji to provide insight from the front lines; gender equality, women’s economic empowerment and more.

 

This episode follows from an earlier episode of The Do One Better! Podcast featuring Matt Reed, which aired in October 2019. It is worth listening to that episode in conjunction with this one.

 

This conversation sheds light on the Aga Khan Foundation and the Aga Khan Development Network at a global level and provides tangible insight to their work in India.

 

Matt Reed is CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation in the UK (and was formerly CEO in India between 2013 and 2016) and Tinni Sawhney is the current CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation in India.  Together, they provide a multifaceted account of how they’re helping the most marginalised communities and individuals.

 

The Aga Khan Foundation is one of 10 development agencies that together form the Aga Khan Development Network, founded by His Highness the Aga Khan.  They work across all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aim to: 

 

  1. Improve the quality of life, in all its dimensions, in all the communities where they are active

  2. Promote pluralism

  3. Enhance self-reliance and civil society

 

They’re active in approximately 20 countries across central and south Asia, east and west Africa, and the Middle East. They focus on the poorest of the poor, in some of the most remote regions of the countries where they’re active. 

 

Across the Network, they employ between 80,000 and 90,000 people – excluding the communities and volunteers they work with – and the Foundation itself works with approximately 40,000 civil society organisations annually.  Annual operations across all 10 agencies is roughly $5.5bn.

 

Tinni Sawhney sheds light on the work of the Aga Khan Foundation in India.  Their interventions span many sectors, including girls’ rights, women’s economic empowerment, gender equality, early childhood development and agriculture.  Prioritising the needs of women is central to all their work.

 

On the issue of society’s attitudes in India towards women being active in the labour market; girls staying in school for as many years as boys do etc:  Tinni notes that oftentimes, women’s work is unseen and unheard. At the Aga Khan Foundation, they want to make sure women realise just how important women's work is both to the communities in which they reside and also in their own households. It is also important to help men realise that the work of women is so fundamental to the economic development of their work and, therefore, they need to allow women to step out of their home.

 

Tinni talks with passion about an intervention that helps schoolgirls and young women have a voice.  She sheds light into one programme that had identified that many girls were dropping out of school to stay at home and manage the house. But these girls definitely had aspirations.

 

So, they launched learning centres that provided a welcoming environment and enabled participants to gain some qualifications and vocational life skills - also making them aware of their rights and entitlements.

 

This life skills education led girls to realise they could have a different life. In the eyes of their immediate household these were now women who were contributing to the running of the household economy, so that increased their status within the household and, importantly, within the community there was also a greater acceptance of women working.  

 

Many girls who complete this vocational training end up becoming role models to other girls in their communities. And, ultimately, that’s how change across the whole of society happens.

 

The Aga Khan Foundation is very much a facilitator and their interventions are sustainable, whereby they continue to yield benefit to local communities even after the Foundation is no longer directly involved, and whereby many of the benefits and ideas that result from their interventions actually originate within the local communities themselves.

 

Tinni goes on to shed light on her own professional trajectory and how she ended up becoming the CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation in India.  She notes that while growing up she didn’t feel she was going to be active in the development field. But that changed when she joined the Institute of Rural Management in Gujarat .  As part of her training she had to live two months in a village that had no running water and the only house that had a toilet was the house where Tinni was sent to live by her institute. That’s when she realised that if we are really going to make a change then perhaps this is the setting where one starts.  She was very enthused by Mahatma Gandhi’s sayings that India resides in its villages. That’s where Tinni found her calling. 

 

Tinni’s key takeaway for listeners: Sometimes we find the greatest stories of courage and empowerment among those we would think of as poor.  She has found some of the greatest stories of empowerment among the women she works with. She feels the potential to overcome great odds is present in everyone. With a little bit of support, people can take this potential so much further – one cannot even imagine. With a little support that potential can really become an agent of change. This is very inspiring!

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Episode Overview - October 2019

CEO of Aga Khan Foundation UK, Matt Reed, joins Alberto Lidji to talk about the Aga Khan Development Network, its $5.5bn of annual operations, relationships with 40,000 civil society organisations and much more.

 

The Aga Khan Foundation is one of 10 development agencies that together form the Aga Khan Development Network, founded by His Highness the Aga Khan.  They work across all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aim to: 

 

1. Improve the quality of life, in all its dimensions, in all the communities where they are active

2. Promote pluralism

3. Enhance self-reliance and civil society

 

They’re active in approximately 20 countries across central and south Asia, east and west Africa, and the Middle East. They focus on the poorest of the poor, in some of the most remote regions of the countries where they’re active. 

 

Across the Network, they employ between 80,000 and 90,000 people – excluding the communities and volunteers they work with – and the Foundation itself works with approximately 40,000 civil society organisations annually.  Annual operations across all 10 agencies is roughly $5.5bn.

 

When the Foundation started 50 years ago, the idea was to understand the communities where they were going to and to ask them what matters most to them in terms of development priorities (as opposed simply to taking a top down approach to solutions and strategies).  Matt notes the importance they place on ensuring their development work is truly long-lasting – they believe that people themselves need to be the agents of change and that it is important to create local ownership.  

 

They form representative groups at the local, village level, composed of men and women from all faiths and backgrounds; they facilitate conversations with them to help develop an understanding of what works, and what doesn’t, and to gain insight into local communities’ most pressing priorities.

 

Matt explains that his role in the UK is to represent not only the Foundation’s work but also the work of all 10 development agencies across their Network to European development partners and, to a lesser extent, to development partners in Asia and the Middle East – always in consultation with their people on the ground, in the field, who are doing work across their various countries of operations.

 

They have two universities: the first is the Aga Khan University, which was founded approximately 35 years ago and is primarily based in Pakistan, with some operations in Afghanistan; and with a network of campuses in east Africa – in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Its initial focus was teacher training and nursing.

 

The second university is the University of Central Asia, which was established in 2000. It is a four-way, public-private partnership between the Aga Khan and the governments of Tajikistan, Kirgizstan and Kazakhstan. It was established within a post-Cold War context following the fall of the Soviet Union, and was designed to address the human capacity needs of central Asia and aims to create regional exchanges and a regional knowledge base.

 

Matt’s key takeaway:  he wishes for listeners to keep in mind the long-term nature of the work being undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network in improving the quality of life in all its dimensions and in promoting pluralism. They want to work, and do work, with everyone – and in today’s world this message is as important now as it has ever been. 

Please subscribe to the podcast if you enjoy it. Thank you!

Additional Resources

Aga Khan Foundation UK - Website

Aga Khan Foundation, India - Website

Aga Khan Development Network, India - Website

Matt Reed - Twitter

Matt Reed - LinkedIn

Aga Khan University

University of Central Asia

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