Item(s) for March, 2008

Mar 24,2008

Imamat, His Highness the Aga Khan, AKDN, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Ismaili, Jamat, Golden Jubilee, Aga Khan University.

One of the central elements of the Islamic faith is the inseparable nature of faith and world. The two are so deeply intertwined that one cannot imagine their separation. They constitute a ‘Way of Life’. The role and responsibility of an Imam, therefore, is both to interpret the faith to the community and, also, to do all within his means to improve the quality and security of their daily lives.” His Highness the Aga Khan. 1

In a single sentence, His Highness the Aga Khan IV captures both the role and mandate of the institution of Imamat, historically validated and particularly evidenced in the last 50 years. The exemplary life of Prophet Muhammad has enabled Muslims in every age to understand the links between matters worldly and spiritual. In Shi’a Islam, it is the mandate of the Imam to ensure a social context that maintains a harmonious balance between din and dunya. During the last half century, His Highness has responded, with foresight and determination, to a world where his followers have lived in extremely varying conditions and in which there has been accelerating change. Central to his leadership, work and long-term vision is the untiring pursuit of a better quality of life for current and future generations.

Since acceding to the Imamat in 1957, he has developed a global network of institutions. Ismaili community (Jamati) organisations at local, national and international levels serve the Imam’s murids, while other Imamat institutions, most of them operating under the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), work to improve living conditions and opportunities for people, regardless of their faith. Under the Imamat’s guidance, professional staff and selfless volunteers in large numbers, work to transform lives through these institutions.

Putting a modern complexion on the historic guiding and leading role of Imamat, ordained well over a millennium ago, the Imamat has, in recent history, established religious, social, economic and cultural institutions to respond to the changing circumstances of the Jamat. Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah founded organisations that addressed the conditions of the first half of the 20th century, when many of the Ismailis lived under colonialism. This institutional structure has evolved and expanded remarkably under the present Imam. He has formalised, consolidated and reoriented existing organisations and has established many new ones. The last half of the century has witnessed significant global changes including decolonisation, Ismaili migration to the West, strengthening of contacts with Ismaili communities in Central Asian, economic and social upheavals, wars, rapid technological advancements, and globalisation. Against this backdrop, the institutions of the Ismaili Imamat have spread over a space more extensive than at any other time in history.

On 13th December 1986, His Highness the Aga Khan promulgated The Constitution of the Shi’a Imami Ismaili Muslims, bringing the transnational community’s governance under one institutional structure. Ordaining the Constitution, His Highness said, “It is my belief that the Ismaili Constitution will provide a strong institutional and organisational framework through which my Jamat (community) will be able to contribute to the harmonious development of the Ummah and of the societies in which the Jamat lives.” This framework, organising the community’s dini (spiritual) and dunyavi (material) matters, has proved to be an effective and sustainable civil society model.

Ismaili Councils are responsible for social governance at the local, regional and national levels. The Ismaili community institutions also include Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards, Grants and Review Boards, and Conciliation and Arbitration Boards. Other boards operate in the areas of economic wellbeing, education, health, housing, social welfare, and youth and sports. His Highness determines the roles, responsibilities, composition, powers and jurisdiction of these bodies. He has also established the Leaders’ International Forum (LIF) to whom he refers specific matters affecting the Ismaili community. The Institute of Ismaili Studies is a key academic and educational resource for the community. It addresses, amongst other aspects of its mandate, the Ismaili community’s religious education needs by conducting research on its intellectual, spiritual and literary heritage and provides materials for religious formation.

AKDN agencies deal with the development needs of people regardless of their faiths. The Network is an endeavour of the Ismaili Imamat to realise the social conscience of Islam. It brings together organisations and programmes that seek to relieve society of ignorance, disease and deprivation. In societies where there is a significant presence of Muslims, it also seeks to revitalise and broaden the understanding of Islam’s pluralist cultural heritage. AKDN’s mandate derives from the ethics of Islam which aim for a balance between the material and the spiritual. Islam’s ethical ideal is to enable each person to live up to the exalted status of the being in whom Allah has breathed His spirit. Allah made all that is in the heavens and the earth an object of trust for human beings. Therefore, worship is incomplete without an active social conscience. By grounding societal values in the principles of moral responsibility, Islam lifts the social order to a spiritual level. In the words of His Highness the Aga Khan:

To the Imamat the meaning of ‘quality of life’ extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being measured over generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background. Does the Holy Qur’an not say in one of the most inspiring references to mankind, that Allah has created all from one soul?2

The Imamat’s vast institutional network addresses the needs of the poor, particularly in Asia and Africa. AKDN organisations are structured broadly under three categories: Economic Development, Social Development and Culture. The Network’s long experience in engaging with social and economic development has drawn governments to it for policy advice and partnership. The Ismaili Imamat and AKDN have formalised frameworks for their development initiatives by entering into internationally recognised Protocols, Agreements of Cooperation, Memoranda of Understanding or Letters of Intent with many national governments and international organisations. These serve to strengthen and formalise the Imamat’s and AKDN’s international partnerships, relationships and long-term commitments in the countries and regions within which they work.

AKDN adopts a comprehensive strategy to help people move out of poverty and enable them to participate in the social and economic mainstream. It is guided by a philosophy of human dignity and self-reliance. For development to be sustainable over the long term, local people are engaged in planning and development. This requires projects to be inclusive and respectful of the pluralism of societies. Additionally, encouraging the recognition of merit promotes excellence and continual improvement in standards.

The provision of quality education is the cornerstone of AKDN’s approach to uplifting the human condition. This view emerges from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat ‘Ali that inspired Imam al-Muiz’s establishment of Al-Azhar University, one of the oldest in the world.

The global network of AKDN’s educational institutions, including pre-schools, Aga Khan Academies, Aga Khan University and University of Central Asia, is a testament to His Highness’s conviction that knowledge is vital to the fulfilment of individuals and betterment of society.

Addressing AKDN’s social development mandate, Aga Khan Foundation’s programmes incorporate education, healthcare and environmental safeguards, revitalisation of cultural assets, and the development of appropriate infrastructure, rural support and income generation opportunities. Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance’s not-for-profit programmes, which provide small loans to the less fortunate, constitute a critical building block for an equitable civil society.

The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development is the only for-profit agency of the Network. Its innovative agenda, based on the AKDN’s strong ethical framework, promotes public and private sector partnership in which investment decisions are primarily based on prospects for improving lives. Taking bold but considered steps to invest in fragile and complex economies, it has assisted in rehabilitation efforts after war or internal turmoil in places as varied as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Tajikistan and Uganda.

To complete the picture, architecture, urban revitalisation and traditional music are the responsibility of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. It focuses on culture as a means of enhancing the physical, social and economic regeneration of Muslim communities. It runs the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, the Historic Cities Programme, and various education and culture programmes including the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Imamat’s plans for the coming years include new poverty alleviation initiatives as well as the establishment of additional Aga Khan Academies, AKU’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Global Centre for Pluralism, Aga Khan Museum, Delegations of the Ismaili Imamat, and Ismaili Centres and Jamatkhanas in Dubai, Dushanbe, Houston, Khorog and Toronto. The Golden Jubilee will witness various new initiatives, which will undoubtedly come to be seen by future generations as part of His Highness the Aga Khan’s unique legacy.


1 Excerpt of an address by His Highness the Aga Khan to the Tutzing Evangelical Academy, Tutzing, Germany, 20th May 2006

2 Excerpt of a speech made by His Highness the Aga Khan at the opening of the Alltex EPZ Limited plant, Athi River, Kenya, 19th December 2003
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Mar 24,2008


Special to Globe and Mail Update

January 25, 2008 at 11:25 AM EST

When a 20-year-old university student recently Googled himself, he discovered the top result was a 2006 news story that listed him as one of several people arrested on drug-related charges.

The student, who asked that he not be named, recently began applying for work in his profession, which is one that’s prone to extensive background checks. He fears prospective employers might write him off based on what they find out about him online.

“It’s the only real testament to my character that my potential employer would find online,” said the student, who adds that the person named in the story is him, but that the charges were dropped and he has no criminal record. “Likely, I would not even receive a follow-up phone call to allow me to explain the circumstances under which this incident occurred.”

He’s not alone in his concern.

Employers are increasingly turning to online searches or social networking sites to discover information about potential employees. According to research carried out by ExecuNet, a Norwalk, Conn.-based human resources agency, 77 per cent of executive recruiters use search engines to help screen candidates. Meanwhile, employment website CareerBuilder reports that, in a survey of more than a thousand hiring managers, one in four stated they use search engines to help filter applicants.

“I’ve never done my job without Google,” said Cheron Martin, lead technical recruiter at Shore Consulting Group, a Toronto staffing and consulting firm.

However, she pointed out that she’s not conducting searches with an aim to dig up dirt on the applicant, but rather to learn more about their pertinent experience.

“Once I was looking for someone to work as a programmer with the Department of National Defence,” she explained by way of example, “and through online research I discovered that the applicant had previously been with a company that had worked on military applications. It was highly relevant to the position he was applying for, and that information wasn’t on his resume.”

But even if an employer is simply looking to learn more about an applicant’s experience, they sometimes stumble across personal information that can affect how they view the candidate.

One Toronto-based hirer, who asked not to be named, said that a search of a promising candidate’s name turned up a dating advertisement posted by the applicant that contained “sex-related information that could be seen as bizarre.” When she revealed what she had found to a senior executive in her office, he told her that the applicant “wouldn’t be a good fit for their corporate culture.” As a result, the company discarded the candidate’s application.

That screening ability opens a can of worms for human resource professionals.

Hirers can discover information about employees online that, legally, they aren’t allowed to ask about in interviews, such as religious affiliation, marital status and race, says Claude Balthazard of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO).

“If you aren’t allowed to ask about a topic in an interview, you aren’t allowed to use that information if you discover it online,” said Mr. Balthazard. Still, he acknowledged that screening based on inequitable prejudices probably happens, and that most candidates who fall victim to this practice will never be the wiser.

However, there are ways job seekers can manage information about themselves that appears online.

Andy Beal is an Internet marketing consultant with Raleigh, N.C.-based Marketing Pilgrim and co-author of Radically Transparent, a book about managing personal and professional identities online. He works with clients to improve the results returned when their names are searched using Google.

“If a client comes to me with something negative in their search results and wants it pushed out [of the first page of links returned by Google], we have to find ten other pieces of information about them that are positive and get those things to appear before the negative,” he said. “The problem is that scandal is popular. People like to talk about it, and they like to link to negative stories. Google’s algorithm looks at all of those links and thinks that [the page to which these links lead] must be highly relevant to the search query. We have to convince Google that there are other pages with information that is just as relevant.”

It can be an expensive process. Mr. Beal said his clients spend between $3,000 and $10,000 to clean up their search results, and, due to the chaotic nature of the Internet, he can offer no guarantees that, at the end of the day, searching his client’s name will result in nothing but squeaky clean results.

That’s why he recommends that people begin managing their Internet identities before any undesirable information appears online by registering a domain containing a person’s name, or creating personal and professional pages on networking sites like MySpace and Linked In.

“Build up credibility in the eyes of Google,” said Mr. Beal. “You’re being searched all the time, whether you know it or not.”

Some Canadians may already be in the early stages of learning about and managing their online identities. According to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted last fall on behalf of MSN Canada, 76 per cent of Canadians who use the Internet are conscious of the impact that their online activities could have on their image, and 59 per cent have conducted searches of their own names to see what the World Wide Web has to say about them.

As for the student whose name surfaced in a story about a drug bust, he may have solved his problem on his own. He emailed the publication that had originally posted the news story in which he was named, explained his situation, and asked that his name be removed from the article. He received a prompt response stating that his request would be honoured (though, at the time of this writing, the story containing his name was still posted).

Despite his experience of having a negative result associated with his name in online searches, the student doesn’t think it’s invasive for employers to conduct online research into prospective employees. He simply advises they use prudence.

“Discretion needs to be exercised,” he said. “The employer should speak with the person about what is found in online searches before discarding their application.”

The HRPAO’s Mr. Balthazard said this would be an example of best practices in the human resources profession, and he hopes that most hirers take this step. However, just how often employers actually call applicants to give them a chance to explain unflattering information found online is unknown.


Mar 24,2008
Interviews: Set the Stage
Janis Foord Kirk
Monday, January 21, 2008
So acute is the labour shortage in some parts of Western Canada that one Calgary area manager has changed his interview process.”People sometimes drop in with a resume,” says Slade King, CPGA Director of Golf with The Links of GlenEagles in Cochrane. “I used to take it and say I’d have a look at it and then call them for an interview. Now, I drop everything and interview them on-the-spot.” 

King often hires part-time and seasonal workers so on-the-spot interviews make perfect sense. He sometimes even hires on-the-spot, he says. “If I don’t the next employer they talk to will.”

As you move up the career ladder, this seldom if ever happens, of course. And yet, you can never be entirely sure so it’s prudent to be ready to present your case, whether you’re leaning up against a counter at a golf course, behind closed doors in a manager’s office or in a 10 minute telephone call.

Presenting your case is a bit like the making a sales presentation. You need to know as much as possible about the circumstances and needs of your customers (employers). You have to assess and analyse the various features of your product (that’s you). And you have to find a direct and persuasive way to tell people how your product can fulfill their needs (your presentation.)

It’s a subtle process that demands close attention on several different fronts.

Look the part

Like it or not, the way you look creates an impression. Even in these days of anything goes anything does not always go in most job interviews.

Objectivity is crucial. Stand back and assess your appearance. Is it too casual? Too formal? Is it dated? Should you wear your nose ring? Cover your tattoo? If you can’t be fully objective about such things, ask a friend or associate whose style you admire to help you.

The overriding aim is to ensure that your outward appearance is appropriate for the kind of employers you’re approaching and the job you’re going after. A sharp, polished look will speak volumes about you before you open your mouth.

Create a personal profile

This is more involved than a basic list of personal skills and abilities, although that’s part of it. You’re wise to list, as well, the jobs you’ve held (including volunteer and part-time work) and to review each one to identify what you actually achieved on the job and the skills you used to accomplish this.

Reflection of this kind is the essential foundation of a personal profile that clearly states who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and the unique mix of skill and abilities that you bring to the table.

A generic profile of this kind can be targeted to specific jobs, says Heather Stewart, of Sage Transitions, a leadership, coaching and consulting firm in Kelowna, B.C.

“Consider things that you particularly want to emphasize,” Steward advises. “It may be that you have a strong academic background, or a really strong background with experience, or that you feel you have some skills that are a good fit for this particular job.”

Once you’ve highlighted specifics from your profile as they relate to a particular job it’s far easier to get your message across during the interview, says Stewart.

Create an employer’s profile
“The expectation in most organizations is that job candidates will know something about the organization to which they’re applying,” Stewart says.

Research of this kind is fairly easy now, she adds, because many organizations have websites loaded with information such as annual reports, mission statements, current and past projects, executive teams and employment opportunities.

If they don’t, Stewart advises, “Ask for an annual report, or if it’s a smaller company, look for literature and brochures describing what the company does.”

If at all possible, talk to people who work there or who have in the past. Enquire about the needs and concerns of the hiring organization, the overall corporate culture, the company’s products or services.

Extend your research to the industry or field, as well. Review trade magazines and talk to industry experts. Look for information about technological advances, regulatory changes and problems common to the industry as a whole.

The employer’s profile is a backdrop against which you can assess your own profile and decide how to best showcase your strengths.

Manage your mindset

Interviews can be highly subjective. When the chemistry works, you know it; when it doesn’t, it’s obvious, as well.

Still, says executive consultant, Jonn Kares, there are ways to generate positive chemistry before and during an interview.

A mysterious, intuitive dimension, a “6th sense”, connects us in ways we don’t always recognize, Kares believes. And becoming aware of this can give you advantage during interviews.

“If you walk in to an interview concerned about the competition and think to yourself, ‘There might be someone better than me’, you might just as well tell the interviewer, ‘I’m not the one you want’. The person interviewing you can intuitively pick up on your silent self-assessment and agree, ‘You’re not the one we’re looking for’. ”

With a little effort you can control your inner monologue and use the “creative power of thought”, as Kares calls it, to produce a desirable perception of you.

“Thoughts that support and promote you, thoughts like – I make a valuable contribution, people enjoy working with me, I am the candidate being sought – can shape the interviewer’s perceptions,” he maintains.

Don’t worry about feeling nervous, he adds. It’s not your emotions, but rather your actual thoughts that create intuitive chemistry with others.  

“The first step it to hold steadfast to your thoughts about what you want your audience to perceive,” Kares advises. “The second step is to trust that this is what they perceive and what they will remember about you.”

Interview preparation is time consuming. Some people find it boring. And yet, successful job seekers take the time and make the effort. They dress for the job they want, take control of their thoughts and attitude and communicate clearly and well. They know who they are, what they have to offer and how they can meet the employer’s needs.