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Aga Khan Foundation


Aga Khan Foundation is a non-denominational, non-governmental, development agency founded in 1967 by Aga Khan IV. It aims to develop and promote creative solutions to problems that impede social development. Based in Geneva, it has branches and independent affiliates in 15 countries. AKF is an agency of the Aga Khan Development Network. AKF has been in Portugal since 1986 and has been acknowledged as a Portuguese foundation since 1993. AKF Portugal has two on-going Programmes:

  • The Early Childhood Development Programme (ECD)
  • The Urban Community Support Programme (UCSP) K’CIDADE

The work in Early Childhood Development (ECD) is centred on a three-year Public-Private Partnership (PPP) with the Government of Portugal. In August 2009, AKF signed up to the direct management of a government ECD Centre in Lisbon serving 240 children and their families. The aim is to provide a national reference point of the highest quality, by demonstrating higher developmental outcomes of children, high quality in-service teacher training and reaching out to improve and support quality early years provision in the community.

In 2004, the AKF Board approved a multi-input urban development programme in Portugal. It was the first urban programme led by AKF in a developed country. The UCSP K’CIDADE ('Capacitiy”) was formed in response to a deep-rooted belief that to address social exclusion properly, a multi-dimensional perspective was required. K’CIDADE began with three core principles: long-term (at least 10 years), holistic and participatory. From the beginning, a number of strategic partnerships were established with government (both local and national), foundations, universities, business associations and faith groups. Moreover, K’CIDADE benefitted from an AKF-commissioned in-depth study that looked at European urban development (particularly lessons and promising approaches to address urban poverty and cohesion) and also a more specific look at social exclusion in Lisbon. The findings from this initial study informed the overall design and focus of the early phase of the Programme.

Seven years on, the current programme is organized under four themes: families in the community; lifelong learning and employment; education; and strengthening civil society. It is structured through a combination of small community teams located in specific neighbourhoods in different Municipalities of Greater Lisbon, and alongside, small teams working on horizontal interventions that cut across territorial boundaries, in schools, church organisations, immigrant associations, early childhood development centres and small community Mosques. There has been a substantial increase in the programme’s coverage, rising from 9,000 beneficiaries in 2007 to 43,000 in 2011. Since 2007, K’CIDADE has worked with over 35 schools and over 300 local based organizations in Greater Lisbon.

In 2009, officials from the Ministry of Education requested AKF to provide critical support and advice to designated poor performing schools in Lisbon. A pilot project on managing diversity in schools, blending formal and informal learning environments, provided additional thinking and understanding among teachers and other education practitioners, on how to be better prepared for a changing multi-ethnic/diverse population.

Another strand of the Education intervention, under K’CIDADE, was begun four years ago and focused on the notion of teachers becoming more reflective of their own practices as a way to catalyse change in the classroom and in their practice. At this point, more than 100 teachers have recorded their thoughts and observations in professional reflective diaries which are then shared with selected K’CIDADE staff who provide feedback and raise questions to further promote their thinking and practice. This interchange has allowed the staff to gain important insights on how different types of schools are working particularly as this relates to family and community engagement and diversity in the classroom. A presentation on this subject was shared at the Comparative & International Education Studies Conference, held in Montreal, May 2011 and outlined a typology for school change.

Regarding digital literacy, the programme has been re-focusing the strategy, over the last year and a half, from a direct delivery approach of ICT training courses for beginners (MS EQUALSKILLS, UP, etc) on one hand to a 'trainer of trainers” approach and, on another, more as a means to reach other types of skills development, than as an end in itself. Moreover, the web 2.0 tools have been incorporated in the courses, to improve sustainability in the handover of direct delivery to local based organisations.

More broadly, the K’CIDADE team is slowly but consistently moving into a position where activities are not implemented directly and work is concentrated on facilitating other organisations to do/lead the work. Thus far, this facilitative approach in new territories (geographic areas) is being carried out using less resources (staff, logistics, materials, equipment) and with the programmes’s staff working alongside the staff from local partners. Identifying and securing local resources (local NGOs, local authorities, public spaces) from the start to build deeper ownership and an improved likelihood of sustainability are being intensified.

Some lessons are emerging from the seven-year experience of community work in challenging urban settings:

  • Trust is built over time by K’CIDADE staff, including through training of leaders in their contexts. Creating trust is key to strengthening organisations’ operations and to set the conditions for the handover of the K’CIDADE Programme to local stakeholders;
  • Community events, collaboratively organised, and the sharing of resources between different local stakeholders, brings people together, promotes social cohesion, creates a positive internal and external perspective of the territories and strengthens a culture of partnership. All of these then emphasise the important role of local approaches to support collective action for change;
  • Community innovation projects seldom need actual funding to be successful. A few projects may require some 'seed” investment, but most are already generating their own income, others are anchored in voluntary work and others yet are already able to mobilise alternative resources. Also, evidence from interventions with very poor immigrant groups suggests that even the most marginal and excluded immigrant communities can come together with minimal support to define their needs and participate in a variety of partnerships to find solutions.
  • The long-term (at least 10 year) commitment from is helpful; although the path to capacity building and to social change is time and effort consuming. Nonetheless, some results are already visible:
    • Increases in civil engagement and participation (e.g. increased participation of parents in school, increased participation of residents in community activities, increase on local based organisation’s capacity to lead the digital offer);
    • Stronger social cohesion (e.g. the range of residents’ participation in community activities and events is much wider now)
    • Increase in outreach (external organisations extend their intervention to 'our” neighbourhoods);
  • Positive learning environments which promote the understanding of meaning and encourage active reflection, debate and dialogue build confidence and self-understanding. This is especially relevant with adults and youngsters who have had frustrating/negative experiences, in environments (classroom, school) where prescriptive 'teaching” prevails over 'learning” approaches that are more focused on listening to and working with the strengths and experiences of diverse learner groups. K’CIDADE’s experience suggests that allowing learners to grow, become self-reliant and develop on their own is the preferred route.

For more infos visit http://www.akdn.org/portugal