Speech Given By
Frank F Islam
Making a Difference
Educational Development of Weaker Sections Seminar
Mr. Vice President, Dr. Siddiqi, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a distinct honor to have been asked to speak at this seminar commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Duty Society of Aligarh Muslim University and focusing on the educational development of weaker sections in India.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Siddiqi for inviting me to speak to these distinguished gatherings of people. Both of us have a store of shared memory of Aligarh. Thank you Dr. Siddiqi for making this possible.
Before I get to the hearts of the matter, however, I must say few words about the Vice President. He is a true leader. He is a true treasure. He is the source of inspiration and strength. He provides the broad shoulder upon which we can stand.
I want to thank the Vice President for helping and advocating to create an environment where people of different cultures, different faiths, and genders can all work together in peace and harmony. I admire and appreciate his strong belief in the most diverse and tolerant vision of India. His belief that we cannot pulled apart and we need to stand together because we are Indian, bonds that holds us together.
I firmly believe India has long succeeded because it has been most diverse and most tolerant and most inclusive. In the modern world, ideas and creativity is an essential driver of innovation and thus growth. And inclusive societies are more creative and innovative. They are a postmodern alchemists dream
Now back to my address. I did not hesitate when the invitation to be part of the agenda was extended. I accepted it immediately for three reasons:
- I am an alumnus of AMU. AMU is where my journey began. It shaped my story and determined my destiny. It remains an inseparable part of my life. AMU provided me with the essential education that I needed for success in life.
- I know and appreciate the significant contribution that the Duty Society has made to enable AMU to become the stellar institution that it is.
- The topic of education for the weaker sections – Muslims and other minorities – is one that is near and dear to my heart.
Consequently, It is my pleasure to share my thoughts with you on this topic in this talk which I have titled “Making a Difference.” In my remarks, I will address the pivotal roles that I believe you Duty Society members and all of you distinguished educationists, scientists, doctors, engineers, mathematicians and engineers at this seminar tonight can and must play in addressing this critical area of need for those in the weaker sections. You are truly the difference-makers.
I regret that I cannot be there in person because of a previous commitment. But, rest assured that I am there with you in spirit and committed to the cause of ensuring a quality education that equips those in the weaker sections with the knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes to succeed in the 21st century.
Personal Comments on the AMU Difference
Let me say at the outset that as, a Muslim from an Indian family of modest means, I personally recognize the tremendous difference that a solid education can make in one’s life. As I said in my opening remarks, I am an AMU alum. Without the foundation that AMU has provided me I would not have achieved the American dream
Aligarh provided me with an excellent education. More importantly, its faculty instilled in me the core values that I have adhered to throughout my adult life. They are:
- A passion and love for education
- Eternal optimism about hopes and dreams
- Be the best you can be
- Keeping steadfast to standards of excellence
- Exploit your fullest potentials
- Being tolerant and respectful of the dignity of each person
- When you are successful, help and invest in others by giving them ladders of opportunity to succeed
That education and those values held me in good stead when I went to United States to pursue the American dream and achieve it. Realizing the dream did not come easily. It required more education, learning the ways of business, becoming an entrepreneur, founding my own company, and building a talented team.
Throughout this process, however, my Aligarh education and values were my bedrock. Aligarh education was a powerful equalizer. It opened doors of opportunity. It has enriched and empowered me. They made the difference for me, just as I know they have for tens of thousands of other Aligarh graduates. Aligarh education was the gift that keeps on giving.
Congratulations to the Duty Society for Making a Difference
The Duty Society has been central to establishing and creating what I would label the AMU difference. As stated in the invitation to this seminar, the Society spreads “Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s message of reliance on reason, scientific inquiry and attitude, liberty of conscience and freedom of expression, tolerance, hard work and secular pluralistic approaches in all spheres of human relationship practicing mutual respect.”
The Duty Society has been exceptional in spreading that message effectively. My hat is off to Society members of the past, the present, and to those in the future who will carry the mantle of this message.
They have and will prepare generation after generation of Aligarians to go across this great land of India and around the world to make a difference. Over the years, men and women from Aligarh have made significant contributions in all walks of life – educators, politicians, poets, scientists, engineers, lawyers and yes –even a few business people.
There are currently almost 20,000 Aligarh alumni in 100 countries around the world. I am one of them. On behalf of those alumni and myself, I say thank you to all of those of you in the audience for the gifts that we have been given and for the gifts that we are able to give in return to others.
I understand that at this seminar a successor edition to the centenary edition of the Aligarh University Contributions and Achievements Volume will be distributed. I can’t wait to get my hands on that volume to learn more about the contributions and achievements that individuals have made over time to make a meaningful and positive difference and to make India and the world a better place for all – and especially for those from “weaker sections.”
The Critical Need and Reasons to Focus on the Weaker Sections
Much has been done for those “weaker sections” – scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities of the nation. As the Invitation to this seminar attests, “Successive governments have paid special attention to their educational advancement.”
Unfortunately, much remains to be done. As a Muslim, let me share with you some statistics that highlight the conditions of the Muslim “weaker section” in India:
Here are some sad facts:
- The 2001 Census Report showed that the literacy rate of Indian Muslims was 59.1%. The rate for Muslim males in urban areas was much higher than in rural areas. The rate for females was substantially lower in each area.
- A study released by the U.S. India Policy Institute at the end of 2013 states that since 2006, and I quote, “…the literacy level and the quantum of improvements for Muslims were modest compared to other populations.”
- That same study showed that only 11% of Muslims in India pursue higher education compared to a national average of approximately 19% and that participation in the “general category of Muslims in higher education” had actually declined by 1.5% for the period studied
These are devastating findings that frame the critical nature of the need for Muslims. In spite of India’s progress, potentials, promise, and possibilities, too many minorities are socially and economically disadvantaged. India’s minority must be active participants in India’s inclusive economic growth. They must be equal partner in India’s prosperity.
The situations for many Indian Muslim youths is desperate and heartbreaking. They are buried under the blanket of history and circumstances. They share a city but not a community. They share a common dwelling but not in a common effort. It is the lack of education which leads to lack of opportunity. Lack of opportunity fuels frustration and desperation which in turn breeds violence. Let us stand together to break the barrier of biases.
Muslims are just one of the weaker sections in India. When one thinks of the other sections it becomes painfully obvious that there is much work to be done in terms of education and socio-economic advancement for all of those whose lot is to be part of those sections.
Until the needs of those individuals trapped in these circumstances and conditions are addressed, the concepts of equality and opportunity will be alien to the Indian democracy and India’s full potential as a nation cannot be realized.
I know that those of you in the Duty Society and others in the audience this evening who are difference makers recognize this and that is why you are convened in this seminar.
The Pivotal Roles of Duty Society Members in Making a Difference
This brings me to the pivotal roles that I believe that you difference-makers are, can and should be playing in order to make your crucial contributions to correcting the current situation. If you noticed, I said roles and not role.
Those roles that I would prescribe are: educator, role model, innovator, problem solver, job creator, change agent, and team player.
Let me begin with the role of educator as the theme of this seminar is Educational Development of Weaker Sections.
There has been a considerable amount of recent research that shows that those who do well or excel have developed not only the minimum technical knowledge or skills required in an area. They have also developed the character that is required to apply and use those skills to continue to learn in order to become the best that they can be and to work hard and persist in the face of difficult obstacles in order to achieve their goals.
As I noted early in my talk, Aligarh not only gave me a great education. Aligarh also helped shape those values, attitudes and beliefs that were fundamental to who I was to become and what I was to achieve.
In my opinion, the weaker sections deserve and need the same advantage and perspective that I was provided by AMU. This means that the educator’s role in contributing to the advancement of individuals in the weaker sections should be a broad one of striving to develop the whole person by building knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes and not a narrow one of transmitting knowledge only.
Educational development is indeed critical for those in the weaker sections. Education alone though is a necessary but not sufficient condition for fully empowering and preparing individuals for success in life. In addition, there are a number of factors that constrain those in the weaker sections.
Those of you in this audience – educationists, scientists, doctors, engineers, mathematicians and administrators – have the personal and professional power to move beyond education to play the other roles that I have enumerated to create more holistic solutions for those in the weaker sections. Let me discuss each of these roles briefly.
- Role model: One of the limiting factors for many in the weaker sections is that there are few within their peer groups whom they can look to as positive behavioral examples. People learn through observation not conversation. Recognizing this, a teacher no matter whether the setting is the classroom or somewhere else can act in ways that are worthy of emulation.
- Innovator: Those in the weaker sections lack resources of all types. Innovations such as cheaper computers and micro-loans have been useful to move these individuals forward. Most product and service development is targeted to those with substantial purchasing capability. Concentrating on developing goods and services for those with scarce resources may not yield big financial returns but the return from a better society would be huge.
- Problem Solver: Some of what stands in the way of success for those individuals in the weaker sector could be issues such as lack of transportation or access to proper medical treatment. You members of the Duty Society have the requisite skill sets to develop alternative delivery systems and approaches to eliminate or ameliorate these problematic conditions.
- Job Creator: We are living at a time when automation, robotics, and information technology are destroying traditional middle skill jobs that once might have gone to those in the weaker sections who are educated. The opportunity exists to study the job displacement impact of new methods and approaches and to create new employment paradigms in response to them.
- Change Agent: Rules and regulations and local conditions such as a lack of schools or teachers frequently inhibit the progress of those in the weaker sections. You Duty Society members can be leaders in identifying those factors and advancing proposals and building community coalitions to address them.
- Team Player: No one of us is as strong as all of us together. The Duty Society has a long history of making a difference. By working together and harnessing the brain power of the members on common causes, the Society has the potential to add considerably to its storied history.
Call to Action: Amplify, Magnify, Intensify
I am certain that you members of the Duty Society of AMU are active in most if not all of the roles that I am recommending. I am willing to bet that if we were to go to the new edition of the Aligarh Muslim University Contributions and Achievements being distributed here this evening we would find numerous exemplars for each role.
So, I view my recommendations to play these pivotal roles as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. They are directed toward bringing conscious attention and a continuous spotlight on fulfilling all of the roles.
By doing this we can,
- Amplify – increase the ongoing discussions and dialogue regarding what is being done on a day to day basis in each of these roles
- Magnify – increase the size of the effort in all of the areas
- Intensify – concentrate attention on a role or two – in addition to education – where the Duty Society can make a big difference
We will be working together to write the next edition of the Aligarh Muslim University Contributions and Achievements volume to be published 25 years from now to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Duty Society. I am confident that by doing this, that volume will be twice as big as this current one and the collective results achieved in working with the weaker sections to make a difference will be even more so.
In closing, let me take you back to my opening comments where I stated that even though I couldn’t be there in person, “…rest assured that I am there with you in spirit and committed to the cause of ensuring a quality education that equips those in the weaker sections with the knowledge, skills, abilities and attitudes to succeed in the 21st century.”
Let me say now that I am with you in more than spirit in this cause. As many of you may know, my wife Debbie and I have committed $2M to support the building of a new Management Complex at AMU.
When we laid the Foundation Stone for that building earlier this year we explained that our overriding motivation in supporting the Management Complex is because of the emphasis it will place on preparing the students at AMU to become entrepreneurial leaders who will engage in economic development activities that will create jobs and opportunities for thousands of people throughout India and in other parts the world.
We look at the funding of this Management Complex and the Chair not only as philanthropy but as a strategic investment in the future of Muslims of India and the future of others in the weaker sections in India. We expect the return on that investment to be exponential. Aligarh students have always been our best hope. My investment in the School of Management is my way of saying thank you and keeping the hope alive.
We are pleased to be making this a contribution to making a difference and to help those of you in the Duty Society make yours. We look forward to our ongoing partnership in making that difference. Thanks for the opportunity to speak with you. Keep on making a difference and have a great seminar.
Once again, I want to thank Dr. Siddiqi for his leadership and service to Aligarh and India. He inspires all of us to do well but do good.
Before I close my remarks, I say to all of you that you should be reminded and guided by the words of President Kennedy who said: To whom much is given. Much is expected. With that thought in mind, let us extend our hope, our help, and our hand to those who are voiceless, who are poor, who are less fortunate, and who are socially and economically disadvantaged. Let us give them ladders of opportunity to succeed. When they succeed, all of us succeed, India Succeed and the world succeed.
I wish you all the best
God bless you all