It is rare in the world of BlackBerries, iPads, mobile phones and airport lounges that one can pause long enough to think differently about the shape of the world, in particular the Middle East.
Doha is a city that welcomes a slower pace - despite its breakneck pace of development - and it is where I sat down with the Aga Khan, the Imam of the largest branch of the Ismaili followers, for an exclusive interview. The window of time was limited - 10 minutes to be precise - but precious in its outcome.
The Aga Khan was in Qatar to present a handful of awards for architectural excellence - major projects touching the Islamic world that make a difference to the lives of nearly 1.5 billion people. His Highness is a man who backs his words with action. His network is focussed on what he calls “the construction of civil society” since he believes it is the “greatest guarantor of positive change.”
The network facilitates economic, housing and tourism development in more than 30 countries and encourages investment to foster employment and advance education. But here is the caveat: change must be calibrated.
“I think the issue is not only quality of life. There are many other criteria and one of the ones we are most exposed to as a network of institutions is, 'What is a healthy speed of change?' Because you can move too fast.”
According to the International Monetary fund, Qatar will grow 16% this year and as much as 20% in 2011. In a world of 2% growth in Europe and the United States, the tiny Middle Eastern state could see 10 times the pace of expansion next year.