Not everyone manages to do things they want to do either because of lack of opportunities or giving up in the struggle to achieve greater things in life. At the same time, there are people who turn hurdles and challenges into opportunities by exercising consistence and become more than what they have envisioned. Historically, all great people struggle at the beginning may it be Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein or Galileo Galilei; however, the times have changed and now it has become easier to identify and support people who are making a positive impact in their societies. International exchange programs are one of the most effective tools that is being employed in the United States to create future global leaders and enable them to address critical challenges through innovation and collaboration.
Last month, a diverse group of 15 youth leaders visited the United States under the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan Project which was implemented by the Meridian International Center in collaboration with the Atlantic Council. As part of the program, the participants visited New York, Washington DC, Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California and visited famous places like United Nations, New York Times, USAID, Pentagon and U.S. Department of State. The program seeks to support and empower the next generation of Pakistan’s leaders as it identifies, cultivates, and supports young people who have the potential of becoming future leaders by providing resources and opportunities to strengthen their engagement within civil society. It builds an online and in-person forum of engagement and collaboration for young leaders from Pakistan to discuss and make an impact on important issues, such as democracy, economic development, employment, and governance.
Ali Haider, 23, is the Editor-in-Chief of Humans of Pakistan – a blog presenting a realistic and positive image of Pakistan through individual stories and inspired by Humans of New York. He found the American people very welcoming and generous. For him, the American society is different from the one portrayed on the media and Hollywood. Since he met other fellows during this program for the first time so he plans to partner with them for supporting each other’s initiatives back home. He says the program has been very informative as he learned many story-telling techniques, international best practices and application of innovation during capacity-building workshops. He is very excited to go back to Karachi to apply new skills and make his stories more compelling.
Rafia Farooqi, 25, is associated with a Pakistani nonprofit that works on water conservation to address problems like water storage/shortage due to the effects of climate change. She termed the American people nice and is happy to know similarities between young people in both countries. Rafia says glaciers are melting at an abnormal pace in Pakistan and policies are unclear about the efficient use of water and it is feared that Pakistan will be faced with major water crisis in the future because of the absence of large water storage facilities. During this program, she learned ways and techniques being employed in the U.S. to tackle challenges arising out of climate change. She is very keen to help her nonprofit improvise its research methodologies on water and climate change so that practical steps should be suggested to the government for improving the water situation in Pakistan.
Anam Bhatti, 26, is a visual artist and helps people express themselves by teaching them art therapy. She is the Chief Operating Officer of Design Pakistan, a social enterprise that uses sustainable design intervention to bring about positive change in Pakistan. She manages innovative social welfare projects using visual and performing arts, social design and interactive experiences to spur social change. Being an advocate of sustainable design solutions, she is designing a curriculum for the underprivileged people to improve their social, political and economic conditions. She says this program has provided her many opportunities to explore, learn and build relationships for highlighting the use of art for addressing these challenges.
Zahra Ali, 26, is a clinical psychologist and social scientist who is keen to dispel stigmas around mental illness. She runs free clinics to provide free psychological screenings, counseling and referral services. She says it was sad for her to see people with mental illnesses committing suicides due to lack of social support so she began helping the traumatized people. She adopted a very engaging model to reach out and help the vulnerable populations such as adolescents and victims of trauma, religious intolerance and gender inequality. During this program, she learned how technology and innovative solutions can be used to help the people with mental problems and she plans to expand accessible community mental health clinic services throughout the country.
During the program, these young change-makers were given opportunities to build a network of young Pakistani leaders to facilitate idea exchange, forge long-term collaborative relationships, develop leadership and practical skills through meetings with policymakers, civil society leaders, entrepreneurs, learn the best practices to adapt to their own context in Pakistan, share experiences/knowledge/ recommendations with stakeholders on the future of Pakistan, employment of youth, religious misperceptions and other key issues affecting young people, and strengthen ties between the United States and Pakistan by addressing misperceptions on both sides of the bilateral relationship.