Recognizing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today
Nikhat is a university student from Dhaka, and she decided to start campaigning to stop violence against women after attending the UNDP and UK Aid sponsored Youth Leadership Summit 2014 earlier in June. “My parents read me horror stories from the newspaper every day. I want to stop being scared, I want to walk around alone, ride a bicycle, and have a job,” she said.
Nikhat’s project group, Stop Violence Against Women, is just one of the 23 initiatives that were conceived over the course of the three day international conference in Dhaka, hosted by Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). The event was designed to equip the youth delegates with the skills that they need in order to lead change in complex and uncertain times
“Most women in this country either don’t have a voice or don’t care. Most women like me are told by their parents what they can’t do because of violence against women. There are NGOs, but I don’t think they’re really making a difference. It’s the university students and the urban city dwellers who can take action. I want to motivate my level of people, and through BYLC I have finally found my voice,” Nikhat continued.
The Youth Leadership Summit took the 500 national and international delegates on a journey from “I” to “We” by asking them to recognize their privilege, and then to act upon it. Now, Nikhat and her fellow delegates have been offered a chance to take their ideas to the next level through a BYLC pilot programme called Leadership Lab (L-Lab).
“Events like the Youth Leadership Summit generate a lot of energy among the participants” said Ejaj Ahmad, Founder and President of BYLC, “but the challenge for us is to figure out how we can harness this energy moving forward.”
The L-Lab is an experimental open space where the Summit project groups are welcome to incubate their ideas, to attend weekly workshops, and to undergo a 50-day challenge to take their initiatives from ideation to evaluation. Over 70 individuals have now signed up to attend the unpaid programme.
During the Summit, UNDP held a session on leadership, rights, and active citizenship, using violence against women as a case study to demonstrate how individual choices and personal contributions to society are integral to the progress of the nation. “I learned that leadership is not authority: this is something that I think a lot of us weren’t aware of”, said Mishel, a university student, “We thought that if you’re in a position of power then you can exercise leadership, but leadership is inside of everyone.”
Many students were inspired by the emotive speeches by Mashroof Hassan and Sayed Shaikh Imtiaz during the UNDP session to take up the cause of violence against women, but the projects registered for L-Lab represent a hugely diverse selection of issues.
Sultana’s group is promoting green city development, and they have already attended an environmental fair, started a petition against the Testa Water Dam, and planted five trees each in their own neighbourhoods. Two more environmental groups are focusing on waste management and industrial pollution, respectively.
Several groups were empowered to recognize the disparity in education between rich and poor by attending the education panel at the Summit. Zaki’s team, Neatwork, believe that education and qualifications are being monopolised by training centers. “This puts a price tag on knowledge that was once open-source and free,” he said, “We are going to tear off these price tags and make this information more available to the youth of Bangladesh.”
In total, there are 15 proposals that cover 10 distinct thematic areas. Over the course of the next two months, the participants of L-Lab will have access to advice on how to brand their projects, how to apply for formal and informal funding, and ultimately on how to evaluate the impact of their efforts.
The L-Lab will be a learning experience for BYLC as well: how do you take 500 young people and one Youth Leadership Summit, and turn this movement into lasting social change?
“In three days I met people I wouldn’t have met in a year,” said one youth delegate, “I know that if I call for change in the future, I will always find people who think the way that I do, people who can help me.” For these young people, their leadership journey did not end with the conclusion of the Summit; it was only beginning.