Pakistan recently made history in its first smooth transition from one democratically elected leader - Asif Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party to another, Nawaz Sharif from the Pakistan Muslim League. Pakistan frequently dominates headline news with horrific stories on drone attacks, jihadi perpetrated violence, and intra-faith Sunni-Shia killings among fellow citizens.
But something different and "electric" happened in my living room this week when fifteen young, Pakistani social entrepreneurs walked in to share their vision, idealism and passion for their country. They believe their youth can become catalysts and engines for change in a promising new Pakistan. They are ready for the challenges, hard work and creative interventions needed for a politically, economically and socially healthy Pakistan.
Let me introduce you to a few of these innovators - even as they try to shape a new Pakistan.
Raja Banaras from Pakistan Administered Kashmir, one of the social entrepreneurs engaged in food security sets the stage when he says: "Pakistan is a not a poor country; it's a poorly governed country. "
Humaira Bachal, Karachi, Sindh: Humaira is founder and president of The Dream Trust Foundation and the first girl in her family to be educated - despite opposition and community threats, including her father. Humaira is a star, and on the cover of The Economist (Sept/Oct 2013). She lives in Muwach Goth, a marginalized community on the outskirts of Karachi. Yet, she had the hutzpah to start a school for underprivileged children in her neighborhood which evolved into the Dream Model Street School. The current enrollment is 1200 students. Winner of the 4th Annual Women of the World Summit, she caught the attention of Chime for Change and Madonna who pledged to support girls' education in Pakistan. Check her out in a documentary film, "Humaira: The Dream Catcher," by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, the three Emmy and an Oscar award-winning Pakistani-Canadian journalist and documentary filmmaker.
Lal Jan Afridi, Federally Administrered Tribal Areas (FATA). In this conservative district, he helped launch SAWERA, the first women-led organization in the tribal areas, focusing on social and economic development for women - a tough task in a rough neighborhood. He designs and implements innovative projects for the women so that they can become economically empowered and this includes providing an IT center in FATA which trained 90 women.
Iqra Rehman, Minawali, Punjab: Iqra is a writer who founded the Mianwali Institute of Language and Learning. She comes from a conservative tribal culture: she disagrees with the traditional customs, does not adhere to all of them and when criticized she expresses her disagreements through creative writing. She finds solace in writing poetry and in 2010, she published her collection, "Reflections." This book was assigned as required reading for graduate students at New York University. She plans to be a professor, a writer even as she expands her commitments to social work while continuing to inspire young girls.
Christians, Shias and Ahmadis all minorities in Pakistan have their share of problems as we learn respectively from Kamran Bhatti, Roohullah Gulzari and Asad Mustafa Kahlon.
Kamran Bhatti: Intra-faith violence is rampant in Pakistan. Kamran of Gojra, Punjab is the founder of (HEART) Health & Education Association for Rural Transformation. He is also a youth leader with the Christian Study Center and associated with several other like minded organizations. His goal is to form a peaceful and prosperous society which values individuals equally with mutual understanding and respect for each other.
Roohullah Gulzari: Roohullah from Quetta, Pakistan is a prominent leader of the Hazara community - a systematically persecuted Shia Minority. Gulzari is a social activist providing a voice for the voiceless in Lahore and other parts of Pakistan. He has been actively engaged with UMMAT, a Quetta based cultural and educational NGO where he teaches. An avid debater, winning All 4 Pakistan debate competitions, he is co-founder of Amal, which works for democracy, pluralism, inclusivity and tolerance in Pakistan.
Asad Mustafa Kahlon is the Principal of Garrison Grammar School which enrolls 225 children, mostly underprivileged kids and disadvantaged minorities. An Ahmadi himself, he confronts intolerance against minorities in Pakistan. Caught in the grisly attack in 2010 at the mosque, he is committed to preventing others from experiencing the same. His dream is to build several schools in Lahore based on the United States charter school model and he plans to use documentary film as a tool to spotlight social injustice in his homeland.
Sobia Khan, Dera Ismail Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa : Sobia describes herself as "an environmentalist by profession and a social entrepreneur by passion." She works in a conservative district, yet in 2008, Sobia established the Support Humanity Organization, focusing on women's empowerment and advocacy via various channels. Her vocational education training center teaches women sewing and embroidery in remote areas. Sobia focuses on improving livelihoods through natural resource management and agricultural development. She introduced a bio diesel plant (jatropha circus) to farmers as an alternative energy source to improve the economic well being of the farming community. She is challenged by the cultural constraints and hazardous security issues inflicted by religious hardliners and outlaws. Yet, she overcomes by giving voice to the women of this conflict driven area.
These young social entrepreneurs inspired me. Hope replaced despair on Pakistan. The energy, enthusiasm, "do it" attitude of these talented next generation entrepreneurs gave me high hopes for Pakistan. Hope you too are inspired by them.
The South Asia Center of The Atlantic Council hosted Emerging Leaders of Pakistan a group of 15 social entrepreneurs who have the potential to be future leaders in Pakistan. The South Asia Center focuses on - cultivating relationships, fostering partnerships and continuing to "wage peace" in the region.
Invest in Muslim Women pioneers tipping point interventions to economically empower Muslim Women in South Asia.
Khadijah's daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.