Behind the Story
In 1997, after completing his masters in political science, Ali took a job with Family Planning of Pakistan as a facilitator of youth sexual reproductive health programs by conducting workshops, arranging orientation sessions and Training Of Trainers (TOTs) throughout the country. After working with young people for two years, Ali began questioning whether his work had any kind of impact on the lives of young people. He recalled; “Those young people sitting in front of me had so many other things to think about. They have poor parents, they don’t have medicines, they don’t have enough money to pay their electricity bills, they don’t have something to eat and I am trying to pour wisdom into them.”
Ali asserts “You can’t pour desire into people. It has to come from within them.” While post-program evaluations showed that these youth’s knowledge was increasing and that they were building skills, Ali knew that they were never able to use these gains when they were most needed.
Although the project was going well by all standards and according to donors, Ali was still unsure of the impact the project was having on the hearts and minds of young people and knew that something was missing. He recognized the key difference between providing information and being part of the process. He relays; “It would be premature just to enter the communities with skills development programs. At the end of the day the young people will still live in the same community, which often has little to offer. They are exposed to the kind of things they should not because these communities teach them very harsh lessons – to be abusive, to be selfish, to be evasive.”
Ali shared that he had heard countless voices of young people especially young girls saying that there is no one who thinks about us, there is no one who cares about us, we are useless and valueless creatures and please help us find a place in the society. These emotional experiences were motivational enough to stimulate Ali to do something different for young people. In spite of the fact that Ali’s work was highly acknowledged at all levels of the organization and he was constantly getting promotions, he decided to take a big risk in life by resigning from his job to launch first youth-led development movement in the country; his goal was to help young people arise out of anonymity, make them feel special, help them to re-establish a new profile in their communities and promote them as the most promising resource available to meet their personal and societal needs. Ali still remembers those days when he decided to leave his job; he had to face tremendous pressure from his extended family (uncle and aunts as well as cousins) and colleagues who were strongly against his decision of leaving a job and starting a movement without any financial support. He said that during all these difficult times his nuclear family (parents, brother and sister) especially his mother had provided to him a pillar of strength, the hope and encouragement that he will be able to accomplish his goals in life. Ali shares that his major inspiration in life has been his mother who has given so much back to the society. She established a school for poor and neglected children thirty years ago against strong family traditions; despite of all criticism and hard circumstances she stuck to it and ran the school successfully. She then wanted Ali to continue her good work by enabling and encouraging him to bring change in the lives of young people.
Laying the groundwork for Youth Engagement Services was and continues to be an enormous challenge for Ali and the youth with whom he works. Unlike in many countries where such programs receive support from the government, Pakistan’s government has been resistant to such an initiative. The reason, in part, Ali says, is that youth are seen only at the receiving end of service. Even now, when Ali refers to Youth Engagement among communities in Pakistan, people think that he is referring to programs developed to serve youth. In order to foster the idea of Youth Engagement as he envisions it, Ali had to start from scratch, without the support of the government, and with the aim “to help young people replant their image within the society.” “I know that once I have created a desire among them, they would be able to take care of themselves, their communities, and their families.” “Desire is such an important thing in life. If you don’t have desire, you will never be able to succeed in anything.”
Those who know him refer to Ali as “an inspirational young leader who is constantly in motion and is infecting others with his enthusiasm, optimism, and can-do attitude.” He is very excited and motivated by his idea, accomplishments and challenges. Probably the most important part of his success is having an infectious enthusiasm. Rarely do people succeed by themselves. They have to inspire others to their vision, and they do that through making evident the passion that they hold. It is because of his passion that he has been able to connect and inspire many disadvantaged young people to join him. He found in the shape of young people huge untapped resource waiting for someone to believe in them. When all the programs in the country are trying to focus on addressing the problems and disturbances of young people he started advocating for treating young people as the most promising resource available to meet their personal and community service needs. He recognized young people as change champions. Ali has demonstrated strong leadership qualities throughout the process of conceptualizing and implementing his idea. He has seriously challenged himself and his capabilities and reached beyond to his comfort zone. Resigning from his job and starting from absolutely no material resources speaks for itself.
He has also very strategically initiated his movement in the country instead of going into new communities he preferred to start by teaming-up with those young people who were previously exposed or connected to him through different programs. In short instead of re-inventing the wheel he integrates his plan into the on-going activities. He has positioned his youth-led movement in a manner that enables and encourages people and organizations to join him. In other words he has cultivated a collaborative environment which is only sustained by young people motivated to operate in a team-based culture. He has behaved and thought continuously in an entrepreneurial mode, continually moving forward. This is as important in large international companies as it is in small startups. He has seriously challenged the status quo and made a difference, regardless of the fact that he has been working continuously under-resourced environment. He has shown through his work in a short span about the validity of his idea of how quickly young people finds their power and unlock their potential once they are treated as a resource. Many of the young people participated in his program previously were sitting in their homes frustrated without any hope and desire in life and once these young people are provided structured opportunities they have completely re-brand their image in their communities and became and recognized as leaders rather than as victims. Probing the mindset of Ali, we can identify key factors such as the tendency to feel, to embrace change, higher self-esteem and ready for taking risks in life. He has made very important decisions in his life on the basis of what many people would consider on insufficient grounds, with the faith he has in his idea and kind of support he received from other young people and his mother he has developed strong believe in his ability to make up the difference. Everyone else might look at the opportunity and say, ‘That’s pretty risky,’ but Ali isn’t thinking in those terms. The attitude is more ‘Yeah, I can handle this. It might be a bit close to the edge, but I have the ability to do it.’ And the truth of the matter is that he is successful in demonstrating the effectiveness of his idea at a smaller scale. He saw a huge vacuum in the area of youth programming and accordingly he proactively seized this opportunity. He is definitely first mover not reactor.