Youth

Memories

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I think back very often to the time when I was 13 years old. Being an adult seemed so far away and I was not sure I could wait long enough to do all the things for which I needed to be grown-up: have a job, run my own company, get married, be my own person and every imaginable set of shenanigans that an early teenager could conceive. I knew that things might get rough and bumpy along the journey, but I never imagined that any of those minor challenges would stand in my way. I was desperate to grow up.

Doha, Qatar: 2015
Doha, Qatar: 2015

As I have added days, months and years, I have had several moments when I just wanted things to slow down just a little bit so that I could fully comprehend my situation and adapt to it; some months have whizzed by without brakes so much so that I can look back on entire chunks of my life with little recollection of who I was or what I was feeling; all I have are definite memories of milestones, conversations, events, places, people and times, and those are all enough for me. I have come to realize that growth is not measured by footsteps; growth is measured in memories.

The older I grow, the less worried I am about my past, my present or my future. I have developed a mantra that I have begun to share with everyone around me: “Give yourself time”. I never used to be that person though; I was always eager to achieve that next thing on my ever-expanding to-do list. I was driven by an invisible fiery carriage, dashing through life at unbelievable speed with little regard for the scent of the roses. I did stop every now and then, but I had an urgency to get things done that even I couldn’t fathom. I haven’t lost any of that fire; I have just learned to give myself time. Some of the things which I desperately seek to achieve in the future are splattered around me in the present, and I am learning to recognize them: quality time with people that matter, investing consciously in people who look up to me, constant evaluation of my acquisition of skills and competencies, and a deep connection with my inner, spiritual self.

The memories which I see clearly in my rear-view mirror are crystal: things I have been privileged to do, places I have been, people I have met and times that seemed to last forever. I am thankful for the many experiences I have had that have shaped the person I am today. I would honestly change absolutely nothing about the road I have travelled, because it doesn’t matter exactly what I did; it matters that I did some things and I learned from them. I have grown in many ways since my days as a precocious teenager, and I have the memories to prove it. I still have long ways to go, but now I can consciously treasure these memories as I build them.

Madrid, Spain: 2014
Madrid, Spain: 2014

And roses do have a beautiful smell, actually.

Change Is Possible; Consensus Requires Effort

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I have just returned from a three-day experience in Istanbul, Turkey, where I had the great privilege of attending the third edition of the annual Al Sharq Youth Forum, and to network with leaders of some of the world’s foremost youth organizations. My insights from the weekend supersede the fact that global change is indeed possible, and that consensus on any issue of worth requires immense effort; I walked away with several questions about what it will take to design the futures to which we collectively aspire, regardless of our location, history or beliefs.

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Source: Al Sharq Forum

I was inspired by the many young people (about 500 of them) from around the Arab world who gathered in Istanbul because they believe in the possibility of uniting the region ideologically for political, economic and social liberation. They gathered to design a new era for the Middle East, under the umbrella of Al Sharq Forum. I met young people from Algeria, Tunisia, Qatar, Turkey, Palestine and several other countries who were much less concerned about the realities of today, but much more focused on designing the future. I was inspired by the courage, depth and focus of Mr Wadah Khanfar, under whose leadership the conference was convened; I have had the honour of listening to Wadah speak on a few occasions, and there is an underlying fire that lights him up – a desire to hand over a better world than the one in which he has grown. I was inspired by the many volunteers – students and young professionals – who worked tirelessly to coordinate a spectacular event because they believe in the merit of their investment. Change is indeed possible, and consensus requires effort.

Source: Al Sharq Forum
Source: Al Sharq Forum

For much of my time in Istanbul, I was nestled within a group of international changemakers; each of us representing global hubs of youth leaders and activists ranging from Junior Chamber International to AIESEC, One Young World, Enactus, World Economic Forum Global Shapers, Impact Hub, TEDx, Social Good, Ethical Leaders, Ashoka and African Leadership Academy. Taking the advantage of a well-structured forum, we explored the intersections between our various missions and activities, and the possibility of uniting on areas of common interest. The camaraderie within the group was palpable, and so was the excitement when we concluded on action steps for the near future. With hundreds of thousands of young leaders from 200+ countries and territories in our collective network, our collaboration could be of immense proportions.

However, there was a much more specific flame being kindled in my heart; here I was in the Middle East, an outsider to the region and its politics, being awed by the resolve of its youth to design a new future for its peoples. I couldn’t help but wonder who was convening the same for the region that I understand much more than others; I still can’t help but wonder who is aggregating Africa’s best brains to collectively design our future and lobby decision makers for action. Oh yes, there are hundreds of efforts in small silos, and there are thousands of “youth-led” organizations seeking endorsements from existing governments and political structures, but I seek something more than that. I don’t want to continually attend feel-good conferences where smart people agree on the myriad challenges before us, and walk away with ideas tucked deep in our hearts but no courage to voice them and collectively act on them. Conferences are fabulous, but only beneficial if they lead to concrete action. I don’t want to be a part of the generation that prioritizes cheap talk and the illusion of social change above the reality of grinding out results. I fear particularly for young people who are currently caught up in a wave of either unsubstantiated optimism or endless cynicism. Our world deserves much more, and change requires dedicated effort.

I am fully convinced that the responsibility of young people is to actively prepare themselves to lead the future rather than agitate mindlessly for recognition. I will like to sleep peacefully every night knowing that Africa’s future is safe within capable hands (mine included),but I am not of that conviction yet. So, while consensus might require immense effort and inter-generational collaboration, I choose to run with the belief that change is ultimately possible. My flame is alight; there is work to be done!