Promoting leadership through youth engagement forum Pak LOT
Amid our seemingly endless vows stretching from radicalization, extremism, poverty, illiteracy and many others, young generation of Pakistan, with all its skill, will and intelligence, is probably a welcome respite in the challenges across the economic and social fabric of the nation.
Home to the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional and the world record holder for the Cambridge examinations, Pakistan boasts of a priceless bounty of intelligent youth who are all set to take the country to the next level among the comity of nations. But this burgeoning youth force needs to be mentored and harnessed for the benefits of the country as well as for themselves. It is important that they must be heard and their perspective must be sought on the current challenges faced by the country, regard less of their age, wisdom, social, ethnic and cultural orientation. This will not only strengthen their belief that they have the capability to render services to the motherland but will also provide the much needed inspiration to work for the same in the future.
One such opportunity in Pakistan was sponsored in the shape of Pak LOT, Pakistan – Leaders for Tomorrow summit held at Presidency on 9th April 2012 at Islamabad under the patronage of President Asif Ali Zardari and Chairman PPP Bilal Bhutto Zardari. The idea sponsor and organizer of the initiative Shahid Ahmed Khan said; ‘if we engage our youth by creating platforms for debate, discussion, youth voice and recognition, then we are destined to discovery; or else such a large youth cohort without leadership may lead to a disaster’. President Asif Ali Zardari attended as the Chief Guest at a day-long summit on “Pakistan Leaders of Tomorrow – Youth Outreach and Mobilization Effort”, organized by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, here at Aiwan-e-Sadr.
Reiterating his commitment towards the mobilization of youth, President elaborated the Government’s strategy in harnessing the young potential of the country. He mentioned to use mind, not emotion in dealing with the problems of Pakistan. President presented a clear framework for youth engagement promoting 5E’s which includes; Education for youth, Engagement for youth, Empowerment for Youth, Employment for youth and Entrepreneurship opportunities for youth.
Also present on the occasion was Chairman of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who delivered a passionate speech over the prevailing conditions. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with his age and passion is probably most appropriately poised to address the youth of the country where he said: “My generation is not burdened by my forefather’s animosity. Our wounds are not as raw. It gives me great pride that my grandfather gave Pakistan the world’s first Islamic bomb and my mother gave us our missile program. We are now equipped to defend ourselves. But my generation wants peace not war. Must we invest in enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other a hundred times over. Isn’t once enough?”
He further added, “We, the youth demand peace. We have grown up in a security state and it is our generation that will bring about a welfare state, as we need new schools not new tanks”
While the definition of ‘youth’ do vary from country to country, for statistical purposes the UN defines ‘youth’, as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, without prejudice to other definitions by Member States. Pakistan has a large population that can be categorized as falling within the UN’s definition of youth. An estimated 103 million Pakistanis, or 63% of the population, fall under the age of 25 years. However, as a result of endemic poverty, the majority of youth in Pakistan do not have the opportunity to experience a childhood. Youth literacy rate Youth Literacy Rate (age 15/24) is estimated to be 53%. Female youth literacy (age 15-24) conforming to the wider pattern in Pakistan, is even lower at 42.0%. What is ironically exciting is the fact 6th largest youth cohort of the world is being led by a Chairman of Political Party representing the aspirations of the young people himself; this gives every citizen the hope, and light at the end of the tunnel. With a literacy rate at 53 percent, it is of paramount importance that youth must be provided with the means to educate themselves through access, fairness, equity, quality and opportunity through public and private educational access and partnerships.
The Pak LOT summit was attended by some 150 University and College youth icons, including a study contingent of the students from award winning and internationally recognized Roots College International, Islamabad. The purpose of the initiative is to bring the youth on a common platform where they are regularly consulted over issues pertaining to foreign relations, energy crisis, drugs addiction, education, youth empowerment, social issues, equity, and justice.
The purpose of the event is to mobilize the youth for creating a culture of constructive engagement, which promotes participation and individual responsibility in dealing with issues of personal and democratic security. These delegates of the summit assisted the Government of Pakistan by engaging with the public policy primarily through Social Media Networking – one of the most effective modes of communication today. The initiative will also serve as an effective means of communicating directly with the general public, to strengthen direct links and trust between the youth and the Government of Pakistan. Furthermore, it will not only make the youth realize that security and stability cannot be gained through extremism, but also give them a sense of responsibility to participate effectively in combating major issues that plague our country, like terrorism, narcotics and other criminal activities.
Speaking on the summit President Zardari said, ‘our perseverance in the face of adversary has remained quintessential. He further said, we have stood the test of international conspiracies, foreign coercion and economic sanctions’. Needless to say that despite of all the shortcomings of the present setup, the able leadership of President Zardari has taken decisions which remain unprecedented in our short history.
For the moment, however, our focus needs to be on our domestic issues and our inspiring youth which is ready to go all out to serve the country in a rich and befitting manner. Emphasis must be laid on the primary, secondary and elementary public education which will provide a breeding ground for a disciplined young generation which thereby will provide the necessary launching pad for the anticipated progress and development onto their journey for skill creation through higher education and jobs.
While we continue to dwell in the age of austerity, we must resist the temptation to “eat our seed corn” by slashing funding for education, research and development and other types of spending that pay long-term dividends. The ‘will’ amongst youth is surely evident, however the ‘skill’ needs development, as the gap may widen, we must welcome all such opportunities which bridge such a gap.
Written by: Chaudhry Faisal Mushtaq
(The writer is a leading academic reformist, youth leader and a national educational change sponsor, currently working as the Founder & CEO of Pakistan’s leading education development and social sector Not for Profit organization – Change in Education www.change.org.pk )