What does it take to lead social change in an ever changing, chaotic, uncertain world? 400 young delegates from Bangladesh and abroad explored the questions of collaborative leadership and crossing boundaries during the fourth Youth Leadership Summit (YLS) hosted by Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). In these trying times, the Youth Leadership Summit attempted to convey a message of hope, and encourage young people to participate in courageous conversations on issues they care about deeply to exercise leadership. The YLS 2016 was held on August 18-20, 2016, at the International Convention City Bashundhara (ICCB) with the theme “Connect, Collaborate, Co-create”. The keynote address at the opening ceremony was delivered by Sir Christopher Ball, a former Warden of Keble College, Oxford University, who spoke about leading a life of purpose by maintaining integrity and leading by example.
This year’s leadership faculty featured Ejaj Ahmad, Founder and President of BYLC, and Harvard professors, Dr. Dean Williams and Dr. Hugh O’Doherty. The leadership sessions focused on examining the opportunities and dangers of exercising leadership, identifying boundaries, and collectively finding purpose. In the first leadership session titled Leadership in an uncertain world, Ejaj Ahmad elaborated on the concept of adaptive leadership. The session formed the foundation of leadership whereby the delegates learned to diagnose and differentiate between technical and adaptive challenges. Once the basics were set, the next session titled Immunity to change led by Harvard faculty, Hugh O’Doherty, took the delegates through a deep reflective process of identifying the inherent individual traits that hold them back from changing or improving. Subsequent leadership sessions included Designing effective interventions, where Ejaj Ahmad used the metaphorical “balcony” to discuss the importance of taking a step back and observing, before taking action and engaging on the “dance floor” of life. He explained that, “too many people get caught up on the dance floor that they do not see the entire system. To make an effective intervention, one has to constantly go back and forth between the dance floor and the balcony”. Hugh O’Doherty took a session on Leadership and purpose where he discussed the power of purpose in one’s life. The session challenged the common perception of passion being the driving force of change by giving examples of how passion and emotion had repeatedly built or destroyed the very thing communities worked toward. He ended on a very powerful insight highlighting, “If you are not standing in your own purpose, you’re standing in someone else’s.”
The Summit also featured plenary sessions where leading experts shared personal leadership journeys and discussed topics of interconnectedness, education, and entrepreneurship. Chaired by Gowher Rizvi, the plenary on The changing landscape of tertiary education in the 21st century examined the current challenges that the education system in Bangladesh is facing and how 21st century education institutions will have to do more than simply impart knowledge – they have to produce globally competent citizens. An interesting discussion ensued between delegates and speakers about choosing subjects based on passion or practicality. Annisul Huq, Mayor of Dhaka, chaired the plenary on Inclusive economy and entrepreneurship. Inspired by the speakers of the session, the delegates were eager to know how the youth can engage in entrepreneurial leadership roles to which Saima Chowdhury, CEO of Noi Solutions, expressed how crucial it is to have a strong corporate experience in the development of good entrepreneurial skills.
As interactions grew and bonds strengthened, time flew and the last day of the Summit arrived. Leadership for a fractured world, a session led by Dean Williams, Harvard faculty, highlighted how our world today is unpredictable, complex yet inter-dependent – all the basic foundations required to generate fractures. His inspiring session focused on the role of change agents who work between fractured groups to help them transcend boundaries, and build bridges to lead change.After putting the concepts of theoretical leadership in place, the plenary on Investing in the next generation: Acts of leadership, chaired by Foreign Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque, featured real examples of those who exercised leadership in today’s fractured world. The panelists Anjali Sarker, from Social Innovation Lab, BRAC, Korvi Rakshand, Founder & Chairman, Jaago Foundation, and Queen’s Young Leaders Awardees Shihab Shamir and Farhan Ahmad discussed from their life stories the real implications of practicing leadership in a fractured world. The delegates then went into developing their own personal action plan outlining what they wanted to do in their future.
This melting pot of diverse backgrounds and ideas at such a trying time urged all the young people present to lead by example and challenge the status quo because to create a change, one must believe in the change and be the change. The culmination of the 3-day Summit exemplified that for every one act of terror, there are four hundred more examples of positivity and resolve.
The writer works in curriculum development at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center