- Community Empowerment
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Fifth Young Global Leaders (YGL) Summit
Dead Sea, Jordan
Three Pillars of Impact
Ahlan wa sahlan…welcome to Jordan. It’s great to see so many of you; thank you for making the effort to be here.
You know, it’s not often I stand in front of a group of men and women known for their talent, drive, and success… who have contributed so much to their professions... and who are officially recognized as ‘young’.
You hail from every corner of the globe... from politics… arts… business… civil society. Each of you has made your mark, and earned your reputation.
Now, as Young Global Leaders, you have the prestige and potential to transform people’s lives. You haven’t come to Jordan just to float in the Dead Sea. You’ve come here to make a difference.
And at a time when the global financial crisis is fast becoming a development emergency, we need you to put your ideas into action more than ever before. We need you to build on YGL’s three pillars -- generating insight, community building, and undertaking collective action -- which is what I call learning… empowering… and acting… on behalf of social progress.
Tomorrow, you’ll have the chance to explore three programs native to Jordan: Ruwwad, the Jordan River Foundation, and Madrasati – which means “my school.”
These initiatives grew out of our experiences in Jordan, and our belief in the power of public-private partnerships… but they all exemplify learning, empowering, and acting. That’s why I believe they hold such relevance for you.
Ruwaadbest exemplifies the first pillar – learning. It’s a community development organization that began in a very poor neighborhood in east Amman. Ruwwad’s founders knew they would never succeed by imposing solutions from the outside in, so they spent their first year learning from the inside out, in focus groups and brainstorming sessions, eliciting local residents’ stories, questions, fears, and dreams.
One person they listened to – or at least, tried to listen to – was an eight year old boy named Suhaib. He had never been to school. His community thought he was mentally challenged… so they left him to play in the dirt.
Suhaib has learning disabilities and a serious speech impediment. But Ruwwad volunteers let him help around the office during the day. At first, he was difficult to understand, but with patient encouragement he began to communicate.
Eventually, Suhaib’s speech improved and he learned to read and write. Later, he went on to a special school, where he now thrives in music, theatre, and photography.
And I share Suhaib’s story because it reminds us that one of your roles as young global leaders can be giving voice to those who cannot speak for themselves… and who would otherwise never be heard.
When it comes to empowerment, I am proud of the work of the Jordan River Foundation: an organization we founded more than a decade ago to help the disadvantaged lift themselves out of poverty through basket and rug weaving… ostrich farming… beekeeping… and much more, as you’ll see.
But JRF knows that a decent job is about much more than earning an income: It’s about securing the dignity at the heart of a decent life.
Take Suleiman – a man who lives in a remote village in Wadi Araba. Before JRF, he had no job, no education, and no self-confidence. He said he felt lost, “like on an ocean.” He was professionally and emotionally adrift.
Then he started growing fruit and vegetables with JRF. It gave him a sense of responsibility; he took training courses and earned his high school diploma. He became more dynamic… a leader on the farm… and earned his neighbors’ trust and admiration.
When he looks back at his old life, Suleiman says he sees a shadow of a person. Today, he’s an engaged, respected member of his community…a husband… and a father who is raising his children to believe in themselves and their potential.
And I think that’s important. Because if the Arab world is to overcome our challenges, we need to ensure our rising generation of young people is empowered to succeed.
Which brings me to Madrasati – a program to restore 500 of Jordan’s most rundown schools by creating partnerships of action between students, teachers, parents, local leaders, and businesspeople. Collectively, they identify their school’s most pressing problems and figure out ways to solve them.
In essence, Madrasati inspires a sense of responsibility across our society.
At one secondary school in Rseifah, for example, there was an 18 year old named Safa’. She was a difficult student and a troublemaker – disruptive in and out of the classroom. But her parents and teachers encouraged Safa’ to get involved with her school’s Madrasati committee.
Safa’ soon became an integral player in turning her school around -- helping expand the school library… replace broken sinks… and transform the school play yard from an empty lot into a flourishing garden.
Helping others changed Safa’s attitude, her grades, and her perspective on life. Now she has the chance to go to university, and to contribute even more to her society.
Three stories of success… built on the pillars of learning, empowering, and acting.
And my hope is that you contribute to initiatives like these, and when you do, that you listen and learn, so you can understand the problems of people like Suhaib…
You offer support that empowers individuals like Suleiman to take control of their own lives …
You inspire even those who’ve given up on themselves to act in support of others… because when they do, like Safa’, they’ll discover they have gifts they never knew.
And you must do it together. Because, together, you’ll combine your strengths… together, you’ll spark new ideas and new initiatives… and, together, you’ll bring them to life.