In the wake of events in of this year, there have been a number of organisations that have come out of the woodwork to deal with glaring issues—long obvious to people of the region—that have only now come into the international eye. One of these, the Arab Development Initiative (ADI), covers a wide selection of issues important to many Arabs in the region and in the Diaspora. We had the chance to have a conversation with one of its co-ordinating members, Yezin Al-Qaysi, to get more in depth:
KM: How did the Arab Development Initiative come about?
YQ: The Arab Development Initiative came as a response to the recent unrest in the Arab world. It was inspired by the Arab people’s desire to see change when mass demonstrations shook the Arab world early this year. As an organization we started off very small. Five months later we have over 40 volunteers working tirelessly to realize the ADI’s mission to bring Arab youth together. Although we were inspired by the changes in the Arab world, we are not affiliated with any political party or ideology, religion, or ethnic group. The ADI focuses on development in six divisions: Society and Culture, Law and Human Rights, Economic Development, Science and Technology, Health and Well-being, and Education. We hope to bring together Arab youth so that they can understand the obstacles in the way of development in the Arab world and find solution to overcoming them.
Late last May we released our first video to announce the launch of the ADI. We hadn’t anticipated that this video would garner such a heartfelt international response. In a matter of days, hundreds of Arab youth wrote to us about how much they wanted to be involved in our initiative. In their applications, some poured their hearts out to us about all the things they wanted to do for the Arab world, others offered us to help out in any way they could. Not only were we encouraged by this outpouring of support, but we were also humbled by the sincerity and passion of those offering their support. We realized that there were so many educated, skilled, and extremely talented youth out there who were ready to dedicate their lives to developing the Arab world. With this knowledge, we took it upon ourselves bring our fellow youth together and create a space for us to play a bigger role in shaping the future of the Arab world.
The most remarkable aspect of the Arab Development Initiative is the team behind the project. I have never worked with a more talented, passionate, and dedicated group of people in my life. We are also a very diverse group. Some of us are undergraduate students, recent graduates, graduate school students, young professionals, artists, teachers, entrepreneurs—you name it. The is also ideologically, religiously, and ethnically diverse, but I don’t think many of us have given it much thought. Our overriding interest is working towards catalyzing development in the Arab world through the ADI. We don’t have much time to think about our differences because we’re all to busy working toward a common vision for a future that we all want to see.
KM: What are the goals of the Envision Arabia Summit?
The Envision Arabia Summit (EAS) is the ADI’s first major event. It’s goal is to bring together youth to start thinking about the future of the Arab world. Many youth want to contribute to the development of the Arab world but they don’t know what to do. The primary goal of the EAS is to educate youth about the challenges to development in the region and what role they can play to overcome them. Through a series of inspiring talks, engaging workshops, and seminars that help youth take action, the EAS will prepare attendees for the challenges that we face in building a better future for the Arab world.
Another goal of the EAS is to bring Arabs together so that they can forge new friendships and strengthen their networks. One thing that we realized when spreading the word about the ADI and the Envision Arabia Summit is how disconnected Arab youth are from one another. There are huge pockets of Arabs in London, California, Michigan, and Toronto that we had a hard time integrating. We tend to form isolated clusters without having many links with other large Arab communities around the world. It was even very difficult for us to reach out to youth in Arab countries because the networks between us were so weak. By strengthening these connections between Arab youth we will be able to better organize and engage youth in the development of the region.
Youth delegates at EAS will be tasked with putting together a vision for the future of the Arab world. Through their participation in the Vision building workshops, their ideas and visions will be compiled together in a document that will attempt to articulate what Arab youth want to see for the future of the region. The vision will be divided into our six divisions and is meant to be an intellectual exercise for delegates to think about what the Arab world can look like if we successful and overcoming all the challenges to developing the region. By envisioning a future that we want to see, it will help us understand what we need to do to turn our vision into reality.
This year’s EAS is pleased to be welcoming delegation of youth from all over North America, Europe, and the Arab world. It hasn’t been easy reaching out to as many youth as we can, but we’ve tried our very best. The EAS will provide the perfect space collaboration, discussion, and exchange on issues central to future of the Arab world.
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KM: Is it appropriate to pursue such a large undertaking when most of the delegates will be Arabs who are not living in the Arab world? What are you doing to ensure that your vision is more inclusive?
Given that this is the first of many Envision Arabia Summits, I think that it’s a good start. Although this year’s international participation is expected to be relatively low, creating a vision is still a worthwhile exercise regardless of whether or not the delegates are living in the Arab world. The fact the the Summit is happening in Montreal makes it logistically difficult for many for participants to come from the Arab world- but a good number are coming. Although this year’s Summit, it is very likely that next year it could be somewhere in the Arab world. Montreal is our launchpad, but it is not our fixed location.
A vision is also not set in stone. It is constantly evolving and improving. We hope that creating a vision will be part of future Envision Arabia Summits and that it will get better and better with time. We should always be thinking about our future and planning for it. The lack of vision and planning in the Arab world has allowed us to loose sight of our biggest problems and not prepare for their consequences. Hopefully this will change.
The Envision Arabia Summit will be streamed on our website and viewers can engage through our social media channels to give their thoughts and ideas about the talks, workshops, and seminars. The Vision General Assembly will also be lie tweeted so that followers can keep up with how the vision shapes up to be. They can also comment and make suggestions on it. The Envsion Arabia Summit will be very social media friendly and we encourage those who are unable to make it to engage with us online.
KM: How is the Envision Arabia Summit different from other similar events?
The EAS is different in many ways. First it is an entirely youth-driven project and is not coming to you from an organization with an agenda or an established mandate. We want to bring youth together to give them a platform that can engage them in developing the Arab world.
The EAS is very content-centred, and the biggest element of the Summit is the content. We have brought world renowned experts and practitioners who have actually done something to improve the Arab world. The talks will not just be inspirational, but they will contain stories and experiences that can give youth necessary insights on the realities of working in the Arab world and the unique challenges that apply to that region. Our vision workshop moderators will not be giving lessons, but instead will be guiding a youth-led discussion. We have ensured that the Summit’s content will not be directed from the top down, but instead, it will be from the bottom up.
There will also be skill building seminars that will help youth delegates at the EAS learn how they can put their ideas into action. We will have seminars on adaptive leadership, idea development, social media in the Arab world, and the future of the ADI. These seminars will help delegates take action after the Summit.
Originally published in Kalimat, Issue 03, Fall 2011