Students representing 12 nationalities from 21 schools, 10 cities, and four countries across the GCC have received life-changing mentoring from Ivy League college students, as part of the Harvard Youth Lead the Change (YLC) programme, staged recently in Dubai. Organised by the university admissions counselling institute, UniHawk, it was the first time that the highly selective youth leadership development conference has been held in the region, following 28 previous editions across eight different countries.
The group of 67 young, aspiring leaders took part in the prestigious three-day event, which developed participants’ leadership, empathy, and problem-solving skills to help them contribute to a project that could change the world around them in some way. The programme of presentations, workshops, case studies, and project-based exercises also empowered students to recognise their own strengths and to define goals that would help them identify the career, subjects, and universities that would suit them in the future.
Hosted at GEMS New Millennium School Al Khail, the transformational programme saw students work in mentor-led groups to develop social change projects that would address some of the most pressing youth-related issues. Participants were mentored by 10 current Harvard University students representing six different nationalities, and worked collaboratively in multicultural, interdisciplinary teams, to build the confidence and skills to drive progress within their own communities.
Students from 21 schools representing 12 nationalities join highly selective social change initiative
Curated by the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, the programme also provided students with theoretical and practical insights into the fundamentals of leadership, developing their capabilities in communication, negotiation, teamwork, problem-solving, organisation and planning. Sharing an understanding of the nuances of growing up in the 21st century, the mentors passed on the invaluable skills and experience they have gathered at a young age, to participants as young as 13 years old.
The conference was staged in Dubai in partnership with the education firm, The Big Red Group, based in India and founded by Rishi Jalan. Speaking about bringing the event to the region for the first time, UniHawk’s founder, Varun Jain, said: “It was an honour to host mentors from the Leadership Institute at Harvard for this prestigious programme. During the three days, I could visibly see the positive impact each activity had on the students. These successes have given us further impetus in our mission to drive value-added experiences to help students achieve their education goals.”
The group of 67 young, aspiring leaders took part in the prestigious three-day event
Among the students participating from the UAE was 17-year-old Sara AlRemeithi from AlIttihad Private School, who explained her motivation to join the programme. She said: “I have always wanted to hone my leadership skills, and this was a unique opportunity for me to gain exposure to international mentors, meet peers from different backgrounds here in the UAE, and work collaboratively to design ideas for positive social change.
“The programme has far exceeded my expectations; I have been able to improve my critical thinking and problem-solving skills and gained a real insight into tackling social challenges. It has also given me insights into the characteristics of good leadership in a global context, which will help me as I prepare for life at university and beyond.”
Bringing together youth from across the GCC, including 27 students from Saudi Arabia, the region’s first edition of the conference also proved to be an enlightening experience for the Harvard delegation. Mentor and current Chair of the YLC programme, junior psychology student, Ethan Kee, said: “The students in Dubai have been engaging and inquisitive around the skills and mindset of leadership, and moreover, they have taught us as mentors a great deal through the different insights and perspectives they bring from life in this part of the world.”
The finale of the programme saw the student groups present their social project to peers, mentors, and family members
The finale of the programme saw the student groups present their social project to peers, mentors, and family members. Tackling global challenges such as plastic pollution, youth mental health, and food security, the students set out their own vision to confront the problem and proposed practical solutions to lead change in society.
Reflecting on the experience, 14-year-old Layan Eyas Zakri, from Jeddah Private School, said: “This journey has changed me for the better and I have grown personally within just three days, learning how good leadership can really make changes for the better.”
The programme culminated with the presentation of completion certificates awarded by the Leadership Institute at Harvard. All participants of the programme now have the opportunity to receive mentorship for an entire year, to help implement their project and navigate their future skills development.