A select group of 50 pupils representing 13 nationalities have been on a transformational journey from high school students to youth leaders during a second GCC edition of the prestigious Harvard Youth Lead the Change (YLC) programme, staged recently in Dubai. Organised once again by university admissions counselling institute, UniHawk, participants from 36 schools received life-changing mentoring from eight students from the Ivy League college, as part of the highly selective youth leadership development initiative.
Hosted at GEMS New Millennium School Al Khail, the five-day conference saw the aspiring leaders take part in a range of workshops, case-studies, and project-based activities to promote self-reflection, build confidence, and develop their problem-solving and presentation skills. Alongside the unique programme of activities, the diverse group of 13 to 17 year-olds collaborated within multicultural, interdisciplinary teams, to build eight social impact projects to drive progress in their own communities.
High school students become youth leaders through elite mentorship programme
The culmination of the leadership journey saw each student take part in a presentation to showcase their projects to their peers, mentors, and family members. Tackling societal issues such as mental health and wellbeing, plastic waste management, access to education, and the refugee crisis, the students demonstrated their leadership credentials by outlining practical solutions to help change the world around them for the better.
Among the Harvard mentors supporting the students’ transformational journey was fourth year economics and statistics major, Natalia Cardenas. She revealed, “At the beginning of the week most of the students were quite reserved and apprehensive about sharing their opinions on these challenging conversations. The programme is structured to break down these fears and create a platform where participant can have open discussions, explore fresh perspectives, and develop critical leadership skills such as empathy and objectivity. We are very proud to see how the students have grown and demonstrated their capacity to lead positive social change through innovation.”
Students demonstrated their leadership credentials by outlining practical solutions to help change the world around them for the better
One of the UAE-based participants in the programme was Emirati student, Mariam Aljneibi, a Year 12 pupil at Applied Technology High School, Abu Dhabi. She said, “I believe that the soft skills that make a good leader are critical for my generation, in order to find our way in life. Throughout this programme we have been challenged to think from different perspectives and work collaboratively, even if we disagree. This experience has helped me to come out of my shell and to develop essential life skills, in a fun and interactive way.”
Sharing his reflections on the programme, 16-year-old Cambridge International School student, Anshuman Satish, said, “This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that has built my confidence and broadened my mind. The mentors created a vibrant, open environment where we were encouraged to express our opinions, learn to read each other, and collaborate as equals on projects of great importance to society. With the outstanding support of my colleagues and mentors, I’ve developed new skills that will help me as I embark on the pathway to university.”
Created by professors at the Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and the Harvard School of Education, the YLC programme is delivered around the world by student mentors who share an understanding of the nuances of growing up in the 21st century. All participants are awarded completion certificates from the Leadership Institute at Harvard and have the opportunity to receive mentorship for an entire year, to help implement their project and develop their skills further.
”With the outstanding support of my colleagues and mentors, I’ve developed new skills that will help me as I embark on the pathway to university”
Speaking about the value of the experience, UniHawk’s Founder and CEO, Varun Jain, said, “The YLC programme is a unique opportunity for ambitious students to start their leadership journey. We saw the immense boost in skills and confidence that participants gained from last year’s programme, and we wanted to offer this experience to more students in the region. As well as gaining theoretical and practical insights into the fundamentals of leadership, participants have had the privilege to practice key skills in communication, negotiation, teamwork and problem-solving under the guidance of students from an elite international university.”
Organised in partnership with India-based education firm, The Big Red Group, this year’s five-day conference built on the three-day programme staged in December last year. The event welcomed students from six countries, with participants travelling from as far afield as Vietnam to take part in the exclusive leadership development programme.