Whether you define it as seva, khidmat, or serviço, the ethic of offering service has been at the foundation of many selfless institutions and individuals around the world. This ethic is seen within our community and beyond, which can help to foster an active and healthy civil society. Youth leaders from around the world have adapted this very mindset: enabling communities through ‘building bridges.’ This phrase of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s is vital to forming a knowledge society, in which best practices — such as the ones used by Shagufta, Aly, and Sara — are shared and implemented worldwide.

All three of these youth leaders attended Global Encounters (GE) in 2019, an international programme for Ismaili Muslim youth focused on service, leadership development, cultural exchange, and global citizenship. During GE, the youth leaders took part in service learning and approached issues using a ‘bottom-up’ approach, whereby the community they are working with is involved in every stage of any intervention, to ensure the longevity of projects. Here we take a look at what a few of them have done.

Shagufta Karim is a 17-year-old activist who lives in the mountainous regions of the Ghizer Valley in Gilgit, Pakistan. In this region, the taboo that surrounds menstrual hygiene is extreme, limiting the quantity and quality of education young women receive on this topic. Shagufta developed a strong desire to solve this issue and serve the community around her: she wanted to mobilise and empower her local community to tackle issues themselves and instill in them the ethic of self-reliance. As a result of this, Shagufta founded the Pakistan chapter of 'For The Menstruator,'  a non-profit organisation designed to destigmatise menstrual health in rural areas and ensure equitable access to sufficient care for women. For Shagufta, this is just the start of a journey. The words of Mawlana Hazar Imam that keep her going are ”the right to hope is the most powerful human motivation.” As a result, she hopes to continue destigmatising issues and ensuring equity in areas beyond Gilgit.

Aly Sultan is a social entrepreneur who lives in Papua New Guinea, where the eroding forces of globalisation are currently undermining local informal economies and enterprises. It is for this reason he founded Envision, a local not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping isolated communities in Papua New Guinea preserve and promote their diverse cultural heritage. By launching an online platform for global marketing of indigenous cultural products, Envision has helped organisations monetise their cottage industries' artistic output. For Aly, the saying 'think global, act local' has been integral to all his actions. Mawlana Hazar Imam emphasised in his keynote address at ICOMOS 2015, that “as societies are plunging into an increasingly bewildering future, cultural heritage is more critical today than ever before.” Aly hopes to empower the artisans in the communities he works with, so that cultural practises do not succumb to the shifting sands of time.

Sara Daredia lives in a rapidly westernising society, and as a result, she has seen her city, Geneva, face a cultural drain. Many people are unaware of literary art forms from Tajikistan, India, and other Asian countries and as a classical music enthusiast, Sara decided to become a classical literature teacher. She is inspired by the speech delivered by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Aga Khan Music Awards in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2019 where he noted that “listening to music, practicing music, sharing music, and performing music have long been an intimate part of life for communities across the world.” By coupling her passion for the performing arts and her desire to share cultures across borders, Sara has ensured a microscale preservation of cultural heritage. In the future, she would love to play a role in ensuring access to diverse cultural literature for geographies around the world.

Shagufta, Aly, and Sara are three inspiring youth leaders that have led with compassion, humility, integrity, and empathy. They have served communities beyond their own, ensuring that we put to action the pluralistic and tolerant mindset that Mawlana Hazar Imam emphasises.