“We had a great first week in DC with the Saudi students. They are an extremely impressive, likable and sincere group, and we have really been enjoying our time with them. We have also received many comments from the people who have interacted with them about how they have challenged their perceptions of Saudis.”— Matt Lakenbach, Senior Program Officer, Legacy International
Discussing Leadership with leaders
At the Leadership Clinic, Legacy Founder and President, J.E. Rash gave the keynote address to 34 newly arrived participants of the Saudi Youth Leadership and Exchange Program (SYLEP). He spoke to them about Legacy’s commitment to sustained involvement with participants in its programs, with examples of previous projects in community health and legislative development in North Africa and vignettes about several follow-on projects that our alumni have launched that have expanded after the formal conclusion of the program. He defined the role of young people in a changing world, and the role of leadership and service in a world that is hungry for it. He touched on social media and the global connectedness of our world. Many of the students were quite moved by his remarks and this set the tone for the coming days as the group reflected on their goals and intentions.
Interaction with Successful Young Leaders from Washington DC area
They actively enjoyed the moderated panel discussion with young leaders who spoke about different models of engagement. The guests were Yvonne Siu Turner, Senior Manager, Corporate Resources at Points of Light and Board Member of Volunteer Fairfax, Asma Mirza, Performance Manager at OMB and founding member of the Muslim Students Association, Carlos Reyes, Chairman of the Board of Young Americans for Diplomatic Leadership, which empowers young leaders, and former facilitator for an Iraq Youth Program for Sister Cities International, and John McCarthy, Executive Director of Future Civic Leaders, which provides young people with a tool kit to become active community members.
The panelists shared their backgrounds and wisdom on a variety of topics, including how they got involved in community service, how their organizations use social media, and how they develop young leaders. They described launching organizations and initiatives and provided the group with practical advice for how to get started. The Saudi participants had lots of questions for the speakers.
Participants enjoyed an interactive training and discussion with Rama Chikaki, founder of Barakabits.com and Baraka Advisors. Rama touched on several subjects include effective messaging, social media, and project design. Through a series of examples, she talked about the importance of a positive message and engagement with one’s target audience.
Networking Dinner at Busboys and Poets Restaurant
One evening the group had a networking dinner at Busboys and Poets with area professionals. Participants enjoyed a dinner and inspirational remarks from seven area professionals, and had lots of opportunities for engagement.
- Andy Shallal, Founder and Owner of Busboys and Poets spoke about creating community and promoting justice and equality.
- Bonita McGee, Public Health Analyst, Washington, DC, Department of Health Education, experienced with Muslim Family Services as a domestic violence prevention volunteer spoke about her volunteer work in the Muslim community and spoke about pursuing one’s passion.
- Jason Scott, Disaster Services Program Officer at Corporation for National Services is an experienced social media professional and spoke about the “social” aspects of social media, including interacting with one’s community and engaging back and forth with folllowers to build support for projects.
- Rama Chakaki, Founder and CEO of Barakabits and Barak Advisors spoke about her personal journey growing up in Saudi Arabia and her commitment to positive work that makes a difference through her companies. She currently lives in DC and in the UAE.
- Emily Schlichting, Staff Assistant, US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee spoke about having a rare disease and her experience as a campus volunteer and advocate working for change at the University of Nebraska and beyond, and her experience as a board member for several nonprofits.
- Andy MacCracken, Executive Director of the National Campus Leadership Council is a recent graduate of American University, with an MA in Public Administration. He was the President of the AU Student Government. His organization is a coalition of more than 275 student body presidents, which is active on issues impacting young people across the country. The night before our dinner Andy introduced President Obama at an event at the White House about community service.
- J. Saleh Williams, Government Affairs Representative, Islamic Relief USA spoke about community service among the Muslim community in the US, the history of Muslim participation in US society, and thanked the participants for the good work they are doing.
Seeing Service in Action
All 34 participants were hosted at theCorporation for National and Community Service, which runs programs including AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps, the Social Innovation Fund, and the Volunteer Generation Fund. CNCS conducts research into best practices in the volunteer sector and provides training and funding for volunteer projects at thousands of sites across the country.The group learned about their programs and asked questions about best practices in volunteerism in the United States, looking at how to apply them upon returning home.
Following the CNCS visit, the group divided into three city groups, and each group visited one of three non-profit organizations in the city with active volunteer initiatives. All three are independent organizations receive a portion of their current funding through CNSS.
Changing perceptions about poverty and diversity
The group toured “off the beaten path” areas of Washington, DC that are often overlooked. They noted the lack of ethnic diversity, and commented that the poor in their country were even worse off. They noted that there were pockets of relative vitality and prosperity mixed in among the poorer neighborhoods. After visiting THEARC, the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Center in Anacostia, they met with Charlene Jones, a program coordinator, and the Saudis asked lots of questions about their funding, and their reach.
They also visited the Southwest Waterfront where they learned that while the SW Waterfront-area is largely thriving today, it was previously a notorious slum area near the Capitol, and the revitalization movement caused many of the poor people to flee to Anacostia, causing the population there to shift from predominantly white to almost entirely African American within ten years. The tour included extensive narration about the different challenges facing local communities. Several in the group commented that they wouldn’t have believed this part of DC existed if they hadn’t seen it themselves.
The Saudi Young Leaders Exchange Program (SYLEP) is initiated and supported by the Embassy of the United States in Saudi Arabia and to give participants the opportunity to develop as leaders, learn practical skills and observe effective volunteerism and community service strategies in the United States. All are undergraduate university students in their first through third year of study who have demonstrated leadership abilities in their schools and communities.