Leading from Youth: Malala Yousafzai at the Indian Student Parliament

Inspiration: it’s one of the side effects for leaders who have survived dark times. Malala Yousafzai shared her message  at Bharatiya Chhatra Sansad, the Indian Student Parliament, this month in Pune. Although she had been scheduled to attend, the Sakal Times reported that security concerns forced her to make her visit via the internet. She has become a headliner — almost a figurehead –  representing Muslim women activists, no longer “simple Malala,” the girl who survived. In addition to many inspiring leaders from corporate, spiritual, governmental and non-profit arenas, Malala’s video was part of the opening ceremony.
Malala's picture from Glamour Magazine

Malala’s picture from Glamour Magazine

Engineering student Vinita Tibdewal, who attended the convention at the MIT campus in Pune, said: “I got goosebumps watching Malala’s video. If she could emerge as a champion of girls education from a country like Pakistan, we girls, who have far better opportunities and avenues available before us, should make better use of it.” (Read more from this Indian Express feature...)

The themes of this year’s gathering, which attracted 10,000 students, were: Preventing Crime Against Women, What Young India Wants, Is Consumerism Consuming India?, Is Democracy for Sale?, Art as Unifier, Innovative Education and Healthy Development. (See the bi-lingual video on YouTube, covering 9 hours of the conference…)

It is worth scanning through this video to find events of interest, because there are fascinating moments. There is also an interesting tension between youthful idealism and more conservative viewpoints. On one hand, there is a celebration of capitalism, established development strategies, and leadership by older activists, established politicians and business people. On the other, there is a critique of consumerism and capitalism, business as usual, and problematic development strategies. Young speakers call for activism and challenge; older speakers tend talk about history and theories. No surprise there…

audience members applaud at this year's conference

audience members applaud at this year’s conference

But there are remarkable stories from everyone, including discussions of prison conditions, environmental issues, consumerist trances, and interventions by girls and women to change government policies. On the whole, there is a call for critical thinking and discernment, and deeper engagement of students to transform India. In many ways, the Bharatiya Chhatra Sansad is like any of these educational events — a combination of propoganda and idealism, marked by a series of speakers and Q&A sessions. In other ways, it marked a space of possibility, a place for leadership development on many levels.

Most important had to be the leadership development and inspirations that happened between the students attending, and in the private conversations between the older leaders and the up-and-coming leaders. This is always the case with educational projects — we imagine that it is our teaching that is the big event, because we measure our effectiveness with tests and papers and responses to the ideas we share. Our lectures can be recorded, and there’s always an element of “trying to please” when audiences participate in public events.
But it is the hidden revolution that matters, the transformative connections between students that we can’t measure easily. This is the source of the Malala Yousafzais of the world — the idealistic, heroic and pragmatic challenges from students themselves. They’re perhaps inspired by teachings, but more likely come from the urgency and questioning of youth.

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