Madiha Luqman Shaikh is representing the UAE at the ongoing Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington D.C. She spoke to Notes a week before she left for the US

Madiha Luqman Shaikh
Twenty minutes into the interview and Madiha Luqman Shaikh had shred her tissue and was obviously getting very restless as she twisted about in her chair.

Another five minutes of this and like a teacher, fixing a beady eye on a fidgety pupil, I asked if she was bored with answering questions.

"No," she answered. "It's just that I find it difficult to sit still. I like moving around. And that's why I am dreading the 14-hour flight to Washington D.C."

In a week's time, Madiha was due in the US to attend the Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) an annual leadership programme that brings together about 300 top students in the 16 to 18 age bracket from some 75 countries.

Madiha's profile, highlighting her academic and extracurricular activities, had been posted on the US College Board website - a requirement when a student sits for a SAT test. She received an invitation to participate in the GYLC based on it.

For Madiha, GYLC is a first in more ways than one. "It is the first time I will be stepping out on my own," she said. She hopes it will bring her closer to her ambition of forging a career in diplomacy.

Although Pakistani, Madiha was born and brought up in the UAE.

"I probably know more about the UAE than Pakistan," said the 18-year-old, who loves blogging, has taken part in extracurricular activities ranging from a membership in a cooking club, to mountain climbing and trekking, and has been school prefect despite not being very "rule-oriented" herself.

At GYLC, she is representing the UAE. Like all participants, she has been asked to carry with her items unique to the country and representative of its culture.

"I am taking ethnic jewellery, jalabiyas and bukhoor (traditional incense) that my UAE national friends have lent me." Madiha will be called upon to elaborate on the historical and traditional significance of the items.

"I would like to show that even though the UAE has developed so much, it is holding on to its culture and traditions," she said.

Preserving one's culture and sense of identity is big for Madiha. For her wearing a salwar kameez for instance is a cultural statement. Standing out in a crowd is a need, being different and unique has always propelled her.

"That is probably both my positive and negative trait - negative because you cannot always swim against the tide.

"The youth here feel threatened that if they don't follow the trend, then they will be left out. That's not true. If you achieve something by sticking to your identity, then the success you have achieved will be even more significant. You earn the other person's respect and also make your country proud."

Madiha also feels duty bound to portray the real face of the Pakistani woman.

"There is a negative image of the Pakistani woman as oppressed and overprotected. That's so not true. That's only a small percentage in the rural areas. Otherwise Pakistani women are among the strongest and most confident, who stand up for themselves."


Madiha credits her parents for the freedom they have given her and her younger brother and sister to explore avenues and find their calling in life.

Her economics teacher at St Mary's Catholic High School, Dubai, where Madiha completed her A-levels, acted as a mentor instilling in her a love for economics and encouraging her to give lectures to her juniors about the challenges that developing countries face.

She is particularly galled by the fact that most of these countries have so much in terms of natural and human resources, but remain behind in most development indices.

"We have to stop complaining and learn to empower ourselves," said Madiha. "It's a lesson we should learn from the UAE."

This is why she admires General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Minister of Defence, as a visionary leader.

At the GYLC, where participants will be asked to name an international leader they admire, Madiha will put forward his name and draw attention to how he has contributed to putting his country on the world map.

Madiha believes GYLC will help crystallise her plans of pursuing international relations, which she hopes to do at either one of two world-renowned institutions offering the programme in the US - George Washington University and Georgetown University.

Her life is right now probably divided between pre and post-GYLC. "You can't say where circumstances take you," she said as the interview draws to a close and she is rid of her restricting chair.

The Global Young Leaders Conference
Sponsored by the US Congressional Youth Leadership Council, the programme helps mould future global leaders by enhancing their cultural understanding and by giving them a comprehensive view of international politics in actual practice.

Participants take part in debates and discussions and speak on issues they are passionate about. They are taken for visits to the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the US State Department …. They interact with government officials, diplomats, human rights activists and academicians.

Students are invited or nominated for the programme based on their academic and extracurricular achievements. It is up to them to raise funds to pay for the 12-day session.