The Harvard University campus, a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Imagine the boardroom of a multinational pharmaceutical company, where a mighty clash of ideology is being played out: Should the price of a life-saving drug for a cardiovascular disease, that sells for $16,000, be reduced to just $12 — thereby making it affordable to the man on the street?

Profiteering vs corporate social responsibility: Usual slugfest for an MNC boardroom, right?

Or for that matter, consider this debate: Should genetically modified organisms be the world’s answer to hunger alleviation?

Now consider these sequences as mock presentations by groups of students who are yet to cross the threshold of high school — debating, brainstorming ethical practice in businesses that touch the lives of millions.

Sounds innovative?

That’s what the Youth Lead the Change (YLC) programme is: Being innovative and original in thought, content and presentation of problem-solving modules that can help future entrepreneurs and harbingers of social change hone their skills in leadership, teamwork, ideation and collaboration.

Conducted by mentors from Harvard University, the second edition of the Dubai Chapter of YLC — a joint initiative by UAE-based Amalthea Capital and The Education Advisory — was held from January 3-5. Sixty bright young minds, carefully chosen from 27 schools across the country, got an opportunity to rub shoulders with five Harvard mentors — Varoun Gulati, Amanda Westort, Dennis Kim, Albie Giandomenico and Dario Zarrabian — in an attempt to empower themselves through exchange of ideas and assimilation of thought, learning and inference.

Speaking to Gulf News, Niti Kewalramani, founder of The Education Advisory, said: “This is usually a paid-for workshop everywhere else in the world. But by removing such [financial] barriers to participation, the UAE chapter makes it fair and equitable to all students.”

Shahmeer Naqvi, a student of GEMS Wellington Academy in Silicon Oasis engages the audience during the YLC 2019 workshop in Dubai. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

For Karan Kumar, himself a Harvard Business School alumnus and founder and CEO of Amalthea Capital, interacting with UAE students through the YLC platform was quite an enriching experience. “Listening to these students express their thoughts is such a revelation. I’m humbled by their level of knowledge and understanding of global issues,” Kumar said.

Life lessons, made easy:

To ensure that the benefits of an Ivy League association are not restricted to the limited time frame of a workshop, Amalthea Capital, organisers of YLC Dubai Chapter, will be funding the implementation of one social-change idea — presented by the students during the workshop — over the next 12 months. One of the Harvard mentors will select a topic from among the presentations made by the students at YLC Dubai Chapter, 2019, and will oversee the implementation of the idea in real life over a one-year period.

“Thinking big and firing the passion to be a social change-maker should not be restricted to a workshop only, but these should be part and parcel of life lessons. As organisers, we would like to take things beyond the workshop and help students make a real contribution to society,” Kumar told Gulf News.

Harvard mentors on UAE students:

Varoun Gulati, Darrio Zarabian, Niti Kewalramani
Varoun Gulati, Darrio Zarabian, Niti Kewalramani, Amanda Westort, Dennis Kim, Albie Giandomenico and Karan Kumar after the event. Image Credit: Sanjib Kumar Das/Gulf News

Amanda Westort: My biggest takeaway as a mentor from the Dubai Chapter is to see how motivated and passionate about social change the Dubai students are. Everyone was extremely engaged in their projects.”

Varoun Gulati: It is incredibly rewarding for me to see how some of the more reserved and shy students have become dynamic and impassioned group leaders by the end of the three-day programme in Dubai.

Dennis Kim: There are students from so many different nationalities here: Indians, Pakistanis, Koreans, British … This allows free thinking. The cultural cohesion here reflects on the way students think.

Albie Giandomenico: The ability to think independently, work in a team, communicate ideas better are what we have noticed here. The students really want to bring about a change in their thought process.

Dario Zarrabian: The cultural aspect sets UAE kids apart. Moreover, they are focused on the fact that to bring about any real change to the world around us, we ought to change ourselves first.

Vox pop, from students: 
‘One small step to a big impact’

Veer Vohra (Year XI, Dubai College):

Veer Vohra
Veer Vohra Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

This workshop has taught me that in order to do something big in life, one need not start with a huge impact. You can start with something small and yet go on to make a big impact.

‘Making friends, honing leadership skills’

Alessandro Calvaresi (Grade XI, North London Collegiate School):

Alessandro Calvaresi
Alessandro Calvaresi Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

One of the biggest takeaways for me is being able to hone leadership skills. Secondly, I got to interact with a lot of people who weren’t my friends really. They were absolute strangers and yet I managed to bond with them.

‘YLC has made me feel empowered’

Shizah Kashmir (Year 12, Gems Wellington Academy, Silicon Oasis):

Shizah Kashmir
Shizah Kashmir Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

The YLC conference is very action-provoking. It has taught me that if I’m passionate about something I must push harder and try and be an achiever even at an early age. That way, YLC has made me feel empowered.

‘Be passionate about what you do’

Adithyan Rajan (Grade 11, JSS International School):

Adithyan Rajan
Adithyan Rajan Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

You ought to be passionate about learning and about what you want to do in life. This workshop encourages you to be passionate. My YLC mentor Varoun Gulati is an entrepreneur himself and he told us why it’s important in life to take risks.