Agents of Change

9 July 2010

An international summit which aims to give young Muslims the skills, ideas and inspiration to become “agents of change” in their own communities begins in Cambridge this weekend. 

More than 80 people, from countries including Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and the UK, will arrive at Clare College, Cambridge, on Sunday, for the start of a two-week programme designed to help them launch projects in their own countries that will have an impact on issues of global concern.

The Summit has been organised by the Prince of Wales’ charitable initiative, Mosaic, and is being run in partnership with both the College and the University’s Centre of Islamic Studies.

The aim is to support people from Muslim communities around the world who are at an early stage in their careers, but have already demonstrated the ambition to launch action projects to benefit the societies in which they live.

It will teach them about how to take those ideas further, both by developing their leadership skills, and by providing them with a sense of the wider, global context in which they can make a difference.

In the process, it seeks to create an international network of young Muslim leaders who are actively engaged in programmes that transcend the cultural, gender and social divisions which in many cases still restrict individual progress in those countries and communities.

“We are aiming to bring together young people who have already demonstrated a concern with community issues, but haven’t been given the chance to connect with other, like-minded individuals,” John O’Brien, Managing Director of Mosaic, said.

“This Summit will give them the skills and support they need, and at the same time the opportunity to mix with people who have similar ideas, but come from an extraordinarily wide range of backgrounds. They return from the event with new hopes, aspirations and most importantly the sense that they are not alone in having them.”

This is the second year in which the Mosaic International Summit has taken place. The 2009 group included teachers, artists, designers, professionals, students, engineers and business leaders. This year, a similarly wide range of people from 17 different countries will be coming to Cambridge for the fortnight-long course.

As well as equipping participants to become active leaders within their communities, the programme is designed to introduce them to a wider, global context. The workshops, activities and lectures that take place in the first week cover issues such as environmental sustainability, global poverty and inter-cultural relations.

This aims to encourage the delegates to begin thinking about how the small differences they make at home can contribute to addressing problems on a much wider scale. The second week is then spent on regional study tours, during which the participants have the chance to visit projects in the UK which bring to life the issues that have been discussed.

From a religious perspective, the programme applies ideas about community leadership to the wider concept of the “Ummah” – the Muslim notion of an international community of believers that transcends borders and social divisions.

Significantly, the summit brings together people who come not just from different countries, but from cultural contexts which, in some of those countries, would rarely mix. In this sense, the programme functions as a social leveller for its participants, whether they come from a wealthy setting in the Gulf states, or a much humbler background in the Indian subcontinent.

Many of last year’s delegates have already gone on to set up new projects, or involve themselves in existing ones. These include environmental initiatives in Dhaka, programmes working with street children in Pakistan, the creation of a women’s network in Saudi Arabia, a consultancy service for youth leaders in Turkey, and a mobile library scheme in Bahrain.

Professor Yasir Suleiman, director of the University of Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies, said: “One of the most striking aspects of the Summit is that it is not just a chance to learn about leadership and some of these global challenges, but, for all of its participants, it also represents a cultural journey.”

“Within their own countries, many of the delegates’ relationships would not necessarily be equal. Some are very well travelled, but others will never have been outside their own country before. At the summit, their relationship will immediately be levelled. The journey for them is one not only in space, but in society and psychology, in which they meet for the first time as equals. We are looking forward to welcoming them and know that it will be a definitive experience for everyone involved.”