Globalized and Mobilized: Redefining Youth Leadership

An excerpt of opening remarks by Sara Rahim, World Learning Program Development Associate and alumna of SIT Study Abroad.

Sara Rahim addresses the audience at World Learning’s panel discussion at Arena Stage in Washington, DC.

World Learning has been advancing leadership for over 80 years through our education and exchange programs, including SIT Study Abroad, SIT Graduate Institute, International Honors Program, and the Experiment in International Living. We also have global development programs in over 60 countries. We bring people from around the world to study everything from global health to migration to human rights.

One common thread throughout our diverse programs is that they are all focused on creating a new generation of global leaders. This brings up the question, “What does it mean to be a leader?”

Every day, World Learning is redefining youth leadership and tonight we will be sharing how we are doing it.

My name is Sara Rahim. I am an SIT alumna, and I am now serving as a Program Development Associate at World Learning. For me, my definition of youth leadership is bound in my commitment to interreligious dialogue and action. Growing up as a Pakistani American Muslim woman in a post 9/11 America has made me to re-evaluate what my own faith means to me. Too often, we have seen religion misused as an instrument for division and injustice, betraying the very ideals and teachings that lie at the heart of the world’s great traditions. However, I believe that young people can change that narrative.

Youth leadership has meant learning to voice my values, engaging with others across faith and non-faith traditions, and acting on those shared values to improve our own communities.

Through developing interfaith action campaigns across the country, and representing my interfaith mission as a United Nations Youth Representative, I firmly believe that faith can serve as a powerful tool to build bridges across diverse traditions.

Sara Rahim in Morocco.

The intersectionality of my own identity forced me to challenge myself out of my comfort zone. I’ll never forget the moment I challenged myself by deciding to spend a semester abroad with SIT, studying migration and transnational identity in Morocco. I later returned to Morocco as an Alice Rowan Swanson Fellow to offer sexual health education workshops to female migrants. I am now an advocate for youth education and health literacy.

As profound as my experience was, it wasn’t unique. We are creating these experiences for young people every year through programs like: The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP); The Youth Ambassadors Program with South America; The Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program; EducationUSA Academy; The Kosovo Transformational Leaders Program.

Just to name a few.

Through our global programs, we are addressing critical international needs through non-traditional ways. As I learned through my own SIT experience, you learn by doing. Our emerging leaders are educated on critical issues, and then equipped with the skillsets to design effective solutions.

My experiences abroad, like many other youth alumni, have taught me what it means to work in solidarity with communities, and what it means to elevate unheard voices.

Through our homestays, we have also witnessed the value of learning to live together and learning to listen.

World Learning has been the pioneer of exchange, and we have not shied away from refocusing the lens. We are constantly redefining how we look at exchanges, with programs like IYLEP digital and virtual formats to address the needs of today.