As part of the Emerging Leaders in Pakistan program, the South Asia Center hosted a panel discussion with the 2012 Fellows on November 8. Four of the Fellows, Younas Chowdhry, a student life coordinator at Salamat International Campus for Advanced Studies, Lahore; Samreen Shahbaz, cofounder, editor, and contributor to Roshni Blog; Sadiqa Sultan, journalist and assistant program manager for the Baluchistan Boy Scouts Association and Mehjabeen Zameer, a fellow for Teach for Pakistan gave short presentations on their work in Pakistan. Dr. Fouzia Saeed, prominent social activist and visiting fellow, National Endowment for Democracy, provided commentary. All the Fellows contributed their unique insight to the challenges facing Pakistan today, with the discussion particularly focusing on education, minority rights, and freedom of speech in the country. The fellows shared their efforts and continuing goals in building a strong civil society in Pakistan.


The Atlantic Council’s ELP program seeks to support and empower the next generation of Pakistan’s civil society leaders. Fifteen fellows from across Pakistan are serving as the inaugural fellowship class, and will be traveling across the US for three weeks to meet policymakers, the business community, members of the diaspora, and other fellow civil society leaders. The goals of this trip are to create a space for these young leaders from diverse backgrounds to collaborate with each other, strengthen US-Pakistan people-to-people contact, and empower them with skills that will improve their impact at home, for the betterment of their country. We invite the DC community to meet our ELP Fellows, for a discussion on youth in Pakistan, and their role in creating a robust civil society, despite the many challenges their country faces.

A discussion with 2012 Emerging Leaders of Pakistan fellows:

Younas Chowdhry
Student Life Coordinator
Salamat International Campus for Advanced Studies, Lahore

Samreen Shahbaz
Independent Activist

Sadiqa Sultan
Journalist and Assistant Program Manager
Baluchistan Boy Scouts Association

Mehjabeen Zameer
Teach for Pakistan

Commentary by

Fouzia Saeed
Visiting Fellow
National Endowment for Democracy

Moderated by

Shuja Nawaz
Director, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council 

Mr. Younas Chowdhry is currently a Student Life Coordinator at the Salamat International Campus for Advanced Studies in Lahore, and a Teaching Assistant at the School for Social Science & Humanities at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). In 2009, while he was in college, Younas came up with an idea to start a street theater for underprivileged children, where he would teach the children of factory workers how to act and produce plays, as a means of creating cost effective entertainment for average laborers in the community. The plays he selected highlighted the problems and plight of the poor and other societal issues. The project is still in existence – called Laal Theatre. Since its inception, Laal Theatre has delivered 80 performances and reached more than 3000 people. Some of the actors, many of whom come from low-income communities, have been given the opportunity to perform at different platforms and have also been invited to other countries.

Ms. Samreen Shahbaz is an independent researcher and activist based in Lahore. Several years ago, she and her friends, through their concern about the radicalization of the middle class, started using social media to reach to these communities and to promote alternative, progressive discourses about various social, religious and political issues. At her day job, Samreen serves as a project coordinator and software quality assurance analyst in a software development company. Samreen is an advocate for internet freedom and is very interested in the use of social media as a tool for activism. She recently participated in WISCOMP’s (Women in Security, Conflict Management, and Peace) annual conflict transformation workshop in New Delhi, India.

Ms. Sadiqa Sultan is a female activist from Quetta, Balochistan, Sadiqa is part of the Hazara Shiite community, a persecuted minority group in Pakistan. As a student at the University of Balochistan, Sadiqa was active in promoting inter-community harmony and founded a welfare organization called Hazara Tameerians. After receiving her Masters in Journalism degree, she helped launch a community channel named Mechid TV to help bring awareness to issues being faced by the Hazaras. She is also currently serving as an Assistant Program Manager in the Baluchistan Boy Scouts Association. Her long term goals involve being an active journalist and continuing her activism on behalf of her community.

Ms. Mehjabeen Zameer, who grew up in Karachi and received her Bachelors degree in Computer Science at the prestigious Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), thought she would spend her career as a scientist, only to discover, after an internship, that it wasn’t her calling and that she was interested in making a tangible impact in her country. She applied and was accepted as a Fellow for Teach For Pakistan, an internationally recognized, highly selective fellowship of recent college graduates teaching in under-resourced communities and becoming life-long leaders in a wide range of careers. Mehjabeen is now a math teacher for 7th and 8th graders in the Sultanabad area of Karachi, where she teaches and motivates 220 female students on a daily basis, and challenges age-old conservative beliefs about girl’s education. In addition to her significant workload as a teacher, Mehjabeen works within the community to engage other teachers and parents in their children’s education, and she is working with her TFP colleagues in creating an apprenticeship program for the schools where they teach. In the future, Mehjabeen plans to pursue her Masters in Educational Policy, apply for the Fulbright Fellowship, and serve as an advocate for educational equity at the policy level, either through a think tank, at an NGO working on education, or as a civil servant in the Ministry of Education in Pakistan.

Dr. Fouzia Saeed is director of Mehergarh, an Islamabad-based human rights and democracy center that conducts training and research on youth activism and empowerment. A prominent Pakistani social activist and community leader with more than thirty years of work experience in the field of gender, human rights, and democracy, she was formerly the Pakistan country director for Action Aid, focusing on gender and governance at the regional level. Her work to develop a nationwide alliance against sexual harassment, her authorship of anti-harassment legislation, and her success in lobbying for its passage in 2010 have gained national recognition, with lessons for the region. Recognizing the important role that citizens can play in shaping public policy and fostering international exchange, Dr. Saeed is devoting her fellowship to exploring how civil society can influence legal and political decision-making in Pakistan and the United States.