The Atlantic Council Welcomes the 2014 Emerging Leaders of Pakistan

Meet the 2014 ELP Fellows

Adiya Amjad | Aftab Waheed | Danial Shah | Dawar Shah Akhtar | Hassan Raza | Ifrah Faiz | Jalila Haider | Mahnoor Ijaz Rathore | Muhammad Dawood Sheikh | Mukesh Meghwar | Nazish Rahmani | Rafia Saleem | Rahim Shah | | Sehyr Mirza | Yasir Abbas

WASHINGTON- The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, U.S. Embassy Islamabad, and Meridian International Center are pleased to announce the 2014 Emerging Leaders of Pakistan (ELP) Fellows. This Fellowship supports and empowers the next generation of Pakistan’s civil society leaders by creating a sustainable forum of collaboration.

This year’s contingent of fifteen dynamic civil society leaders, who were selected through a highly competitive process, embody Pakistan’s ethnic, religious, and geographic diversity. They are educators, entrepreneurs, journalists, social activists, social innovators, and community organizers who are working to solve some of Pakistan’s most pressing challenges. They are committed to their communities and country and represent a broad cross-section of Pakistani society. For all of them, this represents their first visit to the United States.

The ELP Fellows will visit the United States November 1-23, with stops in New York City; Washington, DC; Detroit; and the San Francisco/Bay Area. The goal of their visit is to encourage peer-to-peer collaboration, strengthen relations between Americans and Pakistanis, and empower the fellows with skills and innovative ideas through interactive meetings.

They will meet with high-level officials from the White House, US Department of State, Department of Defense, media, civil society, philanthropic organizations, and the private sector, including former US Secretary of State George P. Shultz; Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio; Bhairavi Desai of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance; Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen; Pakistan’s Ambassador Jalil Abbas Jilani; members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and foundations such as Carnegie Corporation of New York and Rockefeller Brothers Fund. They will also visit the United Nations, the New York Times, National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and National Endowment for Democracy, among others.

Adiya Amjad | Karachi, Sindh
CEO and Managing Director, Neeni’s Bakeshop
Senior Account Manager, Global Resource Management, The Citizens Foundation

Adiya-AmjadFrom an early age, Adiya was imbued with a passion for entrepreneurship. While studying at the Institute for Business Administration (IBA), she developed a business plan for a bakery. After graduation, she successfully turned her undergraduate academic business project into a family business. Her entrepreneurial spirit, along with her interactions with children from underprivileged communities, have driven her to seek an end to poverty in Pakistan through entrepreneurship. She feels that enterprising youth, if provided with the right skills, guidance, and encouragement, can go a long way to bring positive change in Pakistan by eradicating socio-economic inequity. Adiya has also transferred her learnings from running the bakery to her current role at The Citizens Foundation (TCF), where she leverages her business skills to facilitate donations to construct schools for children in low-income communities. Adiya plans to establish a platform where youth from low-income communities can be trained to develop their business ideas and become entrepreneurs in their own right.


Aftab Waheed| Sahiwal, Punjab
Founder and Director, Jago Theater

Aftab-WaheedAftab Waheed is a social entrepreneur with a humble upbringing in the remote area of Hujra Shah Moqeem in the Okara district of Punjab. He believes in the power of theater as a powerful tool to introduce new ideas and positively influencing attitudes and behavior. Through performing arts, Aftab connects youth to productive channels of change. He has been actively involved in several awareness campaigns in deprived communities, including the UNDP Gender Equity and Empowerment Program and the Pakistan’s Ministry of Health polio eradication campaign, to promote social development and community health to uplift marginalized rural communities in Punjab. After working with known organizations such as Rafi Pee r Theater, Punjab Lok Rahs, and Church World Service, he used his experiences to launch his own theater. Aptly named Jago (awakening), he uses this medium to address real problems and educate his community through a moderate voice. Overcoming many challenges, Aftab acquired a masters in Gender Studies and is an electronic resources research associate at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, where he conducts research on public health issues and women’s rights.


Danial Shah | Quetta, Balochistan
Photo-Journalist, Writer, and Blogger, iExplorePakistan

Danial-ShahBorn and raised in Quetta, Danial Shah is an adventure seeker and independent freelance travel and documentary photographer and writer. He has a dual passion for travel and storytelling and contributes to reports in media outlets such as Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune Magazine (Pakistan), Herald (Pakistan) and the Himal SouthAsian (Nepal). In 2010, Danial launched the first travel blog of Pakistan –, documenting his travels across the country’s landscape from south to north and capturing the diverse culture and landscape of the country. The blog not only challenges ethnocentric and stereotypical attitudes of people from different regions of Pakistan but also shares common and positive stories from his travels. His blog was recognized as the Travel Blogger of the Year (2011) by the Pakistan Blog Awards and he was also conferred with the Nishan-e-Azm Award (Symbol of Pride) by Azm-e-Alishan, Pakistan’s fastest-growing social movement for change. To celebrate ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity through photography and documentaries, Danial is working on his ongoing audio-visual project “The Ethnos Diaries.” He gives photography lessons to young girls and boys of different communities to develop tolerance and sensitivity towards diverse peoples, especially marginalized segments of the population. Danial ‘s interests include anthropology, culture, archeology, travel, landscape, and countless other natural beauties.


Dawar Shah Akhtar| Karachi, Sindh
Site Facilities Manager, Jones Lang LaSalle

Dawar-Shah-AkhtarDawar Shah Akhtar has a keen interest in leveraging successful business models for sustainability in philanthropic and educational projects. His skills and knowledge were instrumental in planning and designing The Aman Foundation’s long-term business strategy for a vocational education project – AMANTECH – where he measured human capital development and improvement in quality of life; developed a sustainable operational model for long-term growth and social impact; and galvanized institutional and social support for the project. He is a finance graduate from the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) in Karachi and volunteers his time and expertise with various projects, notably IBA’s National Talent Hunt Program and the Sindh Foundation Program, where he helps improve accessibility to quality education for underprivileged students from remote regions of Pa kistan. He believes that equal access to education can lead to economic empowerment for both the individual and the nation. Dawar has been affiliated with the Public Sector MBA program at IBA, which focuses on improved services through knowledge and skills relevant to non-governmental organizations and the public sector in Pakistan.


Hassan Raza | Karachi, Sindh
Candidate for Bachelors in Media Studies, Bahria University

Hassan-RazaHassan Raza is a human rights and social justice activist. He utilizes social media platforms to raise awareness about social injustice, religious intolerance, and discrimination; promote peaceful coexistence; and condemn radicalization and terrorism. An aspiring journalist, he is in his final year of studies working towards a degree in media studies and journalism. Hassan is a former trainee at Al Jazeera English and plans to begin a career as a professional journalist and a political analyst. He actively participates in forums to establish dialogue between religious communities, while simultaneously trying to promote a moderate image of Pakistan. He is currently working with Aaghaz-e-Dosti and Roobaroo – Beyond Borders, two projects initiated by the people of India and Pakistan that aim to bridge the gaps between the two countries and bring their people closer. The Times of India and Hindustan Times, two of the leading newspapers in India, covered his views on India-Pakistan relations. He has also appeared on different news channels, including Aaj News, Roze News, and Capital TV, to present his ideas on the importance of democracy and youth participation in politics. In 2013, Hassan attended the South Asian Peace Conference in New Delhi, as a member of the Pakistani delegation and participated as a panelist at the “Voice of Partition,” an event hosted by the US Embassy Islamabad. Hassan participated as a speaker, along with Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy and Raza Rumi, at the launch of Indo-Pakistan Calendar for Peace.


Ifrah Faiz| Peshawar, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
Protection Associate, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Ifrah-FaizIfrah joined the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in the General Duty Pilots (GDP) branch in 2008. While in the PAF, she was appointed sergeant and commanded a flight during her commissioning parade. She is a proficient solo pilot with experience on MFI-17 and K-8 aircrafts. She also qualified for the eleventh basic airborne course and trained as a paratrooper, completing five jumps from a C-130, making her the first female paratrooper of PAF’s GDP branch. After three years of service, she left PAF and joined the social sector. Ifrah now works for the empowerment of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in various capacities. She designed a database and analyzed results of a household survey for all refugee camps in Pakistan at the Afghan Commissionerate and also headed a United Nations women’s project for the Provincial Disaster Management Authority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) where she worked for the economic empowerment of women of KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. She has delivered motivational lectures for female students in multiple school systems and organizes events to encourage orphaned children to acquire education. Ifrah completed a Master’s of development studies from IM Sciences Peshawar in 2013 and currently works for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Alongside her social work, she is an avid sportswoman, having participated in the National games swimming competition, and won several medals playing badminton and table tennis.


Jalila Haider | Quetta, Baluchistan
Lawyer, Baluchistan Bar Council

Jalila-HaiderJalila Haider is the first female attorney of her Hazara community, an ethnic minority in Baluchistan, Pakistan that is frequently victimized and subject to discrimination. She specializes in defending women’s rights and provides free counseling and legal services to poverty-affected women on fair justice, extra-judicial killing, domestic violence, marriage disputes, sexual harassment, and property rights. She pleads for human rights and raises her voice against the forced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of missing persons and genocide of minorities of Pakistan. Jalila is also an active member in the National Commission of Justice and Peace, working to enact personal laws for minorities in Pakistan. In recognition of her service, Jalila was nominated by her community as an independent election candidate for the General Election in 2013. Jalila is a member of the Faiz Foundation, which promotes peace through culture harmony. She is also an active member of Baluchistan Youth Forum, working in collaboration with the Center for Research and Security Studies, to promote secularism, rule of law, and harmony among the people of Baluchistan and other provinces.


Mahnoor Ijaz Rathore | Lahore, Punjab
Co-founder and legal advisor, Chayn Pakistan

Mahnoor-Ijaz-RathoreA minority rights lawyer by training, Mahnoor Ijaz Rathore is a female activist and cofounder of Chayn Pakistan, a crowd-sourced website for women experiencing domestic violence in Pakistan. She focuses on relocating females who are suffering from domestic violence, counselling victimized females, creating job opportunities, and providing educational counselling to the youth of Pakistan. Mahnoor has a law degree from the University of London’s International Program and works as a full-time corporate lawyer. She is passionate about arts and is a power writer and keen photographer. She was recently invited to the International Criminal Law Seminar organized by the United Nations Inter-regional Crime and Research Institute (UNICRI).


Muhammad Dawood Sheikh| Lahore, Punjab
Founder and Managing Trustee, Young Development Trust

Muhammad-Dawood-SheikhMuhammad Dawood Sheikh is a Lahore-based social entrepreneur and youth activist. Recognizing that Pakistan needs a skilled and trained labor force for sustainable peace and development in the region, Muhammad established Young Development Trust in 2008. This organization aims to decrease unemployment, radicalization, and terrorism through education, with a primary focus on vocational skills. His dream to build a modern vocational university in Pakistan is already underway in Gujranwala, a town located at the crossroads of several industrial zones with an increasing unemployed youth population. This university will not only equip youth with vocational skills but also educate them about peace, human rights, and democracy. Despite facing initial resistance, Muhammad remained committed to his vision and initiated this project with limited resources and has since earned the su pport of several distinguished veterans from different fields in Pakistan who are partnering with him to bring this ambitious project to fruition. He has a Master’s degree in political science from the University of Punjab.


Mukesh Meghwar| Kapri Mori, Sindh
Deputy General Secretary, Progressive Youth Forum Pakistan

Mukesh-MeghwarMukesh Meghwar, originally from Kapri Mori in interior Sindh, is the first person from his family to seek higher education and is currently a third year psychology and law student at Sindh University in Jamshoro. With the support of his friends, he cofounded the first ever Hindu-rights based newspaper called Sandesh (meaning “the message”) to highlight the issues and discrimination faced by Hindus in Sindh. The paper is playing a big role in bringing issues from his minority community to the forefront in Pakistan’s mainstream media. He also serves as the deputy general secretary of Progressive Youth Forum (PYF) Pakistan, a political forum of young men and women striving to promote social democracy, secularism, and pluralism. Mukesh is a founding member of Social Democratic Youth Network (SDYN) Pakistan and is also on the board of directors of uElect Pakistan, a voter education campai gn. He has worked on domestic violence, gender justice and bonded labor issues and has been personally involved in the release of several families from bonded labor. Mukesh also works to highlight issues related to the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Previously, Mukesh worked as a regional coordinator with Mehergarh: A Center for Learning at its regional office in Hyderabad from 2008 to 2012, where he acquired experience in the development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of national and regional programs. Mukesh hopes to secure legislation for the Hindu community and work towards secularism.


Nazish Rahmani| Bahawalpur, Punjab
Young Parliamentary Associate, National Assembly of Pakistan

Nazish-RahmaniAlthough trained in business and economics, Nazish Rahmani discovered her true calling when she was selected for the prestigious Young Parliamentary Associate program. The highly selective initiative taps into the potential of Pakistan’s many young graduates by providing a cadre of junior experts to Parliamentary Committees, Secretariats, and the Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Services. She was further selected by opposition leader Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah to serve in his office within the National Assembly of Pakistan. Today her exposure ranges from whistle blowing on malpractices to dynamics of politics. She has contributed to drafting recommendations for Pakistan’s national security policy and amendments for the 2014-15 finance bill along with the privatization case hearing of the public accounts committee. Nazish also initiated discussions in the House on issues conc erning human rights, Millennium Development Goals, energy, security, water contamination, polio eradication, and taxes, among others. She believes that poor policies and the inability to implement them are an impediment to welfare. She therefore aspires to be a public policy expert and bring substantive change in society.


Rafia Saleem | Multan, Punjab
Environmental Activist and Producer of “Sabz Khawab”

Rafia-SaleemRafia Saleem’s passion for social change focuses largely on researching environmental issues and educating people on the importance of environmental protection. She regularly contributes to leading newspapers and blogs, and has two recognized research papers on youth and environmental issues to her credit. Her advocacy and activism has helped raise awareness about polluted drinking water in local public schools. Through her environmental booklet “ABC of Environment,” she has focused on disseminating environmental awareness among children and youth. She has also led court appeals against a garbage dump near a local girl’s school and currently scripts, produces, and presents an eco-centered radio program “Sabz Khawab” (Dreaming Green) on a local radio channel. In recognition of her continued endeavors, she has won many awards including the Presidential Aizaz-E-Sabqat (Award of Excellence) given by President Pervez Musharraf under the Ministry of Education, a Young Eco-Hero Award given by California-based NGO “Action for Nature,” and the Fatima Jinnah Memorial Gold Medal awarded by the Ministry of Women’s Development, Social Welfare and Special Education. Her dedicated efforts for environmental protection continue to help many in her country. Apart from her work on the environment, she is a chartered accountant by profession and works for a growing microfinance bank.


Muhammad Rahim Shah | Ghizer District, Gilgit-Baltistan
Vice President, Ghizer Social and Cultural Forum

Rahim-ShahRahim is from the Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan. He is passionate about preserving and promoting the rich indigenous mountain culture and art of his area, and optimistic about converting this heritage into a socioeconomic venture through social entrepreneurship. Rahim has been working with various civil society organizations to uplift his region in all aspects of development through philanthropy, advocacy, and volunteerism. He, along with his friends, founded Ghizer Social and Cultural Forum (GSCF), a non-denominational civil society organization that promotes indigenous artists by providing them access to platforms in the metropolises of Pakistan. GSCF collaborates with likeminded organizations to host cultural shows celebrating the musical diversity of his region. The organization also promotes educational development of the area by setting up libraries in local schools and organizing summer and winter camps for students. Rahim believes in networking for mutual growth and indigenous philanthropy. He aspires to create a peaceful and pluralistic mountain society where culture and art act as bonding forces that help overcome the drifts created by ethnic and sectarian differences. Currently, Rahim is vice-president of GSCF and an MPhil candidate at Pakistan Institute for Development Economics in Islamabad.


Sehyr Mirza | Lahore, Punjab
Journalist and Reporter, Dunya TV Lahore

Sehyr-MirzaSehyr Mirza is a journalist currently working with Dunya TV Lahore, a leading current affairs television channel in Pakistan. Her areas of expertise include art and literature, human rights, socio-political issues, gender, and South Asian affairs. Her work has appeared in media outlets such as DAWN, The News International, Viewpoint and Outlook India. She is also particularly interested in minority rights issues and has interviewed minority communities as part of her research. As part of the non-profit South Asian Writers and Artists Network (SAWAN), she has participated in organizing literary seminars and events celebrating the work of artis ts and writers in promoting peace and harmony by harnessing the positive energies of expressive arts. Sehyr also works with Social Awareness Media and Art Junction (SAMAAJ), a development communication organization that works in various traditional and contemporary mediums of arts and communications. She sees art as a uniting force between people irrespective of race, religion, caste, color, gender, ethnicity, or language. Through these organizations, Sehyr is participating in the mainstream process of peace at the people-to-people level. She is an Indo-Pak peace activist and is part of the Aman Ki Asha online resources team. Sehyr is a trained vocalist in classical Indian music, and has performed at several music festivals including the prestigious All Pakistan Music Conference. She was awarded first prize at the All Punjab Folk Music Festival held at Alhamra Arts Council in Lahore. She intends to make music for peace and social issues as a step towards bringing a positive change in society.


Yasir Abbas | Gilgit, Gilgit-Baltistan
Global Youth Governance Advisor, Restless Development UK

Yasir-AbbasYasir Abbas is from Gilgit in the northernmost, disputed territory of Pakistan. He is a vocal social and political activist, preaching democratic values and their implementation in Pakistani institutions, particularly with a focus on the diverse youth population. He has been associated in different capacities with key think tanks in Pakistan, including the Jinnah Institute and Pak-China Institute, and served as a youth foreign ministerin Youth Parliament Pakistan, a project of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT). In October 2013, Yasir represented Pakistan in the first ever Model United Nations Security Council Summit held in Baku, Azerbaijan where he was given an award for outstanding performance. He recently graduated from Bahria University Islamabad, where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in international relations and served as president of the Literary and Debating Society. Currently, Yasir works with Restless Development UK as its global youth governance adviser.


About the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan Fellowship Program

The Emerging Leaders of Pakistan Fellowship Program seeks to empower the next generation of Pakistan’s leaders. The program identifies, cultivates, and supports young people in Pakistan who have the potential of becoming future leaders by providing resources and opportunities to strengthen their engagement within civil society. It builds an online and in-person forum of engagement and collaboration for young leaders from Pakistan to discuss and make an impact on important issues, such as democracy, economic development, employment, and governance.

Each year, fifteen young leaders from Pakistan come to the United States to meet with policymakers, community leaders, diaspora communities, entrepreneurs, and regional experts, among others. An online forum facilitates continued idea exchange among participants and with the broader community in Pakistan, the region, and the world.
The Fellows are expected to utilize their new networks and resources to build and expand their own movements back in Pakistan. An online forum will continue to facilitate this collaboration, and the South Asia Center has on the ground partners in Pakistan who will complement this initiative through various types of long term support. They will join the first two classes of ELP Fellows as the alumni network continues to grow.

This project is made possible by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad through its partnership with the Meridian International Center. Conference needs during the selection process were sponsored by the Hashoo Group of Pakistan. Youth Engagement Services (YES) Network Pakistan is an on-the-ground partner.

For more information on the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan program, please visit the ELP website here. Media inquiries should be directed to