Inspirational Men Stories from Pakistan

Empowering youth to become changemakers in Pakistan

What happens when we tap into the immense potential of the young minds. Add that with opportunities, financial aid and right guidance. We get a whole new generation of dedicated, strong, focused changemakers who are working towards the larger good of the society. Here is how one made kickstarted this revolution in Pakistan. Read our special cross border story.

In the bustling landscape of Pakistan’s social enterprises, one name stands out for its unique approach to youth engagement and empowerment – Ali Raza Khan, the founder of the Youth Engagement Services (YES) Network. Established in 2002, YES Network isn’t just another charitable organisation; it’s a social enterprise with a mission to recognise and harness the power of young people as change makers. Through a trust-based approach that focuses on enabling the youth to become producers of social and economic growth, rather than mere consumers, Ali Raza Khan has created a model that has had a profound impact on the country’s youth development landscape. 

YES Network operates on a simple yet powerful philosophy: change making is the biggest deficit in both educational institutions and society at large. Ali Raza Khan is on a mission to change this narrative and redefine the notion of success for young individuals. He believes in providing young people with the opportunity to step into the shoes of change makers and contribute positively to their communities.

As he states, “I do not throw money at the problem, I just follow a four-step heart-based, trust-based methodology to activate people as change makers.”

Seeding the Idea of Change 

Ali Raza Khan’s journey towards founding YES Network wasn’t a linear path. With a background in political science, he stumbled upon his calling during his early career with a non-profit organisation, Family Planning, focused on reproductive health. “That job basically set me up for what I am doing now.” He travelled across the country, met thousands of young people, got first hand knowledge of their deprivation and their sufferings. However, it was a transformative encounter with a passionate young man named Sami Udai, from a migrant community from Bangladesh, that altered his perspective. The realisation that real change required understanding and collaboration with communities, rather than imposing preconceived agendas, marked a turning point. 

Collaborating closely with Sami, Ali Raza Khan embarked on a mission to set up a school for the children of that community. In his endeavour he was helped and aided by an overlooked demographic: girls who had only received partial education and hadn’t progressed beyond the metric level (ages 9 to 16). This endeavour gained traction because these girls, unlike their male counterparts, were available due to societal dynamics that sent boys to work. Empowering them, Ali and Sami enlisted these girls to establish makeshift schools in vacant spaces.Remarkably, these girls—often unseen—orchestrated the establishment of schools, rallying around 400 children. Their roles extended beyond teaching; they became administrators and even resumed their own education.

This experience stirred a question within Khan: What propelled these girls, despite their limited education and privileges, to take such impactful actions?

This query delved into the core of their motivation and the driving force behind their actions. 

Khan’s approach thus evolved from the ground up, ignited by his interactions with marginalised communities and the individuals he aimed to serve. He discovered that tapping into the latent potential of these young people required trust, empowerment, and recognition of their intrinsic capabilities. His experiences set the stage for reimagining the very definition of success among the youth.

The Beginning 

In 2009, Ali Raza Khan presented his concept to Faisal Ijaz Khan, the then head of Punjab Vocational Training Council (PVTC), a state-run institution. PVTC annually supported marginalised individuals through charitable initiatives. Ali proposed an innovative approach: empowering impoverished youth by granting them funds for entrepreneurial ventures. Despite uncertainty around the model, Faisal Ijaz Khan agreed to a trial.

However, doubts arose due to these youngsters’ disadvantaged backgrounds. Top authorities questioned the feasibility, fearing potential losses. Undeterred, Ali offered to bear any losses and requested a chance to work with the youth. He secured agreement from PVTC’s leadership and requested their endorsement for active participation. A preliminary session was arranged to introduce the idea. 

A formal letter was sent to PVTC-affiliated institutions, yielding interest from 79 establishments. Ali’s institution invested $29,000 and the student teams were able to make a profit of an astonishing US$ 29,000 in within four weeks. This success defied expectations and covered diverse sectors like health and education.Local and international attention followed, recognising the viability of the approach.

German acquaintance Thomas took note, adopting the model in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Mexico, and the Netherlands, aiming for wider implementation. Ali was particularly gratified to witness his approach integrated at the state level in India.

His journey showcased not just charitable intent, but a pragmatic method that yields profits while fostering positive change.

Transforming Potential into Action

The YES Network model challenges conventional wisdom that young individuals must be fixed or developed before they are entrusted with responsibilities. Ali Raza Khan aptly notes, “Society thinks that young people need to be fixed first before they can be trusted to drive change, hindering young people from growing, which, by large, means it is hindering societal growth itself.”

The key lies in recognising that young people are inherently equipped to drive change. Khan emphasises that the traditional markers of academic achievement alone don’t define success; a new definition should focus on the societal impact young individuals can create through their actions.

The Heart of the Model

Khan’s model revolves around a meticulously crafted four-step process that emphasises trust and self-discovery:

  • Engaging Leadership: Khan seeks the support of top leadership in educational institutions, encouraging them to allow young individuals to engage in change-making activities.
  • Capital Investment: He provides a small amount of capital to participants, typically around $40-$50, giving them the means to initiate projects.
  • Ownership and Impact: Participants can retain 45% of the profits generated, donate 45% to YES Network, and allocate 10% to the teacher or mentor involved in the process.
  • Scaling Impact: Khan’s model has yielded remarkable results, with about 92 percent of participants generating tangible social and economic impact within a short period.

“We have tested this method with thousands of young people in Pakistan, additionally in several other countries with the same results, where around 92% young people were able to create a social and economical impact in the shortest period of time,” shares Mr.Khan 

Echoes of Ali Raza Khan’s Philosophy in India 

In may 2022, the Chief minister of Delhi, Arwind Kejriwal launched an initiative that mirrors the essence of Khan’s YES Network – the belief that every segment of youth, regardless of their academic path, can play a pivotal role in driving change. Much like Khan’s focus on activating young individuals as change makers, a recent introduction of Arwind Kejriwal’s state wide policy recognises that harnessing the power of the youth requires more than traditional educational paths. The approach pivots on offering comprehensive assistance to young entrepreneurs, handholding them through the challenging journey of start-ups, both financially and strategically.

Kejriwal has introduced a policy which endeavours to foster a holistic ecosystem where youth-driven initiatives can thrive. The policy’s commitment to providing collateral-free loans and financial assistance resonates with Khan’s model of activating change makers by providing them with the initial capital needed to kick-start impactful projects.

In a spirit akin to Khan’s emphasis on mentorship and guidance, Kejriwal’s initiative introduces a panel of experts comprising professionals, chartered accountants, and lawyers. This expert panel’s role in assisting aspiring entrepreneurs parallels Khan’s approach of offering mentorship to young individuals embarking on their change-making journeys.

The policy’s provision for college students to work on innovative products during their studies, with a leave of two years granted for product development, is reminiscent of Khan’s approach. Khan’s trust-based model encourages young individuals to explore their potential by providing them the space and resources to initiate and execute projects that drive tangible change.

In essence, Kejriwal’s initiative in India mirrors Ali Raza Khan’s overarching philosophy – both emphasise the boundless potential of the youth and underscore the need to empower them beyond traditional definitions of success.

A Mother’s Legacy: A Personal Inspiration

“I firmly believe that sometimes change making power is passed on from one generation to the next, and this has happened in my case.” 

Khan’s journey is deeply rooted in the lessons taught by his mother, who set up a school for orphans and underprivileged out of school kids, four decades ago. Her commitment to effecting change and her ability to rely on internal resources deeply influenced Khan’s approach. He reflects, “She really set a very nice example for us to follow.” Her legacy serves as the foundation for his work in enabling youth-led change making. 

Empowering the Youth: Future Visions

Looking ahead, Khan envisions expanding the YES Network’s reach to other developing countries, ensuring that young people worldwide can experience the exhilaration of being change makers. His books, including “Youth-Led Change Making,” provide a comprehensive framework to guide young individuals on a journey from personal excellence to societal excellence. His model offers a roadmap to transition from being passive consumers of knowledge to active producers of impactful change. 

Central to his approach is the progression from personal excellence to societal transformation, facilitated by what he terms “Change Making Intelligence.” This inherent human capacity drives the creation of value and impact.

Khan introduces a strategic framework that maps the evolution from initial stages, where youth often play passive consumer roles, to the pinnacle of “Level One” where they transition into active producers and creators. This transition marks a pivotal juncture. It is at “Level One” that young individuals cease to be merely recipients and instead become equal partners in change.

As Khan explicates, this transition unlocks their latent potential and ushers in a shift in belief systems. Empowered by their newfound capabilities, youth begin to perceive themselves as catalysts for transformation. This transformation goes beyond conventional definitions of success, as Khan redefines what it means to be a successful young individual.

Khan’s insights resonate deeply with the journey of empowering marginalised youth. His emphasis on nurturing “Change Making Intelligence” and facilitating the journey to “Level One” underscores the importance of self-discovery and empowerment. Through this journey, Khan illuminates a pathway that leads not only to personal growth but also to the reshaping of communities and society at large.

In a world where the pace of knowledge creation has accelerated, Khan’s approach aligns seamlessly with the evolving demands of society. He reminds us that knowledge, when applied to create meaningful change, has the potential to transform lives and impact the world. His work heralds a paradigm shift in youth development, urging institutions to measure success not by the number of graduates but by the number of change makers they produce.

Ali Raza Khan’s YES Network has ushered in a new era of youth engagement and empowerment, redefining the concept of success and tapping into the innate change making potential of young individuals. Through his trust-based model and heart-driven methodology, Khan has unlocked the power of youth-led change making, inspiring a generation to become active contributors to societal growth. As he aptly puts it, “Young people are like seeds. They don’t need to be told and lectured about becoming trees, that does not help. But if you provide them with the right conditions, they really can and will thrive.”

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About the author

Hemlata Chouhan