‘Markhor 2014’ was not just another youth conference on leadership. The venue was not a five-star hotel or an auditorium but a curvy high-ground, 9240ft above sea level, in Nathiagali, Abbottabad, which took at least three to four hours to reach on a steep trekk haunted by large monkeys, common leopards, wild boars and even black bears (though now near extinction).
The 77 delegates of 17-25 years of age were selected out of more than 2000 applicants from across Pakistan. The criteria of selection was both merit and regional quota, hence young leaders, including around 30 girls, from all four provinces, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa as well as the Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) were present, which portrayed a unique homogenity. They all had gathered there, under scorching sunlight during the day time and freezing mist under the night sky, to challenge their fears, know and bring out their potentials, and learn from the nature and wilderness what cannot be learned from classrooms and books.
The conference, from 24-28 September 2014 at Mukshpuri top, was the second wilderness-based youth leadership conference organized by a not-for-profit organization, Youth Impact, and themed ‘Markhor’, the national animal of Pakistan that is known for its survival skills, resilience, steadfastness and pride. The high-potential young participants were feeling proud to be ‘Markhored’!
A number of mentors – including some of the most successful corporate leaders of Pakistan – were also there camping in the wilderness with the young delegates to share their experiences and stories about their successes during their journeys up the career ladder. They included Faiq Sadiq, Group Head, Habib Bank Limited; Shahzad Umar, Head of HR, Nestle Pakistan; Ali Jamali, COO, Indus Motors; Naseem Zafar Iqbal, CEO, Training Impact; Khalid Rahman, Director General, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad; Saad Tariq Siddqui, Vice President, Alpine Club of Pakistan; Qazi Waseem, CEO, Descon Power Solutions; Rehan Hasan, Director, Riphah Institute of Media Sciences; Khurram Mujtaba, CEO, Jumpstart Pakistan; Omar Mirza, Director Business Development, British Council Pakistan; and Rahim Lalani, CEO, TEXT.
Abdul Samad Khan, the CEO of Youth Impact, a cancer survivor himself, and the first and only Pakistani graduate from National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), USA, has dedicated his life to develop social leadership among the youth of Pakistan through the outdoor education skills that he has mastered during his specialization and experience in the US, Australia and Malaysia.
The conference was a life-time learning experience for the participants who took inspiration from the nature and wilderness to enhance their leadership skills and develop a collective strategy for the country’s future and a better world. What they don’t learn in institutions, seminars, programmes and books of hundreds of pages, they learned in the presence of nature, accepting wilderness as their mentor, experience as their guide, and infinity as their comfort zone
A special feature of the event were the policy debates among the participants on the future of Pakistan being conducted by Khalid Rahman, Director General, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. The ‘Markhor Declaration’ was the culmination of the policy debates, which stated: “… we commit ourselves to strive for a Pakistan that is truly independent, self-reliant, politically stable, socially cohesive and economically vibrant; where foundational principles and values of Faith, Unity & Discipline, laid down by its forefathers, are practiced in a way that Peace, Prosperity, Forbearance’ and Happiness prevail; where the life, property, honor and dignity of every citizen is protected; where the principles of merit and rule of law help every citizen enjoy equal access to quality education, health & employment; a Pakistan that is attractive to the world because of its friendly people, rich culture, ethical and moral values, creativity and innovation, diversity, natural beauty and topography and above all for its role in promoting a win-win paradigm at the global level.”
‘Markhor 2014’ was a whiff of fresh air in the present socio-political environment of the country, which is challenged by an unending wave of uncertainty. The event offered great hope that through such activities the future of our nation can be secured by developing young leaders who are agile, high in energy, self-motivated, highly adaptable, and who dare to confront the challenges like a Markhor.
It is high time that experiential learning and outdoor education is made an integral part of national and provincial education policies, and institutions like National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) should launch a campaign to promote them as a vital strategy for nation-building.