By Hamza Arsbi, who is currently studying at the Global Development Institute for an MSc in International Development.
This month, The University of Manchester honoured a group of students, alumni, and staff at the Making a Difference Awards for the amazing work being done across the University on social development projects. I received the Outstanding Contribution to Social Enterprise award for my organisation, the Science League, an initiative with the mission to increase access to education and provide students with the skills needed for the 21st century.
I started the Science League with a group of my friends while I was completing my Bachelor’s degree at the University of Jordan in 2012. It came out of a personal frustration with how the educational system failed to equip me with skills to face real world problems. As a result I decided to create educational programs to show children a different perspective and a nuanced view of life through science.
This was not easy. The application to register the organisation was rejected twice before finally being approved. With no one interested in funding a young organisation, our financial capital for the first year was £300. Further still, government red tape and inefficiencies in the bureaucracy prevented us from expanding our operations and forced us to reach out to students through local partners.
Our luck changed with the BADIR fellowship, a grant and training program run by the International Youth Foundation. The fellowship offered us a small seed grant to improve our services and complemented that with training on project management. For a 21-year-old who has been frustrated time and time again by the disinterest, suspicion, and cynicism laid on him by society, this was a boost and a chance to prove myself.
I felt appreciated and trusted, it helped me rally my team, restructure the way we work, and bring in a professional curriculum developer to produce high quality educational programs. Over the next four years, the initiative grew into a well-funded and well-staffed organisation, with funders such as USAID and UNESCO, providing workshops and educational programs to over 4,000 students in seven cities across Jordan.
Today, I am completing my Master’s degree at the Global Development Institute with a scholarship funded by the Chevening Scholarship, the Said Foundation, and The University of Manchester. For someone from a middle class working family, I would never have dreamt of studying at one of the world’s top universities without the support of these institutions. Looking back, I find that my ability to help people keeps on growing because of the experience and the help I was given by the global community. My identity has been defined by the support of such programs and the knowledge that I have to prove that I earned my place on these programs through hard work, and this drives me forward.
Most youth empowerment and training programs are focused on the developing world to help improve lives but I would argue that more programs must be implemented in advanced economies as much as they are in developing countries. The global economy is entering a new stage in its development, the entire world is undergoing an identity crisis between nationalism and globalisation, while climate change is redefining our relationship with nature. Creative new ideas are needed, and the mix of passion and tenacity so emblematic of youth makes them the best chance we have. I have found The University of Manchester to have a supportive and truly welcoming atmosphere, with programs supporting students in all fields. The city of Manchester is a resilient and youthful city, a true embodiment of diversity and inclusion. However, there is still much more to be done, creating more programs for youth, opening doors to people who do not have a chance otherwise allowing them to shine new light on the challenges that plague us might be our best investment for the future.