A guest post from Nusrat Ahmed, Manchester Museum's South Asia Gallery Community Producer, reflecting on some of the ideas, connections and skills that she gained through the Pakistani Diaspora Leaders Programme.
On 2 October I embarked on a four day leadership programme run by Common Purpose, a not-for-profit organization that is devoted to developing leaders who can cross boundaries – between geographies, generations, sectors, specializations, backgrounds and beliefs – both at work and in society. While Common Purpose delivers leadership programmes globally and to participants from different walks of life and from any sector, being of Pakistani diaspora but also given my role at Manchester Museum as South Asia Gallery Community Producer, it was their Pakistani Diaspora Leaders Programme that was particularly relevant for me.
Once selected, all participants on the programme were set a common challenge: "How can diaspora leaders use their skills, talents and networks to benefit Pakistan and the diaspora community?"
The challenge made me think long and hard about what it actually means to be diaspora and how this impacts on our wider roles in society and life in general. As well as giving us time to reflect on the challenge, we were also given pre-programme preparation. This involved interviewing three different people to find out their responses to the challenge question; someone involved in the issues relating to the challenge, an innovator (no matter what they do), and an individual from either the UK or Pakistan who may have an insight into the challenge itself. These interviews and the responses that I gathered, really made me think about diaspora beyond my own direct experience.
The course itself brought together a group of over 60 people; from different backgrounds, of different ages, with different beliefs, job roles and careers, both from here in UK and Pakistan, but all united in being of Pakistani diaspora. Over four days, we were guided through a process of creativity and innovation as we explored the challenge through every possible angle. As well as visiting organizations, we met other leaders who had knowledge and awareness of the challenges faced by Pakistani diaspora and who were working towards solutions.
We also worked in smaller groups to focus on practical ideas in response to the challenge. Importantly, it wasn’t the end product itself that mattered, rather, it was more about our journey, and the way we tackled the challenge and came together to create the idea.
I was part of a group of nine leaders who developed the project 'Aghay Baroh' (which, translated, means 'Move Forward'). The model aimed to develop the talent of Pakistan to be future social leaders by engaging in challenging social and capacity-building projects, via a nationally recognized qualification. The project would be delivered via a leadership programme where we would work directly with universities in the UK and Pakistan to highlight and tackle social issues; using social action to create social change. Importantly, the project idea highlighted our own awareness and experiences of issues that impact on the lives of people both in UK and Pakistan.
On the final day of the course we presented our ideas to a panel of senior leaders. 'Aghay Baroh' was really well received, and the panel’s feedback was really useful, particularly their advice to carry out further research on existing programmes as well as potential funders and partners.
What struck me most whilst doing this task was that when I looked around the room, I saw each sub-group immersed in their own mini project. But at the same time I saw many individuals who were willing to support, collaborate with and enhance the other project ideas. With only a few hours to create and present our ideas, collaboration was key and there was a real desire and willingness to go above and beyond for the common goal. All participants were coming together to tackle the challenge with complete enthusiasm and passion.
While we started the programme as a group of individuals working in our own fields, we have now come together and created a network of people; utilizing skills and expertise beyond the programme. It is this positive action that will have the greatest impact for the development of projects that can then be prototyped in the 'real world'.
Taking part in the leadership programme has made me reflect on our work at Manchester Museum and how the South Asia Gallery (SAG) Collective is also made up of many individuals with a common goal – to make the SAG the best it can possibly be. We all come from very different walks of life, but have come together through our shared interest in SAG and a passion for a particular anthology; be that Music, Science, Food, Religion, Architecture & Design, Journeys, Trade & Industry, Arts, Culture & Storytelling, Politics & Conflict, Food, Home & Ritual, British Asians, Language & Literature or the Environment.
When asked what drew them to the SAG Collective, one member explained: "I am passionate about South Asia and it’s my heritage….to see SAG shared with everyone so that there is much better understanding and there is a space to share, celebrate, educate, and commemorate."
The Collective is made up of a diverse but unified group of people and, for many, it is the common experience of being of South Asian diaspora that brings us together and that drives us in wanting to shape SAG. This is not just about representing us now, but is also about helping future generations to stay connected to their heritage and identity.
The Pakistani Diaspora Leaders Programme has left me with lots to think about. It has given me the tools to think about crossing boundaries and to translate thinking into positive action. It has also created a dialogue between people who want to increase their impacts at home and in their places of heritage and to build bridges between the two. On a personal level, the programme has helped me to develop new ideas, skills, and connections; to have greater Cultural Intelligence, to succeed in multiple cultures, and to be more able to cross boundaries. I am optimistic that this new learning will shape my work at Manchester Museum, and a new and wider network of diaspora (plus many new-found friends) will help me to develop opportunities and partnerships both in and between the UK and Pakistan in the future.