Shumailla Dar participated in this year's Pakistani Diaspora Leaders programme in London, joining 29 other emerging leaders from different sectors and organizations to explore the challenge: "How can diaspora leaders use their skills, talents and networks to benefit Pakistan and the diaspora community?" Here, Shumailla shares her experience of the programme in her own words. 

Before starting the course we were asked to conduct a series of interviews from a range of people to get a sense of what the challenge meant to them. I interviewed three people; someone working for a number of decades on a grassroots level in the British Muslim community, an alumnus from the Common Purpose programme, and a professional person working and living in Pakistan. For some, it was about taking specific skill sets in the UK back to Pakistan and helping to make a difference at a local level, being an international change-maker. For others it was about strengthening the role of British Pakistanis in the UK, and ensuring they are able to access a wide range of networks in order to help inspire and influence the diaspora in this country. Another thought was around thinking about the coherence between materialism and spiritualism within Pakistan itself before making change. For me, it was a little bit of all these approaches. I was keen to understand this challenge from the perspective of my counterparts, but I also wanted to know how I could personally contribute to it at a practical level.

Over a period of four days we thought, spoke, engaged, challenged, helped, and stretched one another in a way that I can safely say I haven’t done since leaving university. We were asked to create a physical prototype to address the challenge that would be presented to a panel of judges on the final day. I would leave the course every day buzzing with ideas, brain overloading with thoughts. My children and husband said they felt they hadn’t seen me. My evenings were a bit of a blur, and my routine was simply – dinner, pray, and bed. It was both fascinating and exhausting.

What struck me most over the last few days was how differently we all worked, based on the industries we came from. As someone who has been a civil servant for most of my life, my approach to work is very much process driven, and even the most radical programmes I’ve worked on have been within the boundaries of a specific policy framework. This has been helpful to an extent, as I am able to express myself with a certain degree of logic (I hope!). But as with all processes, it also has its limitations. When I moved into local government a couple of years ago I came at a time of austerity, a time of central government funding cuts, restrictions on grants, and now with the most recent, the potential end to European Social Funding. I have entered at a time where local government has had to think creatively about funding sources, and where finances have been reduced to the bare minimum. It has been challenging, but it is also an experience that has opened the door to innovation.

The four days [of the programme] have helped to give me the space to stop and think. I think we are all guilty of losing sight of our skills and competencies at some point or another, and interestingly, the programme helped me to recognize my own strengths. One in particular has been around helping people to think about how to access funding. From the small sample of people I met through Common Purpose I realized that many people are actually looking for support in this area, and not having the skill to even articulate a clear story for their project can often hinder people from getting their ideas off the ground.

On the final day we presented our ideas to the group and judges, and received some excellent feedback, something we would probably not have been able to get in the ‘real world’ without losing money or our mind! It was a constructive environment, which helped us challenge our beliefs, perceptions, and more specifically, our proposals.

All in all, this week taught me that I have quite possibly, until now, underestimated my own skill set. The course helped me stretch my creative thinking skills, and it also shone the light on a network of incredible individuals who are working hard to make change, and helped me see where I fit in. The key now will be to see how far this momentum goes.

To read more about Shumailla's experience, click here