Asia & Pacific International Development SDG 4 Quality Education SDG 8 Decent Work & Economic Growth

SAGE | Sustainabilitea with Kamal Sisters

In this new series, Green Box invites young changemakers for sustainabilitea with co-founder Mohsen Gul. Mohsen poses candid questions about their motivations, experiences and hurdles. Our next guests are Maha and Sauleha Kamal, a sister-duo who have co-founded SAGE (Solutions for a New Age) which aims to spark a national dialogue on the future of work in Pakistan.

Mo: Why SAGE? What is so important about future of work in Pakistan?

Kamals: SAGE (Solutions for a New Age) aims to spark a national dialogue on the future of work. There is a gap between the skills of the future that Pakistan needs, and what students are learning across the country. With education focused on the transfer of knowledge, key areas that are predicted to be crucial for the future are neglected: critical thinking, cultural agility, respect for diversity, working in cross-cultural teams, emotional intelligence, data analytics and conflict resolution, among others. Pakistan currently has one of the largest generations of young people, with the majority of the population under the age of thirty. These young people can be a great asset for the country, provided there is a focus on human development and the skills of the future. Current curricula are not evolving as fast as the nature of work. As such, other interventions are needed. While this issue is being taken up around the world, at the United Nations and World Economic Forum level, it does not feature prominently in our national discourse. This is especially troubling for a country with a population that is two-thirds youth.

Mo: Why are you both sisters are interested in this solution? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Kamals: As academics with experience teaching at leading public and private universities, both of us routinely interact with, and guide young people. We draw inspiration from our students – bright and curious about the world around them – who may not be adequately prepared for the world around them unless critical interventions are made in curricula – and in policy decisions on “reskilling” our young people.

We also see an increasingly polarized world where hatred is fuelled by ignorance and a lack of questioning about given information. What’s the best defence against manipulative fake news? Critical thinking, complex problem solving, judgment and decision-making. In the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, it will become critical to embrace what it means to be human through greater empathy – emotional intelligence, people management and service orientation are some skills which are critical for that.

Mo: What are some of the key challenges have you faced in establishing your venture? Are some of these challenges gendered? 

Kamals: SAGE is a very new initiative. Our current challenges in that arena revolve around getting the perspectives of young women in the current (limited) conversations on the future of work. However, it is indeed true that the challenges for women as far as the future of work is concerned are going to be a little different from the challenges men face. The rise of flexible remote work options might help women enter or re-enter the workforce particularly in a place like Pakistan where safe transport issues and societal constraints often keep women out of work. Women may be disproportionately affected by the fourth industrial revolution – gaps in STEM education, digital literacy and industrial challenges are some of the reasons why.

Mo: How are you leveraging partnerships on grassroots level for action?

Kamals: We have found that there are a number of great organizations working at the grassroots level. Leveraging partnerships with existing organizations not only helps support the local ecosystem but also allows us to reach out to a diverse set of people. For instance, our partnerships with Global Shapers Islamabad – a community of the World Economic Forum –  and Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) proved vital for the Future of the Leaders Bootcamp that we recently held in Islamabad, with the support of the British Council Pakistan’s UK Alumni Scholarship.

In the future, we hope to collaborate and explore synergies with other like-minded organizations. At the end of the day, however, one on one interactions with people on the ground prove the most invigorating.

Mo: If this a passion project for you or you wish to scale it up in Pakistan?

Kamals: A bit of both. It’s driven by passion but we do dream of scaling it up. We believe any endeavour must be rooted in passion for it to succeed. While passion projects require a lot of faith, we like to think of things in the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead, who famously saidNever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Mo: What’s next for SAGE? How can young people of Pakistan help your work?

Kamals: SAGE is for young people by young people. We aim to change the misconceptions surrounding “soft skills” and aim to equip young people with what Dr. Hanlon (President, Dartmouth College) calls “power skills.” We’re transitioning from a non-profit to a social enterprise model where we aim to empower young people to take ownership of their future. Towards this end, we aim to conduct training for diverse groups who may not have access to such platforms. We aim to provide individualized consulting services, and are in conversation to branch into corporate training for business sustainability.

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