His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Love, compassion and empathy are fundamental to the survival of human society. ‘Compassion’ in Dalai Lama’s words ‘is also the radicalism of our times.’ Leaders and change makers have to be compassionate, if they want to connect deeply with themselves and others to profoundly alter the trajectory of social development. Our world can have more ethical and conscious leaders, if we integrate contemplation and social-emotional skills (e.g., self-awareness, resilience, and compassion) with leadership and social change projects. This is because external change is inextricably linked with internal change in ourselves and others.
Earlier this week, the Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) at the University of Virginia hosted the 2019 Dalai Lama Fellows Contemplative Leadership Assembly, from June 17 – 21. More than 40 young leaders from 22 different countries gathered at the event as part of a one-year fellowship. Founded in 2010, Dalai Lama Fellows has been dedicated to facilitating the emergence of a new generation of compassionate leaders who are able to bring a commitment to self-reflection and compassion to the work of making a positive difference in communities, and in the world at large. Dalai Lama Fellowship was formed with the authorization and support of the 14th Dalai Lama and is designed to create a global community of social change leaders by helping them cultivate greater self-awareness and compassion for themselves and others.
Dalai Lama Fellows – 2019
This year the Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC) selected 25 Fellows from 18 countries, which includes 10 fellows from Africa and 3 from India. Dalai Lama Fellows looks for candidates who are passionate about affecting social change and genuinely interested in improving social, emotional, and intercultural skills of leadership such as self-awareness and compassion through contemplation and holistic wellbeing. Projects from this year’s fellows include efforts to address gender equity in Nigeria, indigenous rights in Colombia, youth empowerment in India, innovative ways of using education as a tool to break out of the cycle of poverty in Kenya, and importance of dialogue among youth in Tunisia, to name a few.
Ten Fellows from Africa – Transforming the continent
Esther Ajari and Kate Ekanem, both from Nigeria, want to work on women issues. Esther, through her Keep a Girl Dry and Clean (KAGDAC) Project, will teach 8-19 year- old girls in the Ibadan Community of Oyo State, Nigeria on how to make their own reusable and biodegradable sanitary pads. Kate through Makoko Women Mobilization will focus on implementing business start-up workshops for underrepresented, unemployed, single mothers and elderly women in rural communities.
Balanding Manneh, from the Gambia, is working to fight hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity in his country and Sam Brakarsh, Harare, Zimbabwe, through the Chikukwa Project examines the conflux of education, health, and art as a means of social change and community dialogue.
Several of these fellows focus on children and youth to bring positive social transformation in their countries. Ephrem Woldeyesus, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia will be working on using creative tools such as art (art therapy and social circus) to address trauma, peace, reconciliation, innovation, self-expression, social entrepreneurial skills and well-being of the children and youth. Farai Mubaiwa, Johannesburg, South Africa, in The Aurum UnlockD Project tackles two national South African issues – youth unemployment (53,7%) and HIV (7.1 million people infected). Mansi Kotak, Kisumu, Kenya, through Kitabu Changu Haki Yangu (Swahili meaning My Book My Right) project aims to improve both the rate and quality of literacy across communities living in abject poverty in slums and rural areas. The project will see resource centres established that will open the door of opportunities for current and future students by giving them access to a variety of books, workshops and technology. For Moses Ogutu, Nairobi, Kenya, re-incorporating street children back into the society by creating opportunities that would allow them to become self-sustaining after their transformation process is the focus of – Streets Incorporated project. Mathew Ndekudugu, Bolgatanga, Ghana, seeks to help youth use their talents, or the resources around them, to find and create jobs to improve their lives, through Your Talent, Your Future (Talented Academy). Through her Big Talk project, Sara Gzara, Monastir, Tunisia, chose the art of communication as a starting point to create fruitful and sustainable social change by teaching the community to both listen and speak in a profound manner.
Three Fellows from India – Making development inclusive and gender sensitive
Dalai Lama Fellow Avinash Kothuri aims to increase braille literacy rates across the world, while simultaneously making education more inclusive. His Thinkerbell Labs, has developed the world’s first braille literacy tech ecosystem to help the visually impaired to learn on their own, and for teachers to be able to supervise multiple children learning braille at the same time.
Dharini Suresh through her Earning while Learning (EwL) initiative works to de-stigmatize menstruation and encourage a healthy dialogue around it among adolescents by fostering a culture of student entrepreneurship. EwL aims to co-create a safe and supportive environment for girls and women to handle a biological process in the best possible manner by breaking the disrepute associated with menstruation.
Gaurav Somwanshi feels that It’s only by democratising the knowledge and raising awareness among all that we can hope to yield technology for the benefit of everyone. His project, Emerging Technologies for Public Good, aims to conduct a series of training workshops, sessions, and awareness campaigns regarding these technologies and relevant subjects to those places and communities who are at a higher chance of missing out on them due to lack of access and systemic blockages.
Leadership with compassion and ethics
Anthony DeMauro, Associate Director of Dalai Lama Fellows, says, “When we see possibilities for external change in terms of social innovation and equity, we often lose sight of how such work is inextricably bound up with internal change in ourselves and others. Thus the hard work of social change has to be intertwined with the equally hard work of personal change, or burnout and dysfunctionality can undercut the possibilities of sustainable change being achieved.” He shares that traditional leadership programs often don’t address leaders’ wellbeing or the kinds of social, emotional, and intercultural skills necessary for them to truly flourish and sustain their work. “Dalai Lama Fellows’ Head, Heart, and Hands leadership curriculum integrates experiential learning, peer collaboration, and contemplative practices to help Fellows cultivate these competencies and develop the necessary skills and tools. In this process, they develop a deep understanding of the interconnectedness and complexity of local communities and ecosystems,” he adds.
Changing the world for a better future
The one-year long engagement with young leaders includes bookended gatherings at University of Virginia; an innovative and interactive online curriculum; individualized mentoring; group learning; and a project geared toward social innovation, social change, social justice and deep engagement with a community of choice. Through a unique leadership curriculum, Fellows learn to lead in collaborative and sustainable ways.
The fellows are committed to integrating these external activities with a commitment to internal, contemplative and reflective self-work including cultivating compassion and resilience. Once the fellowship is completed, participants join an international community of fellowship alumni who have the skills, the network and the capacity to work together to bring about change in the world around them.