I recently attended the 15th Fulbright Alumni Conference held at Serena Hotel Islamabad. The theme of the conference was “Emerging Leaders” and more than 200 Fulbright alumni from Pakistan participated in it. It was inspiring and invigorating to interact with people from diverse fields and attend the sessions conducted by twenty-three Fulbright alumni belonging to fields such as architecture, design, psychology, agriculture and education. Due to the growing focus on leadership and the 21st-century skills, what all the presenters shared can serve as a roadmap for the youth, leaders or entrepreneurs.

Following are the key points of the conference:

Firstly, all the presenters emphasized the need and importance of standing up, taking the lead and solving problems. They also introduced their startups and efforts that helped make a difference in the lives of people around them. Ali Murtaza Arif, for instance, presented how he re-imagined what he could do with technology and designed various devices such as a mirror, which could detect a heartbeat, a tool to play music through painting or a vaccination booklet for uneducated people. "Design thinking", he asserted, is important for solving human issues. Similarly, introducing his volunteer organization, Saving 9, Usama Mirza highlighted the importance of volunteering and social work for bringing change in Pakistan. He pinpointed that volunteer work can bring immense joy and cause personal as well as social transformation.

Izza Aftab shared her contribution of offering BS programme, introducing data science in economics, at a university. She highlighted that we need to have our own economic policy instead of an imported one and for that we need 'home-grown, trained' Pakistanis, cognizant of local issues and equipped with the right skills and ways to solve economic problems. For this purpose, relevant degree programs should be offered. Sobia Maqbool shared that social media narrative about Pakistan deters people from other countries from travelling to Pakistan. Therefore, she has initiated "Pakistan Trek", which enables people from other countries to visit Pakistan, develop perspectives which are beyond headlines and reshape their opinions about Pakistani culture. Likewise, Sherzade Agha suggested that equity crowd-funding platforms can help people start up new projects.

Secondly, they emphasized the importance of inclusive social and economic growth. In this regard, giving women social freedom and ease to occupy public spaces such as Dhabas, making services and public spaces such as schools, hospitals or NADRA offices conveniently accessible to differently abled people and making spaces such as markets, schools and parks more inclusive and worth living were presented as solutions by Attiya Abbas, Fatima Jamil Khan and Meher Jafferi, respectively. Besides, Naveen Zaidi emphasized the importance of walking around the streets to understand different ways of seeing, to be empathetic towards the surroundings, to ask better questions and to identify and solve problems. She added, "We are not used to of walking because urban walking is not convenient in Pakistan due to pavements or people and suggested to walk in the areas that we want to impact and change." Affan Javed stressed upon the value of looking beyond the propaganda against the politicians and evaluating the profession of politics objectively.

Farrukh Sohail inspired the audience to reach out to people who needed support; while, Mina Sohail highlighted the role and responsibility of media in sharing authentic news. She clarified that the point is not to give a point of view, but to give an informed point of view, so that unity and peace may be created in Pakistan.

Thirdly, they reinforced the value of understanding and embracing not only our own but also others’ emotions. Noorulain Masood, for example, conducted a session on managing stress. Similarly, Haider Ali Shishmahal shared strategies to quit bad habits, especially smoking and considered willpower and family support as useful ways. Kashaf Ud Duja Ali highlighted the importance of mainstreaming empathy. She pointed out that labelling others’ lack of privilege judging them or stigmatizing their choices never let people reach their full potential. This shaming business, which is part of our culture, isolates underprivileged people. Therefore, we need a society where people can reach other people for help and they may not be judged if they are underprivileged. She said, “All of us, all of us can change someone's life, we can make someone a superstar.” For this, She added that we should use our power to empower hundreds of other people and lift them off for life. Omer Tauseef highlighted the value of giving a cathartic outlet to emotions. He elaborated that we should express and embrace our emotions and cry when needed. He also suggested that society should teach emotions to men as well as consider their emotions, so that they may become better fathers and husbands. If a man can say "I am hurt", he will neither hurt his son or wife in the future nor teach his son to hurt any woman.

Lastly, all of them conveyed a simple but powerful message i.e. considering the human factor no matter what the field or endeavour is involved. Measures should be taken both individually and collectively to bring peace and comfort in the lives of Pakistani people. In this regard, Haya Fatima Iqbal proposed documentary making as a solution to record the stories of victims and culprits everywhere in Pakistan, so that stories can be empathetically shared, problems identified and issues resolved. Saad Khalid indicated big data as a solution; because data sets of poverty, bomb blasts, deliveries or election results “can help us connect in a common sense of loss and grief that we all share”, make us question and see how we connect with realities and enable us to solve problems.

Similarly, Zoona Jerral suggested that in order to make life more peaceful and environment safer, constructing earth houses, building separate rainwater drainage systems, keeping lifecycle flexibility of vertically split houses, utilizing space in the form of courtyards instead of outdoor spaces and reviving our traditional architecture and construction styles can be environment-friendly choices. Muhammad Gulraiz Khan suggested that design, which is at the heart of everything in the newly established and evolving business setup in Pakistan, should cater to the needs of a diverse audience and it should be inspired by cultural themes. Similarly, Areej Mehdi presented the idea of creating science fiction in which Pakistani context has been developed and a peculiar “desi element” has been infused.

In a nutshell, presenters explored various dimensions of the roles and responsibilities of the educated or resourceful Pakistani people as “Emerging Leaders” and suggested solutions. The major responsibility as well as solution is to take measures to solve problems, save lives, create ease, heal emotions and promote change for inclusive development in Pakistan.