Sunday, June 25, 2017


This last week in Oxford, a bit of magic happened. Once again, some of my favourite humans gathered through the AMENDS platform. More formally:

The mission of AMENDS is to facilitate a platform for promising youth leaders working from across the Middle East, North Africa and the United States to maximize their initiatives by providing them access to opportunities for developing key skills, networking with established leaders and sharing their initiatives with a larger audience.

In February of 2011, as protests were erupting across North Africa and the Middle East, two Stanford undergraduates met at a coffee shop. They had been born and raised in Bahrain and Chicago respectively. A conversation ensued about the power of youth leaders to create positive social, political, and economic change, the necessity of sharing their ideas and experiences with the world, and the profound potential of collaboration and understanding between the Middle East, North Africa, and the United States. This conversation gave birth to AMENDS – a student-led initiative sponsored by Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies with faculty advisors Professor Larry Diamond and Professor Frank Fukuyama.

Each April, the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS) holds a Launch Summit providing young changemakers with proven track records access to opportunities for developing key skills, networking with established leaders and sharing their initiatives with a larger audience. The result is a growing generation of change agents working to ignite concrete social and economic development in the MENA region.

Our Fellows are people like Rahmeh, the co-founder of Jordan’s SheCab company that provides safe transport and economic empowerment for women in the region; Fadi, a young Palestinian entrepreneur whose alternative energy start-up in Ramallah who has secured a contract with the PLO to deliver 10% of the West Bank’s energy need through wind power; and Cole, an American advocate connecting policymakers in Washington DC with activists on the ground in the Middle East.

Alumni of the annual Summits have joined across the years to form the AMENDS Global Fellows, a new organization dedicated to equipping these changemakers and their initiatives. Activities include annual reunion Forums where Fellows gather for continued resource sharing; regular online workshops connecting initiatives working on similar issues in disparate countries; and internal crowd-sourced support for translation, grant-writing, and other needs the Fellows are able to provide for each other. The AMENDS Global Fellows has made possible partnerships like that of curriculum developer Laura and science educator Hamza, who built a countrywide extracurricular intervention for STEM learning in Jordan, and peace researcher Becca and choral director Micah, who brought an Israeli-Palestinian youth choir to sing in London’s West End.

During AMENDS’ first five years, we have built a strong presence at both Stanford University in California and Koç University in Istanbul. Student teams work with university administration to host the Launch Summit (generally held at Stanford) and Fellows Forum (held at Koç for the past three years). We value these partnerships, and our presence in the US and Turkey is and will continue to be strong. But it is time – both in terms of organizational growth and due to current political realities – to expand.

The 2017 AMENDS Summit will be our sixth annual gathering with new delegates. This year’s 33 delegates were selected by the Stanford Student Team from a pool of 500 applicants. They represent 19 countries and work on a range of issues, from gender equality and diversity to environmental justice to education policy. In Sudan, Shiemma Ahmed manages an online platform for craftswomen in Darfur to sell their wares. In Iran, Esmaeil Pirhadi pioneers a hardware startup to provide sensory treatment for disorders like autism and PTSD. In Libya, Abdulrahman Zurghani runs coding classes for youth.

Shiemma, Esmaeil, and Abdulrahman have been directly affected by the recent executive order on immigration, with American visa appointments cancelled. Other delegates from countries like Lebanon have already had their applications denied – despite the support of Stanford University and AMENDS’ proven track record. Meanwhile, Turkey’s visa requirements have become much stricter in the past two years, and a number of alumni were unable to attend the 2016 Fellows Forum and face continued barriers with access to Istanbul.

AMENDS is about social change, and relies on relationships to create new ideas and make new projects possible. We know the power of working together face-to-face over a weeklong conference and remain committed to inclusion. With this in mind, we would like to turn the global security and geopolitical turbulence of 2016-2017 toward something good: the launch of AMENDS Oxford.

The AMENDS community already has any number of ties to Oxford. Fellows like Jessica Anderson, Corey Metzman, Zach Levine, and Sam Sussman have earned postgraduate degrees from the University. Stanford Team Members Marwa Farag and Madeleine Chang have studied there as well, while former AMENDS President Meredith Wheeler was a 2014 Rhodes Scholar, now joined by Fellow Hashem Abu Shama, who was recently selected as the first Palestinian Rhodes Scholar.

We launched the Oxford branch of AMENDS this summer by hosting the New Delegates’ Launch Summit in parallel with the Fellows Forum from 19-23 June 2017. The new Delegates and alumni Fellows were paired for two-way mentoring. Though the timing of Ramadan made logistics, eating, and sleeping somewhat crazy (celebrating Muslims didn't eat or drink during daylight hours, which goes from like 3:30am-9:30pm during British summer!), it was inspiring to share the holiday season together in such a beautiful and historic place.

The AMENDS Talks, when new Delegates shared the fantastic work they're doing with the wider community, were inspiring as always. More wonderful were the informal moments in the garden of idea sharing, resource swapping, and partnership growing.

It's truly amazing what you can do when you throw cool people in a room and let them go about the business of making change.

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