As a ROTA Youth Advisory Board member, Sahar Al Ansari has been part of the EMPOWER organising committee for four years running. Here, the ROTA ambassador discusses the importance of youth inclusion and explains how her active involvement in the Qatar-based NGO has impacted her life.

Every year, Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) hosts EMPOWER, a youth-led conference which brings together hundreds of passionate young people from Qatar, the region and around the world to voice their opinions on pressing issues that directly affect them. As the only youth-led conference of its kind, EMPOWER has developed a reputation for being the only conference that truly represents the voice of our future leaders.The three-day gathering encourages young people in Qatar to assume active roles in building their communities, learn and engage in ROTA’s youth development programme, and take a stand on global issues. For Sahar Al Ansari, Student Government Association President at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar (VCUQatar) and ROTA Youth Advisory Board member and ambassador, the conference has helped shape her worldview and has instilled in her the leadership skills she never knew she had and connected her to youth from across the globe.

How did you first come to know about EMPOWER and how did you get involved?
I first got involved with Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) at the age of 15 when I signed up to take part in their leadership training programme. That was a life-changing experience for me; especially being a middle child, I had never really assumed a leadership role before. The programme nurtured and honed my leadership skills in a very organic way. I came to know about ROTA’s EMPOWER Conference while I was in Washington DC attending a National Youth Conference. It was there that I met members of ROTA’s Youth Advisory Board who were raising awareness about EMPOWER and I saw the inspiring work they were doing and was truly motivated to get involved. Upon my return to Qatar, I became a ROTA Youth Advisory Board member and it’s been an incredible journey thus far.

What does your role as a ROTA Youth Advisory Board member entail?
From A – Z, the conference is created by youth, for youth and that for me is incredibly meaningful. As a member of ROTA’s Youth Advisory Board, my role is very hands-on and my opinions and decisions are respected and valued. I am involved in various supervisory and organisational aspects such as deciding on the speakers who will be invited to talk at EMPOWER, as well as the various workshops, seminars and panel discussions. Besides our collective decision-making as members, individually, we are each responsible for managing a specific area e.g. design, planning, outreach etc.

Why is it so important for initiatives such as EMPOWER to champion for youth inclusion in global matters?
It’s vital that youth have a say in the matters and issues that directly affect them. EMPOWER targets issues facing youth, not only here in Qatar, but in the region and across the globe, too. The conference is dedicated to providing a platform for youth to voice their opinions on issues they are facing and to come together to work towards constructive solutions. Furthermore, the conference aims to bring about greater understanding on social issues, concepts and current affairs in a way that is relatable to youth. Since all the panels are led by youth, youth attendees are able to better relate and are more inspired to turn a challenging situation into a positive one.

Can you elaborate on the theme of this year’s EMPOWER – ‘Sustainable Tourism for Development: A Youth Perspective’?
This year’s topic is particularly relevant to Qatar since it is a country made up of such a diverse wider community that tends to travel quite often. Through this year’s theme we aim to promote and raise awareness about sustainable tourism among youth in Qatar. We want to demonstrate how even the smallest change in travel behaviour can preserve the environment. For example, less luggage means lighter planes, which use less fuel. It is little changes like these that make a big difference. Also, so many young people in Qatar use Snapchat to document their travels, thus we want to demonstrate how they can promote sustainable tourism to their social media followers and use various platforms to establish a meaningful connection that serves to educate youth on sustainability in tourism.

How has your involvement with ROTA impacted your life?
It has had a huge impact on life in so many ways. It has really taught me about the power of connection and why a sense of community is so important. Thanks to my involvement with ROTA, I have established meaningful connections with youth from all over the world. Together we are able to effectively communicate and formulate solutions to major issues facing us today, by forming a united front that will serve to enhance our roles as empowered leaders of tomorrow.

Talk us through the purpose of the ROTA Youth Service Clubs.
Each year, the various youth service clubs bring some incredible initiatives to life. Leading up to EMPOWER, students undergo six weeks of training before they are asked to come up with a social development initiative that will make a positive impact in their community. ROTA then selects the top projects, and winning teams are given the opportunity to present them to the youth attending EMPOWER. It’s incredible to see what the local youth is capable of – we have so much talent among us here in Qatar and the conference provides a platform for us to showcase our innovative ideas.

What would your advice be to youth in Qatar?
Don’t be afraid to break out of your comfort zone. It’s so important to try new things and to get involved in organisations that are tackling issues that affect and matter to you. One thing I have learnt is to always embrace every opportunity that comes your way. I am thankful to ROTA as it has changed my life in ways I never expected and has opened so many doors for me. Graduates who are involved in ROTA’s youth development programme tend to have a competitive advantage over their peers since they have already been exposed to professional real-life experiences; which mean they are more sought after in the job market.