Draper Hills 2019 Summer Fellows Reflect on Activism, Democracy and the Importance of Collaboration

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The 2019 Draper Hills Class of 2019 at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Photo: Stanford Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law

Every summer, the Draper Hills Summer Fellows Program brings together international leaders who are pioneering new approaches to advance social and political change in some of the most challenging global contexts. The fellows spend three weeks living and taking classes on the Stanford campus, visiting Silicon Valley tech companies and building a network.

Representing business, government and the nonprofit sector, fellows are working on the frontlines of democratic change to combat the global rise of authoritarianism and populism. The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies spoke to five of the fellows about the impact of the Draper Hills program on their work and activism. These are their stories.

Shaili Chopra, India

“I run a platform called SheThePeopleTv. It's a platform for women, and it aims to share news, opinions, data and statistics through a gendered lens. Women are a critical part of democracy — from where I come, in India, we have 600 million women. That's half of the country's population. I think they must also have half of the country’s voice, which they don't.

“I think a big plus of a program like Draper Hills is that when we are all working in the general construct of democracy, we have shared problems, and we also look for shared solutions. It's very empowering to be around people who understand these situations, or have found solutions or overcame them in their countries, or are going through similar problems. You can discuss them and get a sense of solidarity and a sense of empathy.”

Wiem Zarrouk, Tunisia

“I’ve been working for the Tunisian government for three years as an advisor to the Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation. I am leading the government reforms to improve Tunisia's ranking in the World Bank Competitiveness Report - Doing Business.

“In Tunisia, we’ve set up most of our democratic institutions, and now we want to improve the business environment to attract more investment in local businesses. Eight years ago, the people went into the streets demanding more jobs. The challenge in Tunisia right now is economic, that’s why economic reforms are important to our government.

“I think the impact of the Draper Hills program will be immediate. I’ve learned a lot here about the link between development and democracies, so it really covers the scope of my work. And it's been great to learn about the theoretical side — the professors are really speaking about things that impact our daily work.” 


Ujwal Thapa, Nepal

“Bibeksheel Nepali is basically a political startup. It’s a youth-led movement, and we’re focused on changing the norms and mindsets of the culture in Nepal. We work a lot with citizens to instill the values of transparency, empathy and humility because we think democracy needs to be more emotional instead of just logical. I think liberal democracy needs to be understood more in the context of humanity. So it’s an experiment that we're doing in Nepal.

“When we started with the experiment, we decided not to focus only on the state, but thought about a few more components: one is our citizens, another is the society and the third is the government. Nepal recently came out of a violent civil war, and we just built a new constitution that is much more tolerant. Transparency is another value that we want to instill, because of the long isolationist and autocratic dictatorship that has existed in the past.

“Draper Hills is bringing all of these practitioners together who are experimental and innovative. And the world needs better collaboration from people who really believe in the ideals of the 21st century, which are liberal, democratic and more humanistic. That’s one of the strongest aspects of the Draper Hills program.”


N.S. Nappinai, India

“I'm a lawyer — I specialize in cyber laws. My work throughout my career has been focused on ensuring responsible technology and the use of technology to fight crime. Two years ago I was appointed by the Supreme Court of India as Amicus Curiae on a matter related to protecting against the uploading of videos and images of gang rape and child pornography online.

“Some of the social media platforms had very good reporting mechanisms, whereas it was more hidden on other platforms. So we ensured that this issue was brought to the forefront so that people know that these are things that can be reported and some action can be taken. The whole idea was that as long as you identify such content at the earliest possible time, then you help the victim that much more.

“For me, balancing victims' rights with free speech is very important. This was a big dilemma that I faced, in terms of ‘How much of what I am doing is likely to stifle free speech?’ A lot of discussions at Draper Hills have helped formulate and structure my thoughts, and it's very nice to get the perspective from people from 26 other countries.”


Hinda Bouddane, Morocco

“I'm involved in women's empowerment and education for girls in Morocco. And especially for women in rural areas — they are less privileged, and many of them don't know their rights. So my fight through JA Worldwide and my activism is to empower these women and to raise awareness about their rights and the importance of education for girls.

“Education for girls is really important in fighting discrimination against women. Education empowers women to become financially independent, say no to violence, and to get engaged in the public sphere. Through that, women can be a part of the democratic process not only by voting, but also by taking part from within and running for office.

At Draper Hills, we're deepening our knowledge about topics like the rule of law, democracy and human rights, and hearing many different perspectives. And importantly, we are building a great network to connect many intelligent people from around the world, and we will work together to foster democratic values.”