Historic summit to convene leaders of the new Middle East at Stanford

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Photo credit: 
Courtesy of TechWadi

From the Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movement, young people have emerged at the helm of citizen-led change, opposing and challenging the status quo. Recognizing their local and global impact, youth are increasingly stepping up to fulfill Gandhi's famous maxim: "Be the change you want to see in the world." In turn, they are encouraging other members of their generation to answer this call to duty. In the aftermath of revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), youth have never been more engaged and active in the future development of their communities.

Inspired by these events, a group of young Stanford students launched a forum to unite leaders from the MENA region with their Western counterparts to build a bridge towards greater understanding, collaboration, and partnership. Nothing of this scale had ever been done on the Stanford campus, and there was a clear demand from the student body for deeper engagement with the region.

It was in this spirit that the American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford (AMENDS) was born, which will host its inaugural conference at Stanford University April 10 to 14, 2012 to convene exceptional young leaders together to share their ideas, seed potential collaborations and inspire the world. The AMENDS team represents a diverse group of students of various nationalities, faiths, and persuasions, but the common thread that connects them all is a desire to interact with the future generation of leaders who are writing a new chapter in the history of the Middle East.

AMENDS seeks to take a step forward towards greater partnership with a post-Arab Spring generation of leaders in the Middle East.                                -AMENDS co-founders Elliot Stoller and Khaled AlShawi

Co-founders Elliot Stoller (BA '13) and Khaled AlShawi (BA '13), hailing from Chicago and Bahrain respectively, were inspired to start a project devoted to U.S.-MENA relations largely in response to events surrounding the Arab Spring, “The problems addressed through the uprisings transcend a single country or region. They affect us all and require global collaboration to solve. AMENDS seeks to take a step forward towards greater partnership with a post-Arab Spring generation of leaders in the Middle East. ”

Within a year of launching the initiative, the AMENDS team received applications from over 300 promising delegates, organized a four-day summit, and launched an ambitious fundraising campaign to cover the costs of such an endeavor. Described by AMENDS senior leadership as a "full-time job" on top of their demanding academic schedules, this grassroots operation is fueled by the entrepreneurial energy of a band of passionate and dedicated student volunteers. AMENDS has benefited from the consultation of a board of advisors comprised of Stanford faculty and staff from the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, and the Hamid and Christina Moghadam Program in Iranian Studies.

According to Larry Diamond, CDDRL director and member of the AMENDS advisory board, "It has been a pleasure working with the AMENDS team on the design and implementation of this innovative project — the first of its kind — to convene a new generation of leaders in the U.S. and the Middle East at Stanford University."

AMENDS delegates hail from 17 countries and together represent students and young professionals leading projects driven by the ingenuity of the new Middle East. 

AMENDS delegates hail from 17 countries and together represent students and young professionals leading projects driven by the ingenuity of the new Middle East. While many of their projects are still in their initial stages of development, the AMENDS conference and network is intended to provide leadership training and peer support to help scale-up these initiatives. A mentorship program pairs delegates with professionals, development practitioners, and industry leaders for tailored advice and support.

AMENDS delegates are as diverse as the issues they are confronting in the Middle East, North America, and the United Kingdom. Several AMENDS delegates are leveraging the use of new technology and social media to unite civil society, stimulate public debate, introduce alternative energy resources, and promote citizen-led journalism. In Egypt, Morocco, and Palestine, delegates are members of youth movements at the forefront of the Arab Spring revolutions and are championing new approaches for political change. Others are working in their local communities to defend the rights of HIV/AIDS patients in Egypt, support children with disabilities in Canada, and empower uninsured MENA immigrants in the U.S. Many projects share the common goal of getting more youth engaged and active in their local communities to achieve broader societal goals.

Over a five-day period, delegates will deliver ten-minute "AMENDS Talks" styled after TEDTalksTM, where they will introduce their initiatives to the larger Stanford community. The videos will be recorded and available through an online forum — in both Arabic and English — giving delegates’ a global platform to share their ideas, inspiring others to take action. Delegates will also participate in leadership development workshops at the Stanford Graduate School for Business and networking events sponsored by AMENDS strategic partner TechWadi, a Silicon Valley-based organization fostering high-tech entrepreneurial development in the Arab world.

Notable scholars and practitioners from the U.S. and the MENA region will provide unique insight and analysis to some of the timeliest topics emerging from the region. Speakers include Sami Ben Gharbia, Tunisian political activist and a Foreign Policy Top 100 Thinker; Thomas T. Riley, former U.S. ambassador to Morocco; and Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.

CDDRL faculty and staff will also be leading sessions and addressing the AMENDS delegates at the summit, including CDDRL Director Larry Diamond, CDDRL Consulting Professor and AMENDS Advisory Board Member Prince Hicham Ben Abdallah, Arab Reform and Democracy Program Manager Lina Khatib, and Moroccan journalist and CDDRL Visiting Scholar Ahmed Benchemsi.

Most AMENDS Talks and sessions are open to the Stanford community and general public. For more information on AMENDS, to read about the 2012 delegates, and to view the conference agenda, please visit: amends.stanford.edu.