When the young lead… compassionately, yet firmly

Anybody going through the content of this issue of Rotaract News, as any  of the earlier ones, will be amazed by the community development projects that our Rotaractors pursue — right from spreading awareness on preventing diseases, sanitation and hygiene to cleanliness and education, and so on. All this comes from your concern for the disadvantaged and your compassion, and because you care, and have the energy and enthusiasm to achieve your goals. This proves, yet again, that when the young make up their minds to take on leadership roles and bring about a positive change in the lives of those around them, they can do it.

The keywords here are “young” and “leadership”. But how many young people do we really have in leadership positions in governments around the world in general, and India in particular? In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections, the party that won the polls and formed the government, projected young leaders before the polls, but when it came to government formation, the older satraps bagged the CM’s kursi. But fortunately, elsewhere in the world, we are getting younger role models as heads of governments.

Recently Slovakia chose its first female President in Zuzana Čaputová. A simple statement made by her after her victory assumes significance in the background of the negativity and name-calling we are seeing in the campaigns leading to our own Lok Sabha polls. She said her victory showed that “you can win without attacking your opponents”. She led a positive campaign based on progressive values and political reform, but also “the values of humanism, solidarity and truth”. She is only 45 and is a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner.

Then of course there is this woman in New Zealand, who brings stars in our eyes when we talk about her — the country’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The way she responded to the recent horrendous terror attack in this tiny nation is exemplary. She acted with kindness, compassion, empathy, of course, but also firmness. The murderous attacks on two mosques in Christchurch left 50 worshippers dead. It was carried out by an Australian white supremacist who hated immigrants. She lost no time in calling it an act of terror. She visited the families of the victims wearing a hijab, made a series of supportive statements that sent a clear signal to non-Muslim New Zealanders that the Muslim community needed their empathy and support. And so we had citizens  coming out in visible support of Muslims; white girls wearing the hijab and walking beside their Muslim friends so they didn’t feel threatened and a plethora of such affirmative acts.

Guess how old Ardern was when she became Prime Minister of New Zealand? Barely 37! Last year she was celebrated as a symbol of a progressive and unconventional young woman leader (she is an unmarried mother) who gave birth while she was PM, and even brought her baby to the UN. Her leadership skills were put to the ultimate test during this terror attack and she acted not only kindly and compassionately but swiftly to ban guns in the country. More important, she took on the Turkish President Recep Erdogan who tried to get political mileage from the Christchurch tragedy by showing brutal images of the killings from the murderer’s video in his recent poll campaign. Best of all was her one-line terse message to the killer: “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.” It is not surprising  that on social media there were calls for her to be given the Nobel Prize!

This is the mettle leadership is made of. Small wonder then that RI is concentrating on getting more women and more young into the Rotary family!

Rasheeda Bhagat

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