Category Archives: Conferences

Market Opportunities: Will eSports be a GameChanger for Squash?

A couple of months ago, I attended a seminar hosted by MIT Enterprise Forum in Cambridge, Massachusetts on “The eSports, Gaming and Blockchain Technology Revolution,” sponsored by the law firm of Hamilton, Brook, Smith and Reynolds. My prior limited knowledge on the subject matter, enabled me to takeaway that eSports is another means to amplify the sport of squash in a crowded sports and entertainment market with short-attention spans from fans, viewers and sponsors. Though, squash was not selected for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the door remains open for the World Squash Federation to make its bid for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and failing that the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Over a 26-year span of immersing myself in the global squash community through various roles as an amateur player, volunteer, coach and administrator, I, along with the more than 20 million squash players worldwide, wish to see the sport of squash designated an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee. Many (including non-squash players) consider squash to be a “true-sport,” unlike “eSports,” which has recently become a multimillion dollar industry attracting major sponsorship. The target customers of eSports are mostly young people, but the industry also has the potential to reach stay-at-home parents, “differently-abled” athletes, career professionals-in-transition and senior citizens with extra time on their hands to participate in leagues and tournaments.

In recent years, the Professional Squash Association has made limited attempts to license squash video games to bolsters its marketing efforts to capture the “eye-balls” of both current and potential squash fans. My prediction for 2019 and beyond is that, if there are any serious technologists, publishers or members of the gaming community, who possess the know-how to develop, market and sell a world-class gaming squash product (without violence as the premise which in the case of squash is a gentleman’s sport) there is a good possibility for a win-win of squash’s inclusion in the Olympic Games as well as developing a profitable eSports business leader. eSports will never be able to replace the skill, athleticism and mental fortitude that the real sport of squash requires but it can help capture the public’s sporting imagination to expand squash’s audience.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Community Development, Conferences, Corporate Social Responsibility, Leadership, Leisure, Networking, Olympic, Paralympic, Private Public Partnerships, Professional Development, Recreation, Squash, Stakeholder Engagement

Creating Future Nelson Mandelas through International Youth Leadership

As the world remembers Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday, we are reminded of his important impact in the world of sport and leadership. A year after Mandela gave his speech on the power of sport at the first Laureus Awards event in Monaco, 2000, I was fortunate to volunteer as a Facilitator with Civic Concepts International in Prague, Czech Republic. By participating, speaking and facilitating at the 2001 International Youth Leadership Conference, this was not only my first overseas trip as an American citizen, but it was the first time I was an international volunteer in what was to me a new region of the world.

Tariq Mohammed and participants at the 2001 International Youth Leadership Conference in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo credit: W. Webster, 2001.

Our role as facilitators were to create a positive and inclusive environment for cross-cultural learning and dialogue on political and economic crisis simulations. The facilitators also acted as chaperones for the participants on social and cultural excursions. For example, my group (see photo above) visited the Japanese Embassy, toured Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty and ate an authentic Czech meal. The combination of activities fostered a genuine exchange of ideas and modes of cooperation. It was not always easy to find solutions during the crisis simulations given different points of view, however by practicing mutual dialogue, negotiation and advocacy skills participants were better equipped to tackle real political, economic and social issues when they returned to their countries of origin.

Embassy Visit of 2001 International Youth Leadership Conference Participants, Prague Czech Republic Photo credit. W. Webster, 2001.

If you are a parent, educator or coach of a recent college graduate, I recommend that you nominate a young individual to participate in forums such as the International Youth Leadership Conference which currently hosts events in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and of course Eastern Europe. In addition to the skill-building activities, there are opportunities to network with leaders from all walks of life and explore a new part of the world to gain a different perspective on your own beliefs and values. If we are to truly create the world that Nelson Mandela envisioned for the future, then today’s youth might want to consider participating in an International Youth Leadership Conference close to you.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Community Development, Conferences, Conflict Resolution, Education, Foreign Policy, International Development, Leadership, Leisure, Networking, Peace Building, Professional Development, Public Policy, Stakeholder Engagement, Volunteering, Youth Development

Reflecting on the Start for a Better Finish

Since this is my 100th post of my wordpress.com blogging project, I am reminded of how my experiment in blogging started. The credit goes to Geoffrey Kirkman, former Managing Director of the Information Technologies Group at the Center for International Development at Harvard University, for encouraging me in 2002 to blog about my experiences in East Africa which I did courtesy of Weblogs at Harvard. The Information Technologies Group (ITG) as it was referred to then, was a global thought leader on applying information and communication technologies to the challenges of sustainable development.

Prior to the reorganization of ITG, Geoffrey organized a company retreat in Duxbury, Massachusetts. The photograph below is of a handful of the ITG team who were in attendance while other key team members were missing. Starting from right to left they were: Colin Maclay, Marcela Escobari, Geoffrey Kirkman, Magda Ismail, Carolina Vizcaino, Mridul Chowdhury, Chutney (the dog) and myself. Thanks to Geoffrey’s own blogging projects and his mentorship over the years, he positively influenced my blogging endeavors. I’ve enjoyed preparing, editing and writing my blog posts for a general audience. However, as my 100th blog post and counting, it is not clear how this will impact the limitations of space in the printed format.

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Nonetheless, I shall share a few thoughts on how blogging has helped me and prospects for the future. First and foremost, the ability to reflect upon my work has not only allowed me to document the work done, but to pause and think about the importance of health and wellness. Second, this blogging project has connected me to a wide array of individuals and organizations working to improve the state of the world in real and meaningful ways. Third, I have developed a platform on which to translate longstanding political, economic and social issues in America and around the world through the lens of sport and development.

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What does this mean for the future? This year – 2018 – is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the original framework on which my workbook “What Squash Can Teach You?” was derived. Furthermore, my time with Reebok’s Human Rights Programs also shaped the work of this blog project by wanting to combine and continue my interest in sport and sustainable international development. In the future, I hope that the printed formats of this blog and my workbook will be used as educational tools to facilitate critical thinking as well as create positive economic and social value, in the United States and across the world. By reflecting on the start of these writing projects, I intend to create a better finished product.

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Making Next Steps Towards Sustainable Development

While there is no better substitute for in-person mentoring for both the young and old, the Internet and social media enables online or digital mentoring. This blog post is aimed towards younger readers and experienced educators. Twenty years ago (during my junior year), I was invited to a Bowdoin alumni event where I had the good fortune of being seated at a table with President Emeritus Robert Edwards of Bowdoin College and other distinguished alumni. The purpose of the “Beneath the Pines” event was for students, staff, professors and alumni to share ideas on what Bowdoin as an institution was becoming and how campus constituents could shape the future direction of the College. I learned from fellow students about President Edwards’ prior work experience with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and was curious to learn more from him.

At the dinner table, we discussed a number of issues concerning the future of Bowdoin College ranging from student life to academics. Following a lively discussion, the elders at the table turned to the youngest person at the table and asked me, “what are your plans for the summer?” With nothing to lose, I expressed my interest in securing an internship with the Aga Khan Foundation USA based in Washington, DC. President Edwards immediately noticed my interest in the work of the Aga Khan Development Network and graciously invited me to his office to discuss his work with the organization. A few days after our meeting I prepared my personal statement and was interviewed by a committee of AKF USA staff and volunteers for a paid summer internship position.

At my internship desk at the Aga Khan Foundation USA office, Washington, DC. Photo credit: N. Karim, 1998.

From the moment I learned of my acceptance to the AKF USA internship program, I was absolutely thrilled to take steps towards a career in international development. The content of the undergraduate internship varied from assisting in several aspects ranging from  the Foundation’s communications, outreach and public education to assisting in maintaining and organizing the Foundation’s library, documentation and communication materials. Patricia Scheid, our internship supervisor at AKF USA was an excellent guide, facilitator and mentor who made our internship experience more than “just filing” to assisting in grant writing, event planning and community outreach. Also as interns, we were introduced to other members of the AKDN, U.S. Federal agencies and civil society organizations based both in Washington DC and around the world.

AKF USA Interns: Nadya (left), Tariq (center) and Shalini (right), Washington, DC. Photo credit: Z. Hemani, 1998.

While career trajectories are not always linear, my AKF USA internship was a fantastic foray into the role and effectiveness of foreign aid in improving the quality of life of individuals and communities around the world. A lot has happened over the last twenty years in my career development, as well as in the field of sustainable international development, but I am hopeful that the next twenty years will also be just as exciting, if not more both personally and professionally. Thank you to President Emeritus Robert Edwards of Bowdoin College and the Aga Khan Foundation USA for my transformative internship experience. I hope younger readers and experienced educators will be encouraged by the power of networking, mentoring and leadership development to transform lives.

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What Role Can ICTs Play to Improve Sport Governance?

In 2001, the International Year of Volunteers, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that “volunteerism is the ultimate expression of what the United Nations is all about.” Fifteen years ago, in 2003, I set forth from Boston, Massachusetts on my United Nations Volunteer assignment in Kampala, Uganda under the auspices of the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) – an initiative envisioned by the Secretary General – to support efforts to bridge the global digital divide. Since returning from my UNV assignment, I continued to be engaged with various volunteer projects in the United States and across the world, with an emphasis on sport for development and peace.

Upon re-reading my 2002 personal statement to the Cisco Least Developed Countries (LDC) Initiative of which UNITeS was a key partner, I am glad to have been asked by the hiring managers to undertake such a writing exercise. Any hiring manager who wants to narrow down their selection of strong candidates, would do well to request a personal statement. Not only does this tool allow for benchmarking but it can also help individuals (and organizations) set future goals. I am making my personal statement public for the purpose of knowledge management to improve education and learning while addressing the challenges of sustainable development, of which ICTs play an important role.

My Pin Collection from United Nations Volunteers (UNV), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2018.

In 2018, major news headlines posed big questions about democratic freedoms and the role of the Internet and social media. Through the Kofi Annan Foundation, Kofi Annan founded the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security and recently published an op-ed which addressed the challenges to the integrity of the electoral process for high-income and low-income countries. The findings of the Commission will be released in the coming months. While I have no direct contact with inner workings of the Foundation, the outcomes from the Global Commission can have a significant influence on the political, economic and social systems of international sport governance.

Sport for development and peace is very much at the heart of democratic institutions, such as the International Olympic Committee which strives to promote universal values enshrined in the Olympic Charter. The role of the Internet and social media are often described as tools to provide access to information on programs and projects that uphold Olympic values. I do believe that greater access to information and transparency preserve the integrity of the sport for development and peace sector. However, I also believe in the need for a system of checks and balances in the areas of corruption, terrorism and crime, which the International Center for Sport Security (ICSS) aims to fulfill. ICSS and its partners are identifying weaknesses in systems of sport governance and leveraging ICTs to protect and serve the cause of peace, development and human rights. The Internet and social media will continue to evolve and so citizens will learn to adapt to new ways of living, working and playing.

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American Global Leadership: The State of the US State Department

The Boston Public Library and WorldBoston, both forward thinking organizations hosted and organized an important event to raise awareness of the role of diplomacy in enhancing American global leadership. Since the end of the second World War, the United States has led the world in military, economic and cultural power, yet the change in today’s global trends – the rise of China, geo-political challenges in Europe and shifting economic tides, gave the speakers an impetus to call on the American public to improve the state of the U.S. State Department.

Building on Ambassador Barbara Stephenson’s compelling column and Ambassador Nicholas Burns’ alarming op-ed piece in the New York Times, their remarks at the Boston Public Library made a strong case in opposition of the 30 percent budget reduction to the U.S. Department of State by the Trump Administration. Ambassador Stephenson outlined the role of American diplomats, their strengths and what happens when diplomacy is done well – in terms of “invisibility and light touches,” while cultivating relationships to better negotiate international agreements and treaties. For example, the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement where community-based policing transformed relations between Catholics and Protestants.

Ambassador Stephenson and Ambassador (Retd.) Burns on the “The State of the State Department,” moderated by Mary Yntema, CEO of World Boston at Boston Public Library, February, 2018. Photo Credit: T. Mohammed, 2018.

Ambassador Stephenson closed her remarks by asking what happens when American diplomats are not stationed overseas? Her unequivocal response, was that without the presence of American diplomats, there is a void in the relationship between the United States and the host countries, there is a lack of intelligence or “eyes and ears” on the ground and it is difficult to deal with threats to U.S. interests. In short, Ambassador Stephenson emphasized that the budget cuts were not plausible and not sustainable for American global leadership in the world.

Ambassador Burns, a Massachusetts native began with how Boston, has always been an outward looking city with its seaport and trade relations with many countries. He went on to describe the extent to which the State Department budget cuts and the increase in federal spending on the Department of Defense was not prudent, nor wise. Ambassador Burns shared how the diplomatic corps and military personnel often share serving on the frontlines, therefore requiring better integration of State and Defense Departments. He provided examples such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Germany and Korea – where there are currently no US Ambassadors serving to protect and advance U.S. interests – all of which face important, complex political, economic and security issues. Ambassador Burns closed his remarks with an apt quote by Winston Churchill during his 1943 speech at Harvard University, just as the British Empire was on the decline and America’s influence was improving, by stating “the price of greatness is responsibility.” For students, educators and practitioners I highly recommend learning more about the Boston Network for International Development, which is why I attended this educational event.

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Monetizing Sport for Development and Peace: Is a Photo worth more than $1000?

In North America and Western Europe, media outlets, independent journalists and bloggers often display photos of children, adolescents and young adults in the developing world who are engaged in sport for development and peace activities. The motives behind such photos often vary from portraying a positive image of the media outlet to indirect fundraising for donor organizations. How do the subjects, or more specifically persons in the photographs benefit? This question prompted me to self-reflect about how to apply learnings from participating in international competitions, sport tournaments and conferences.

During the mid 1990s, as a high school student in the United Arab Emirates, a group of classmates from the International School of Choueifat Sharjah in the science stream asked me (an arts student) if I wanted to participate in an advertising competition with a chance to win a free trip to Paris, France. Without much thought, I literally jumped at the idea. We were a group of expatriate children from India, Korea, Iran and Lebanon with aspirations of international travel who responded to an international competition, prior to the days of the fast-moving Internet world of today. The award-winning photos below, enabled 3 team members in the advertising competition to visit Paris, France.

Tariq Mohammed and Sanaz Dadfar participating in International Advertising Competition, Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: K. Blasetti, 1995.

More than 20 years later, one of the biggest challenges in the sport for development and peace movement has been to monetize or generate significant revenue from program activities to ensure financial sustainability. Different international development actors are motivated by either profits, donations or funding from government agencies which are affected by macro and microeconomic conditions. In my humble opinion, when there are competitions, tournaments and conferences to benefit the sport for development and peace sector, perhaps donor organizations enable the travel of the subjects or deserving person(s) in the photo(s) so that there is more direct interaction between donor and recipients to further the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Tariq Mohammed and Sanaz Dadfar participating in International Advertising Competition, Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: K. Blasetti, 1995.

In the spirit of suggestions and solutions, a variety of settings come to mind for donors and recipients to interact directly. For example, a meet and greet with staff at the headquarters of a multinational sporting goods company, a lecture series at local university or a town hall meeting with the general public are just a sample of how the subjects of photos in the sport for development and peace sector can directly improve their social and economic prospects. This can be done once a year or once every four years depending on budgets of donor organizations. Given the tweeting and clicking of today’s world of short attention spans, photography is becoming a means to advertise, advocate and generate revenues.

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