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Building Leaders

ABDALLA F. HASSAN | Egypt Today | May 1999 | p. 59

drought sweeps the Middle Eastern nation of Amarabia, wreaking economic havoc. Framers face starvation. Traders begin to import food, and miners are frantically exploring for underground water. Now the government, the World Bank, the traders, fishermen, farmers and minors must work together to sort out the mess. Representing each party, 20-odd delegates congregate at the American University in Cairo (AUC).

 

This scenario is just one of the hypothetical conflicts enacted at last month’s Fourth International Student Leadership Conference (ISLC) at AUC. During he conference, 130 students from different universities were challenged to provide solutions for such conflicts in an effort to foster leadership. “Each person put his or her own creativity into it. You were really feeling the moment,” says Haythem Hassan Musa, conference delegate and medical student at Ain Shams University.

 

The eve of a new millennium and ongoing privatization efforts have spurred a rethinking of traditional, hierarchical leadership, not only on college campuses but also in business, where new management styles are being sought. Within this context, the four-day conference aimed to train Egypt’s future leaders. “A number of people developed abilities they didn’t know they had,” says AUC Provost Tim Sullivan. “And other people, who were convinced they were leaders, looked around and found that there was nobody behind them.”

 

Defining the role of leaders was a core topic. “We follow leaders because they fill a void in us,” explains Sullivan. “Most people follow perhaps because they have no choice. You can go to many parliaments. . . . Are they leading? Doubtful. What is their vision of the future? Questionable. But they are called leaders.” Discussions about leadership in various fields from the arts and sports to economists and politics were ongoing during the event. 

 

Nayia Andreou, a primary education major at the University of Cyprus, lists American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., Latin American revolutionary leader Che Guevara and South African President Nelson Mandela as great leaders. “You get to know people from different cultures and religions,” she says of the conference. “You get to break these stereotypes that exist between people.”

 

The majority of the delegates were from Egyptian universities, with five delegates from Cyprus and one from Croatia. Coordinators looked for quick thinking and creativity when selecting from among 600 candidates. During his interview, Musa was asked to convince coordinators that the jacket he was wearing, which was blue, was actually yellow. “We tried to choose those who have skills that they would develop in the conference,” explains Dina Bakhoum, an ISLC coordinator and AUC construction engineering major. 

 

Prior to the conference, delegates met for six training sessions to practice public speaking, crisis management and negotiation. “Achieving a set goal requires teamwork,” Sullivan reminded the delegates. “It requires cooperation and it requires trust.”

 

Setting up the student-organized event was itself an exercise in leadership. “Being a good leader is getting the legitimacy of your followers, being respected by them, and trying to work for the good of everyone,” says Siada El Ramly, ISLC ’99 president and a graduating AUC political science major. Under her leadership, almost 70 students organized everything from raising the LE 100,000 budget (from sponsors and donations) to making sure the sound system worked. “I live in a developing country and this is where you can help,” says Dina Sherif, a workshop coordinator and a recent AUC political science graduate.

 

El Ramly says she has met a variety of student leaders, from those who embrace Machiavellian-style leadership to others who favor a religion-based approach. “You also had people who thought there was no point in discussing what the best kind of leadership was because you don’t get to choose your leaders,” says El Ramly. Her response: “You may not be able to choose who the person is, but you can limit their authority.”