Moiz Lakhani, a Diploma Programme (DP) student at Colonel By Secondary School in Canada, is a lot like other students. He is preparing for exams and writing essays, but during his free time he is launching an initiative to empower young women all over the world. While spending time with his family in Pakistan, he realized an alarming trend. “I noticed that sexual abuse was a major problem within my home country of Pakistan … and I didn’t want [my female cousins] to face the same problem.”
Since the moment of that realization, his efforts have focused on a model to address the issue globally and recently, he has found opportunities to build upon his idea. In 2018, Moiz was the youngest finalist in the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) Youth Assembly Impact Challenge for his pitch to build NinjaGirls, a social venture created to equip girls with the tools they need to protect themselves from sexual and physical abuse. The concept draws upon one of his other personal interests: martial arts. Moiz earned his Black Belts in Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing and has represented Canada in international tournaments, giving him a strong understanding of personal empowerment and self-defense.
“The more I researched the issue the more I understood that sexual abuse is a major problem not only in Pakistan, but in countries across the world.”
The FAF Impact Challenge is designed to support youth and create solutions to real world problems people face in their communities. Behind the scenes, Andrew Macdonald, the Executive Director of the FAF tells us that contestants like Moiz “went through a rigorous review process and finalists were awarded seed funding and mentorship to turn their vision into action. Moiz Lakhani has demonstrated outstanding responsibility and passion towards ensuring the safety and betterment of young girls in developing countries with his project, NinjaGirls.”
While Moiz was the only DP student among last year’s three challenge finalists, IB students with powerful ideas can look ahead to entering the 2020 impact challenge. “I know the passion that exists throughout the IB community to create a better world,” Macdonald says, “the FAF is proud to continue to support Moiz in the development of his project and invites other IB students and alumni from all over the world to take the challenge of creating game-changing solutions to today’s most pressing problems.”
To learn more from the founder himself, we asked Moiz to tell us more about his work with NinjaGirls and how he built the initiative while studying towards his IB diploma.
What was your original inspiration for your project, NinjaGirls?
Moiz Lakhani: I noticed that sexual abuse was a major problem within my home country of Pakistan. Unfortunately, even today, many young girls are faced with the problem of sexual abuse and the stigma surrounding it. All my cousins are girls, and I didn’t want them to face the same problem. However, the more I researched the issue the more I understood that sexual abuse is a major problem not only in Pakistan, but in countries across the world. I wanted to initiate change, and felt FAF, an organization which is affiliated with UNDPI and has consultative status with UNESCO and ECOSOC, would equip me with the resources I needed to initiate change.
Can you tell us about your journey from the first iteration of NinjaGirls to winning seed funding with FAF?
ML: After learning about the problem of sexual and physical abuse in developing countries, I came up with the idea of NinjaGirls and presented my idea to FAF, through the Impact Challenge, open to youth 16-28 around the world. First, participants needed to submit a written proposal explaining how their social venture connected to the work of the United Nations and the Sustainable Development Goals. Select participants from the proposal round were then invited to do an interview with members from FAF to explain their idea further. After the interview round, FAF selected only 10 participants as finalists to pitch their ideas to judges in New York. I was invited to pitch my idea on International Youth Day to a panel of 5 judges. I was the youngest winner of the competition and received seed funding from FAF and Space Chain as well as mentorship and a platform to implement my project to more than 40,000 people.
What is your pitch to inspire schools to implement NinjaGirls?
ML: In many countries, sexual abuse is a major problem affecting young girls. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 150 million girls under 18 have experienced forced intercourse or sexual violence. Schools can implement the NinjaGirls program to ensure that girls feel safe in their community and are equipped with the tools they need to protect themselves. In addition, many young girls do not understand what legally constitutes as sexual harassment. Therefore, by educating them on the laws surrounding sexual abuse, they will be able to protect themselves and ultimately feel more confident.
“Through the collaboration of other like-minded individuals, a greater collective impact can be achieved.”
What advice do you have for other students pursuing social initiatives?
ML: The biggest advice I would like to offer is the importance of a robust team. It is very difficult to initiate meaningful change alone. Through the collaboration of other like-minded individuals, a greater collective impact can be achieved. Also, finding mentors is an important element in social entrepreneurship, as it is through their experiences and knowledge that your project can grow and develop further.