Using their degrees for social impact
We were delighted that two LLB alumni were shortlisted in the Social Impact category at the Study UK Alumni Awards in Pakistan earlier this year. We spoke to Hamna Zain and Syed Jalal Hussain about their passion for social justice and how their projects are making a meaningful impact on communities across Pakistan.
Can you tell us about some of the work you have done which led you to submitting for the award?
Hamna: I have been working not only as a corporate lawyer, but I also worked and conducted legal aid camps for the women of Tharparkar and Badin to raise awareness amongst them. Additionally, I researched and made a short film on the African community living in Pakistan along with Nomads of Tharparkar, who immigrate every season from India to Pakistan for food, water and shelter. I have also started a channel on YouTube – Law with Barrister Hamna – where I teach free of cost not just law students and law professionals, but also raise awareness amongst the general masses of our country about their legal and constitutional rights.
Jalal: I was enamoured to pursue an LLB after the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan in 2007. I was at the forefront of the movement to restore the judiciary as a member of the core committee of the Student Action Committee, which played an instrumental role in mobilising students and youth to fight for the cause of an independent judiciary. Riding on the wave of this movement, in 2009 my friends and I decided to start an organisation called Zimmedar Shehri (Responsible Citizens) that would bring about sustainable change in Pakistan and inspire others to do something to improve the conditions in our country. While pursuing my undergraduate degree with the University of London, I worked with the Jinnah Institute, a non-profit, public policy organisation to help compile a report on the State of Religious Minorities in Pakistan. The report examined the development of instruments of legal discrimination and social persecution against Pakistan’s religious minorities, with specific reference to the heightened risk at which these communities are placed in the context of attacks on their homes, places of worship and person.
How did it feel to be shortlisted as a finalist at the Study UK Alumni Awards?
Hamna: It felt great that I was recognised and was given a great platform to showcase my work, along with that a huge encouragement for my future work.
Jalal: It felt wonderful to be recognised and lauded by the British Council, and was a testament and affirmation of all the hard work I put in over the years.
Hamna, you have worked as a lawyer for 10 years and now run your own law firm, Zen Law Chambers, providing corporate consultancy across Pakistan. What have been some of the highlights of your career? And how have you overcome any challenges you have faced?
Working as a female lawyer for many years in a male dominant society has been quite challenging for me. I have been a victim of too many female-related problems and now at present I am proud to say that I have overcome all of the issues very gracefully.
At work I have been passed over for promotions, wage increases, and have seen them given to my male counterparts. From stereotypical sexism like lower-salaried positions, not being taken seriously, not being invited to critical meetings, to being told to stop being so aggressive with the men in the senior leadership team that I was a part of, I've seen it all. It all just made me want to work harder. It didn’t stifle me, it made me stronger.
Jalal, can you share more about the initiatives you have set up as part of Zimmedar Shehri (Responsible Citizens)?
Zimmedar Shehri started out with the 'Take out the Trash' initiative that attracted hundreds of volunteers across Pakistan. The aim of this project was to create a sense of national responsibility and ownership within the people of Pakistan. This expanded into the 'Lahore eXchange', a drive to clothe the poor of Lahore. Zimmedar Shehri has also, in partnership with the Anti-Narcotics Force of Pakistan, initiated an annual drug demand reduction internship. We also conducted 'Flood Relief Mission' focusing on the flood hit areas that devastated Pakistan.
After our flood relief missions in 2010 and 2011, Zimmedar Shehri decided to do something more sustainable for the flood-affected population that would have a long lasting impact. The floods of 2010 had destroyed everything in the village of Basti Ryndh, South Muzzafargarh, so we decided to build a school there. The labour employed were from the village itself and so we not only gave employment to many unemployed members of the community, but also allowed them to maintain hope of a better Pakistan. The children of the labourers will be educated in this school and so the labourers worked with extra motivation knowing that their kids will be educated.
As a movement to empower the people of Pakistan to overcome the adversities of urbanised life and take action where action is needed, Zimmedar Shehri aims to create a sense of national responsibility and ownership within the people of Pakistan. The organisation enjoys an international reputation, having been lauded by the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in her address at the GC University, Lahore.
What impact has your University of London degree had on your career?
Jalal: My courses at the University of London helped me understand and analyse the scientific method that underlies the practice of law, economic and social policy in Pakistan. I was also better able to appreciate how Pakistan has evolved as a post-colonial state. The University of London degree helped fulfil my appetite for learning about the general principles that underlie the functioning of different societies; and the ability to handle a wide range of evidence, analyse complex issues and present conclusions in a clear and effective manner. This has held me in good stead in the way I think; my degree trained me to think logically, analytically and with a clear head; whether that’s in grappling with work propositions or in dealing with personal dilemmas.
Hamna: The University of London has undoubtedly provided me with world class education, great teachers, it has made my perspective more broad and embrace diversity, it has made me independent and has encouraged me to work towards a social cause; overall it has been a great learning for me.
Do you have any advice for recent University of London graduates embarking on a career in law, or who wish to pursue charitable endeavours?
Hamna: Every moment is an opportunity to learn, pay attention when things go well and pay extra attention when things don’t.
Jalal: Anybody who is privileged enough to have a University of London degree has a responsibility to contribute to their community and the society at large. I would advise alumni to use their knowledge and privilege for the betterment of the downtrodden and inspire others to do the same. Keep a cool mind, warm heart and clean hands.
Hosted by the British Council, the Study UK Alumni Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of alumni and showcase the value that studying at a UK university has had upon the individual, their community and country.