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Shaping Future of the Internet 27 March 2024

The Future is Now: A Young Changemaker’s Journey

The Night That Altered Everything

One night a decade ago, an 11-year-old boy named Nojus Saad drifted off to sleep in rural northern Iraq, lulled by a cool breeze coming through the window and the song of crickets outside. Suddenly, this moment was shattered by frantic pounding on his front door. Only he and his mother were home, and as the “man” of the house, he was expected to answer. What he saw would change his life forever. 

The neighbor’s husband was beating his wife on Nojus’ front doorstep. Nojus stood frozen in his doorway with shock and fear, unable to move or call for help. His mother swiftly pulled him inside to safety. They held each other and cried, knowing they could do nothing to stop that man in his fury.

As time passed, the scene continued to haunt the boy. He was angry at being so powerless to help. And the more he thought about it, the more he became aware of other ways life was unfair for women and girls. He could even see inequalities at home. Though they were close in age, his sister had fewer opportunities and much less freedom than he did. And he learned about “honor killings,” when men kill female relatives who have “brought shame” to the family.

Tormented by these stories, Nojus went to the Internet.

The Internet of Hope: From Passion to Action

“I didn’t have much connectivity back then. My family was living in poverty in a remote town,” Nojus said.

Whenever I did get online, I would spend that time educating myself on gender equality and social justice, particularly for women. What I found helped me see that change was possible.

Filled with hope, Nojus jumped into action. He began volunteering at a nearby nonprofit he’d discovered online. Soon after that—at only 16 years old—he founded a nonprofit of his own, Youth for Women Foundation, to empower young people and women to advocate for nationwide gender-based violence policies. 

But his ambitions didn’t stop there. He began working to make a difference in other areas, including reproductive health rights, general healthcare, digital literacy, and Internet access. He hoped to give young people the skills and resources to champion gender equality and work for an inclusive and accessible Internet for everyone.

From Traditional to Digital Advocacy with the Internet Society

“In 2019, I heard about the Internet Society’s Youth Ambassador Program and discovered that it was possible to combine traditional and digital advocacy to increase my influence,” said Nojus. “I was so happy when I learned I’d been accepted. And I was right to be—it has truly changed my life and career.”

In the program, Nojus learned step-by-step project management techniques, advocacy tactics, and communication skills. This helped his confidence and career soar as he sharpened his abilities and learned to think from a multidisciplinary mindset. The leadership and entrepreneurial spirit he developed helped him gain clarity on how best to target his efforts to overcome obstacles and bring his vision to life.

Program participants were taught by some of the world’s most influential tech leaders, including Vint Cerf—one of the founders of the Internet—and experts from influential firms such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM.

“Thanks to the guidance I received in the Internet Society’s Youth Ambassador Program, my experience, connections, and career opportunities skyrocketed,” said Nojus. “My mentor encouraged me to be more engaged and still supports me today.”

In addition, Nojus was exposed to multiple Internet policy and technology courses and events, such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and was introduced to global Internet governance experts at the United Nations and more. This led him to develop a greater appreciation of the importance of the Internet, which has opened many other doors. But for Nojus, the most exciting outcome of the program is that it’s enabled him to help more people than before.

The Ripple Effect: How Just One Person Can Make a Difference

Today, Nojus’ professional life is devoted to leveraging digital technologies to innovate and improve sexual, reproductive, and mental healthcare services for women and LGBTQIA+ youth in the Global South.

His nonprofit, Youth for Women Foundation, has served close to 6000 young people in over 65 rural, refugee, and underserved communities in Iraq, India, and France. The nonprofit has run workshops and advocacy campaigns on gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), and digital literacy.

A group photo of people holding certificates of participation from the Youth for Women Foundation

In 2021, they held northern Iraq’s very first domestic violence training program for religious leaders. They also implemented a four-month youth leadership program, training more than 60 young people from 32 of Iraq’s most vulnerable rural, semi-urban, and refugee communities in gender and LGBTQIA+ justice.

Building a Better Tomorrow

Nojus believes that by equipping young people with the skills and confidence to advocate, there is hope for tomorrow. 

“The Youth Ambassador program is critical to protecting the open, global Internet and ensuring no one’s left behind.”

“The Internet impacts us all. Many people spend most of their lives online. But we can’t take it for granted.” Nojus said. “It counts on the next generation to secure its future, so we can continue using this powerful tool for social change.”

Image © Nojus Saad

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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