Posted on May 01, 2018

Social entrepreneur Haroon Yasin had firmly set his sights on providing quality education to children in his native Pakistan when he began his academic journey at Qatar Foundation (QF) in 2012.

A year before he started his Bachelor of Science degree in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), Haroon taught a group of children living in the slums of Islamabad. “In 2011, I taught young children who were living in increasingly difficult circumstances. Seeing the impact our team was able to make on their lives made me fall in love with the field of education,” said Haroon.

Haroon’s passion and determination to transform the education landscape in Pakistan has since gained global recognition. Most notably, he is one of the recipients of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award 2018, an initiative that recognizes exceptional young people dedicated to bringing about lasting change in their communities. In June, Haroon will travel to England to accept the award from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. While a student at GU-Q, Haroon was able to turn his passion into an education initiative when he joined the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Learners’ Voice Program. The program is a QF initiative that challenges young people to rethink education, equipping them with the skills to adopt leading roles in their fields, specifically within education.

During the Learners’ Voice program, Haroon worked under the guidance of Dr. Thomas Cassidy, a WISE Learners’ Voice Program advisor, to lay the foundation for what would become the Orenda Project, an education start-up. “My 2013 participation in the WISE Learners’ Voice Program was critical to launching the Orenda Project as it enabled us to acquire the skills and know-how to establish our initial education model,” he said.

The Orenda Project officially launched in 2014 and initially focused on rebuilding schools in the slums areas of Islamabad, but when Haroon returned to Pakistan in 2016 after completing his degree, he discovered that many of the slums had been demolished. “I was forced to go back to the drawing board to assess how I could reach the same children, but through a reworked education model that was not threatened by unpredictable circumstances brought on by the ever-changing political landscape in the country,” he said. “Faced with this immense challenge, I was incredibly thankful for my time at QF and the guidance of Dr. Cassidy, whose support gave me the resilience to overcome this major hurdle. After extensive research, we decided to adapt our model to the digital sphere as we would be able to offer educational tools that were immune to the ever-changing conditions and political landscape of the country.”

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Through an agreement with the district government in Vehari, Pakistan, the Orenda Project began incorporating the national curriculum into a series of videos for out-of-school children, as well as children who are in school but did not have access to quality education. “We developed videos that depict localized characters who encounter a series of misadventures, in a way that is designed to capture the attention of learners and teach them numeracy, literacy, and general knowledge,” he said. While rolling out the educational video series to underprivileged students across Pakistan, the Orenda Project team also wanted to specifically address the inequality girls faced in obtaining an education due to cultural taboos and lack of support from their communities. 

The team reached out to Malala Yousafzai – the youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize laureate and an activist for female education in Pakistan – to ask for her support in making the provision of education possible for girls. “I recently had an opportunity to meet with Malala and familiarize her with the work of the Orenda Project and how we aim to provide education to out-of-school girls in Pakistan,” said Haroon. “We are proud to say that the Malala Fund is now supporting the Orenda Project through an agreement that will see us provide education to 1,000 out-of-school girls in Pakistan over the next three years.”

While Haroon and his team continue to devote much of their time to making a positive impact in Pakistan, he has plans to give back to the QF community who supported and contributed to the Orenda Project. “Through the Georgetown Social Innovation and Public Service Fund, I would like to assist students who are aspiring entrepreneurs by mentoring them and walking them through the crucial early stages of developing a successful business model,” he said. “Georgetown’s motto of ‘men and women for others’ instilled in me a further sense of responsibility, and it’s a value I have held close during the incredibly tough times of realizing my dream of establishing the Orenda Project. It’s a constant reminder of why I’m doing this – to be of service to others.”

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