Moneeza Burney – Engaging Youth for Practical Learning
A woman of multiple talents and easily juggling three jobs at a time, Moneeza Burney is the Director of Lahore Students Union Community Service Initiative (LSU), along with being Research Associate & Scriptwriter at CFx Comics, and is also a Feature Writer at DAWN Newspaper. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in Business Economics from Sheffield, England and came back to Pakistan in 2013.
Growing up in Pakistan, Moneeza was constantly aware of the plethora of social problems that make Pakistanis lag far behind people of other developed societies. Seeing the misery of the poor and the systematic marginalization of women first-hand, she always wondered if things could ever be set right.
‘When I returned to Pakistan after completing my studies from the UK, I looked at the situation with fresh eyes and resolved to play my part.’
With an Undergraduate degree in Economics, Moneeza had spent time analyzing economic models and philosophies from around the world and wanted to understand the issues closer to home. She returned to Pakistan in 2013 and took up research roles in different development sector organizations. That year, she was able to build an extensive professional network and got a hands-on look at some of the complex socio-economic ground realities. There was great work being done, but most of it was driven by top-level policy and strategy. The interaction with beneficiaries was missing, and often communities didn’t own the projects done for their benefit. Moneeza felt the need to gather the numerous interweaving societal and community narratives through comprehensive qualitative research.
‘I also realized that while the data-driven, academic approach to development was vital, I needed to feel the impact of my work directly to be content.’
While switching full-time jobs, Moneeza threw herself headfirst into her own youth mobilization project with the Lahore Students Union (LSU) called the Community Service Initiative (CSI). Her experience had given her valuable knowledge of a diverse network of NGOs and projects, so she started this project to help NGOs get access to driven and talented volunteers. But what have been really rewarding for her are the transformative experiences students have after working on social issues over a period of 4 to 6 weeks. The program operates across 10 development segments including gender empowerment, education, health, environmental conservation, poverty alleviation, and peace & non-violence. In the span of three years, the number of applicants and volunteers has doubled, thereby increasing the scale of the program in terms of opportunities, with their NGO partner network also expanding to 70+ organizations.
‘Through my work with Lahore Students Union (LSU) and my responsibilities at CFx Comics and DAWN, I have come across many magical moments that keep me going.’
As a Program Director for LSU CSI, Moneeza has helped to provide a platform to young individuals to become socially aware citizens by connecting them to the right organizations for their area of interest. To add value to their work, she tries to inculcate important values like empathy, social responsibility and integrity by arranging training workshops where sector specialists and experts speak to volunteers to share their knowledge and inspire young people to give back to the community in any way they can.
In 2015, Moneeza took up the position of Research Associate and Scriptwriter at CFx Comics, a digital content studio that aims at telling stories about social issues through comics and animation. She was looking for impact, and found herself right in the middle of it. Writing and researching for CFx Comics’ debut series, ‘Paasban – the Guardian’ has inspired the belief that problems as great as violent extremism can be tackled with the right narrative. Conducting background research on the topics and co-writing the scripts, she often finds herself chasing threads of a plot in piles of statistics, and has learned to read between the lines when interacting with former radicals as they describe their experience.
‘Interacting with activists also gives me an appreciation for the immense amount of personal belief, resolve and sacrifice that is required to make a difference in people’s lives.’
More of Moneeza’s work at CFx Comics includes developing scripts for comics and animated videos as public service messages for local and international NGOs and social projects on topics including female hygiene, gender empowerment, cybercrime, education, mental health, environmental conservation, poverty alleviation among others.
Back In 2013, while applying for opportunities in the sector, Moneeza landed her first job with DAWN Newspaper, as a Freelance Feature writer. To date, her experience of working as a journalist with DAWN has been extremely special. Articles and features she is currently working on range from women empowerment, marginalized religious communities, and cultural events & festivals aiming at reviving the culture and traditions of Pakistan as a counter to violent extremism.
‘My areas of expertise are writing, research and youth empowerment. As a teenager, I used to write poetry and stories and aspired to become a novelist someday (which I still do!).’
When Moneeza launched LSU CSI, no one took her seriously as she was just starting off. In the first year of LSU CSI, they were just a 2 person team. But none of that stopped her and she kept working hard to grow the program. She was awarded the SBS Alumni Special Recognition Award 2017 (UK), nominated as the finalist for the British Council Alumni Awards 2017 (Social Impact category) (UK), shortlisted for the Reimagine Education Awards (Ethical Leadership category) (U.S) and invited for the International Visitor’s Leadership Program (IVLP) (Coalition-Building for NGOs) to the United States by the State Department in November 2017.
‘Today I am proud to share that I have received widespread local and global recognition because of the program’s overwhelming success over the years.’
Moneeza believes that women should never give up on their dreams. Despite all challenges stacked up against women as compared to men in Pakistan, with hard work and dedication anything can be accomplished, for all heroes don’t wear capes-funky dupattas work just as well!
‘No matter how clichéd this may sound: stay strong and never stop believing in yourself. You will meet magical moments on the way-it’s a promise!’
Interview by Hammad Anwar | Written by Minahil Amin