In telling his success story, Oday Abu Karsh, director of REFORM, The Palestinian Association for Empowerment and Local Development says: “I am a social and political activist. At first I saw myself as a youth leader who wanted the voice of youth to reach Palestinian decision-maker so the needs of the people could be met. I am deeply affected by our people; we share the same concerns, needs and aspirations for a society we want to live in. The best way to put this in context is the question, “How do we create a Palestine we love in the way we want to love it?”
Abu Karsh continues, “When I first became involved in activism, I was very young. I was active in student movements and was affiliated with a political faction. However, as I got older, this affiliation alone in spite of its significance, was no longer enough to fuel activism capable of making an impact at the decision-making level. I knew I had to expand to other platforms that would allow me this. I realized that moving in a direction that expressed my vision for this society was a necessary ,and that searching for supplementary interactive platforms was necessary to counter frustrations of not being able to have an impact.
The Platform I was striving for required much more personal awareness; it called for more skills and constant activity with double the impact, which meant I had to become much more involved in youth groups and in strengthening my personal skills. I needed to develop interactive contexts capable of allowing my voice to be heard in a much bigger way.”
Balance between both affiliations
Abu Karsh says his own shift from political affiliation to his subsequent affiliation with a socio-political platform contained a message for youth. He says it prompts them to open up to one another and not back themselves into one corner. “Political affiliation is very important and in the Palestinian case, it is not an option. The occupation and the Palestinian condition in general, force you to lean towards a certain political direction. However, to seclude oneself in this single space without developing supplementary interactive tools leads to our inability to influence. Therefore, continuing these interactive platforms that allow our youths’ voices to be heard is no less important than political affiliation. Social activism is equally as important, especially during the stage of Palestinian state-building. This requires that we open up to one another, to our social peers and to world experiences. We need to be more in tune with the needs of people who are not part of our political faction in addition to the needs of the broader Palestinian public who have no factional affiliation at all.
The leaders of tomorrow – the MIFTAH prototype
In speaking about MIFTAH’s approach in the program “Leaders of Tomorrow” Abu Karsh says: “This is a group with different political leanings and affiliations. They decided to find common ground and take steps towards positive change through creating a larger interactive space that brings them all together but preserves their individual thoughts, beliefs and ideologies. However, they felt that with the tools available, they should be more capable of moving forward. In this context, he explained the reluctance of today’s youth to become involved in political action as a cardinal sin. Abu Karsh attributes this reluctance to the polarization and discord in Palestinian society. At the same time, however, he stressed on the importance of renewing tools, strengthening partnerships and integration in order to have an impact in decision making with the goal of renewing the social contract. This, Abu Karsh says, will sustain society’s participation in the creation of public policies, will maximize frameworks for accountability and fortify the internal Palestinian structure.
MIFTAH: most influential part of the journey
In speaking about how MIFTAH personally impacted him and REFORM’s approach, which he says is an extension of his success story, Abu Karsh continues: “Unfortunately, my relationship with MIFTAH came a bit too late. I was employed by MIFTAH in 2008, which was a big achievement for me. I developed there and my experience at MIFTAH contributed to my capacity building in a major way, especially my capabilities in institution building and civil society institutions. It gave me many spaces I had not experienced before and opened the door to different opportunities. During my time at MIFTAH I, along with my colleagues, developed a unique capacity structure that that reflected on my own performance and the performance of the working groups I was part of. It increased my capabilities in mobilization and influence in youth groups in general . While it’s true that my relationship with MIFTAH as an employee ended in 2010, my work as a youth activist, which also began in 2010 and later my positon at REFORM meant the relationship with MIFTAH overall continues to this day. Since then I have always tried to maintain this space and this relationship and consider it one of the most important relationships I have ever developed.
When we decided to establish REFORM, MIFTAH provided us with the necessities to build bylaws and create powerful internal structures and systems to govern the institution transparently . That is why I consider MIFTAH as the driving force behind any success I have achieved today. MIFTAH is currently a member of a coalition that REFORM leads. This to me is an unprecedented show of empowerment from MIFTAH, uncharacteristic in any other partnership we have, for which we are grateful.
Oday Abu Karsh says REFORM’s message stems from that of MIFTAH and its pioneer role in society. “Everything we learned from MIFTAH we try to transfer to our employees, our target sectors and our volunteers. We also try to spread the tools we learned at MIFTAH and promote the relationship between Palestinian society and the various decision-making sectors in addition to responding to citizens’ needs.
We have developed training manual for REFORM, “Facilitating Reform processes” . This was the product of a lengthy 10-year experience at MIFTAH but which was then was published in REFORM’s name. MIFTAH was happy to see the guidebook, which was closely reviewed by its CEO Dr. Lily Feidy. If anything, this shows that MIFTAH considers us one of their own and considers itself a pillar of support for the institutions and leaders it sends out into the world.
Spreading the experience
Abu Karsh believes in the importance of transferring both the personal and general experiences he acquired from MIFTAH and from which his own institution and others benefited. “MIFTAH’s experience and impact should be shared with others. REFORM’s experience is also pioneer, and should be shared as well. My aspiration today is to bring together a group or organizations, including REFORM and MIFTAH to form networks whose main task is to revive the role of civil society. This would then be shared by all civil society institutions, especially grassroots ones.”
Abu Karsh admits this is not an easy task. “We have spent the last four years on this. But today, I am confident that if REFORM let go of all its employees, including myself, our institution would continue to thrive because of our volunteers and beneficiaries. This would never have been possible without the support I personally received from MIFTAH. They even gave us the opportunity to train them. In other words, for your teacher to allow you to teach them is a rare case in the Arab world. That is why I will always try to keep the knowledge and experience I gained from MIFTAH alive and pass it on to other institutions, youth and friends.