Hareth Al Bustani | June 27, 2013
As Nelson Mandela’s health deteriorates, I find myself increasingly musing over the power of great leadership and vision. The unwavering will to overcome staggering odds, and to do what is right, is often taken for granted. South Africa’s institutionalised apartheid ended, and Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president.
But, as incredible as such facts are, visions are all-encompasing in nature and largely defined by the smaller achievements they inspire. This was apparent yesterday, when I visited a humble school installing high tech solar panels on its roof.
I discovered two things. First: don’t wear a dark suit to a mid-summer, mid-afternoon rooftop event. Second: a small school with a big heart trying to tackle one of the largest issues of all, the environment.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Bangladesh Islamia School, Abu Dhabi, received $100,000 (Dh367,300) from the Zayed Future Energy Prize for a bold environmental campaign that has already reduced its energy consumption by 15%. Some of this money has been spent installing state-of-the-art solar panels that follow the sun.
Acting principal Mir Anisul Hasan, founded the campaign. He was inspired by the environmental vision of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE. Appropriately, the prize also directly cites Sheikh Zayed’s “passionate belief in social, economic and environmental sustainability” as its own inspiration.
Hasan said the nonprofit community school’s only source of income were tuition fees, with occasional help from other sources. Although far from unsustainable, the school doesn’t have enough to invest in new staff and resources. Some would compromise ambition for austerity; but not Mr Hasan. He knows cutting back 40% of the school’s energy consumption would deliver both integrity, and vital financial stability. To that effect, the $100,000 prize will most likely prove an invaluable long-term investment. Without it, the solar panels would not be there.
Hasan has since taken a step back from the campaign and handed fellow teacher, Dr Anita Saul, the reins. She, too, has inspired a new generation of students to mitigate their environmental footprints.
Seventeen-year-old student Fahad Bashar joined the project three years ago, and intends to devote his adult professional life to renewable energy. I thought it impressive that he was already environmentally conscious at the age of 14. He said that was nothing; one of the students he inspired to join the campaign was only six.
In a sense, the school embodies how, with strong leadership, ambitious visions can be shared, inherited and manifested not just as a noble passion, but as real achievements on the ground. Leaders inspire leadership, bearing tangible visions of a better way. In effect, the school is a microcosmic reflection of how a vision translates into policy.
On the UAE’s first Environment Day in 1998, Sheikh Zayed said: “We cherish our environment because it is an integral part of our country, our history and our heritage. On land and in the sea, our forefathers lived and survived in this environment. They were able to do so only because they recognised the need to conserve it, to take from it only what they needed to live, and to preserve it for succeeding generations.
With God’s will, we shall continue to work to protect our environment and our wildlife, as did our forefathers before us. It is a duty, and, if we fail, our children, rightly, will reproach us for squandering an essential part of their inheritance, and of our heritage.”
A decade later, the Masdar-managed Zayed Future Energy Prize was launched to reward environmentally conscious schools with funding and help them translate dreams into reality. Sheikh Zayed’s commitment to sustainability set a precedent that the UAE would continue to this day.
Hasan has since successfully injected this vision into his school’s culture, which will inevitably inspire others to follow suit, like dominos. And as such, great leaders live on through great achievements, continuously inspiring new generations to scale mountains for their morals.
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