“Persistence Will Get You There!”

Malak Safa is a Lebanese social activist, and a young female leader who works in the humanitarian field with UNRWA in the south of Lebanon to support Palestinian refugees. On 2015 she participated as a change-maker in LANA HAK campaign which aimed to advocate for female participation into political life. Over the last two years, she has participated in regional and international conferences focused on youth leadership including the 2018 United Nations Eco-Soc Youth Forum in New York, in addition to participating in the Leaders For Democracy fellowship program in the U.S. Malak is completing a Master in Educational Administration.

Q: Tell us a few things about your country, and also your life's story!

A: I come from a village in the South of Lebanon. All that I knew about the municipality when I was little is that they collect garbage from our homes and take it to a very far place. Because at that time we did not use to have a municipality. Not before 2002.

When I was 19 years old I wondered why youth don't have an appropriate space to gather, and the entry point was the municipality, at that time I initiated with a group of youth to establish a library in the municipality building hall, the project had to stop at a certain point due to different reasons. Since then I consider the municipality the most important factor to work with when it comes to providing or promoting services in a country where we lack essential services such as full-day electric power, and promoting policies need political sectarian agreements which takes a long process and duration to reach citizens.

Seven years later, on 2015, I was back to the municipality as a “Municipal Support Assistant” assigned by the Danish Refugee Council to facilitate DRC projects in the area of municipality and support the municipal overall activities. On 2018, I participated in the Leaders for Democracy fellowship program with MEPI (Middle East Partnership Initiative) where I started developing an initiative which aims to promote youth and female participation and adoption of participatory governance approach at a municipal level. During the implementation of the initiative, I recognized more in-depth the importance of development at municipal level when I applied for the Athena MENA mentor-ship program to receive more guidance on participatory governance, decentralization, and other related topics. Followed by registering for a BA in Political Science.

Q: What is your view of the world as it is today? And how do you define the concept of a better world?

A: Today most of the world’s countries and mechanisms are democratic in its structure while it is not by its nature, as democracy is a system with challenging defects. In this context, we mention one saying for Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

A better world is a very far dream as we are ranking higher killing rates than before, and using more destructive weapons, etc. A better world needs a win-win vision among parties and countries where human welfare is the priority above economic and religious standards.

Q: What are some of the key challenges in your society?

A: From my point of view, the key challenge in my society is our generation challenge in making a change. When I say making a change it ranges from promoting the delivery of a service on municipal level, changing a policy at a local level, till changing the elections system at national level. By which we have to overcome many obstacles with our community-parents generations who suffered from the civil war and still living its consequences. The consequences of the civil war are clear in different dimensions, such as: the unacceptance and understanding of the other, scarifying their rights in fear of having another potential civil war, etc. Which makes the process in changing policies for example more complicated, and the party who is running for a change have to work in parallel with the community and with the authorities. And in most scenarios, the community-parents’ generation cooperates with the authorities who are from the same generation and make the process harder to achieve. In this long process and non-ending challenges, and in the light of the high rates of unemployment, most of the youth drop the case which they are working on in order to ensure basic services which are not ensured by the government, or in order to get a “Wasta” (a mean of offering someone a job based on a non-professional recommendation) from the parents’ generation to be employed.

Q: As a woman what are a few of the hurdles that you had to overcome up until today?

A: The only challenge that I faced till now is with one potential male team member who found it very hard to be led by a woman. During several meetings, he made comments such as: “because women are better in the kitchen and men are better in dealing with the community!” I understood his background and overcame his gender discrimination. After a while, he withdrew from the team in a very silent way. Maybe he could not handle it!

Q: Why is the role of a mentor important for you?

A: The mentor widens the scope for the mentee to view things in its holistic approach in order to better deal with it and make better decisions.

Q: Do you have a lesson that life has taught you and you would like to share?

A: "Persistence will get you there!" Even if you are persisting at a slow pace, even if challenges are surrounding, and even if no one believed in you.

Q: Name a project, a foundation or a person in your country that you think is doing great work in helping improve other people's lives!

A: The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Lebanon runs various programs which focus on youth leadership, social cohesion, livelihood, etc. The programs they are working on are the most sustainable and innovative which the country and citizens need in order to develop.

Q: Athena40 is the first ever global selection of the top 40 women forward thinkers, commentators, activists, authors, academics, entrepreneurs, executives, innovators. Can you think of a truly innovative and forward-thinking woman from your country that you wish to nominate for the Athena40 global list?

A: Unfortunately, I don't have a name to nominate, although for certain there are a lot of women leaders in Lebanon.

Q: Share with us a phrase, a poem or a story that you love or you find interesting!

A: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” ― Winston S. Churchill

Q: Tell us one thing that you have learned from your mentor.

A:  My mentor made me think twice about my life choices, and she guides me on how to make decisions, especially when I get exciting offers.