Mustafaen Kamal has been rather busy, even by the standards of the average Oxford student. During his second undergraduate degree, he founded the Dil Internship Project, aimed at changing perspectives of Pakistan, and reversing the ongoing ‘brain drain’ of young Pakistanis and members of the diaspora. Kamal and the Project work to extend narratives beyond those of charity and to establish symbiotically beneficial links between Pakistan and their interns, be they members of the Pakistani diaspora or foreign nationals. Now in its second year, the Project has 19 different partners across education, law, the public sector, business, healthcare and culture.
Kamal outlines his position as someone in the intersection between Pakistan and other members of the diaspora – despite growing up in the UK, his parents would take him to Pakistan where he made forged relationships with people who went on to work in Pakistani business. This situation, he says, placed him in a unique position to act as an intersection between Pakistan and members of the diaspora in the UK and US and, later, other people from across the world. Throughout our conversation, his evident passion makes him an incredibly interesting and – fortunately for me – informative person to talk to, and I can see how he grew the Dil Internship Project from a few interns “which I didn’t have any guarantee of arranging” to gaining the 1500 applications that they received this year.
The Project’s focus on business aims, Kamal stresses, on moving past the confines of charity. Despite the many and important uses of charity, the crux of the Dil Internship Project’s focus is that if we constantly view a peoples or country through the lens of sympathy, and use language associated with charity, then we will never view them as an equal. He details how the Project aims to compliment charity with a pro-active alternative, “because what is the point of improving literacy if that’s where the conversation ends?”. The Dil Internship Project acknowledges that need, but moves past it, aiming to give Pakistan the choice to progress, and compete with other nations on a larger scale.
We go on to how important people our age are in changing the dialogue concerning Pakistan – “enormously,” Kamal responds, not least because “we are the future”, which he delivers with a cringe, before going on to explain. He highlights the unique position of our generation as used to moving around and being flexible in skillset, mindset and interests. If we don’t take advantage of this position, he says, we risk short-changing the rest of the world of such an important capital resource – “we are so dynamic, so mentally agile, and connected with so many other people around the world” that it’s crucial that we are able to cement those bonds and take advantage of this position. This, it appears, forms the crux of the Dil Internship Project’s incredibly forward-thinking and global outlook.
However, Kamal and the Project are adamant on providing an authentic experience, for both their interns and the companies that they partner with. Rather than manufacturing a process for either their interns or their partners, “we really had to be authentic in both cases, otherwise we become a gimmick, or – we become a tourism provider”. The Dil Internship project works on building a sustainable experience for both parties, where the interns would see some value in the internship itself, and simultaneously recalibrate their opinions of Pakistan both in general and as a player on the global business stage. Equally, they aim for businesses to have an experience of their interns that would complement their goals and hopefully benefit their business trajectory.
During my conversation with Kamal, it is obvious how much effort goes in to maintaining this authenticity for both parties – while the interns are in Pakistan, they are taken on multiple cultural trips spanning from Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries, Christian churches and film premieres – but also how much this can pay off afterwards. Kamal draws attention to one of his interns who had worked with one of Pakistan’s largest textile manufacturers, who made and distributed jeans to brands like Mango, Zara, and Burberry. In line with the Paris accords, the manufacturer had to cut their emissions by 25% in order to retain their contracts, and this intern – a Berkeley graduate who had done his Masters in AI – was able to help reduce the workforce needed for a particular supply chain by 25% and thus cut their emissions to the level demanded by the new legislation. The company and this intern remained in contact past the end of the internship and independently of the Project; while this was an extraordinary example of how well this approach can work, it, and the other interns the Project support, completely fulfil the ethos of what the Dil Internship Project wants to achieve.
The Project recently established an essay competition on their website, which asks entrants to answer one of three questions before being judged by a panel of Oxford academics. All of the questions allude to a perceived opposition between developing countries and the rest of the world and, in typical Oxford fashion, Kamal admits, they aim to get participants to dismantle the parameters of the question – to ask whether “this boundary, this divide between the West and the East, between modern and pre-modern, is no longer as relevant as perhaps it was earlier, and perhaps maybe that it doesn’t exist anymore”.
In order to understand more of the background of his ethos, I decide to ask him some of his own essay questions, much to his amusement. We begin with the choice of developing countries between self-sustainability and global trade, where he replies – “not to be glib about it” – that self-sustainability often comes hand-in-hand with trade on a global scale. One of the roots of Pakistan’s problems, he explains, is that it doesn’t take advantage of the common ground between it and its regional neighbours; especially India, because of the animosity that exists between them – despite the fact it could boost their GDP up to 13%.
The importance of a mutual relationship between global trade and self-sustainability also feeds into the next question, where he explores the ‘brain drain’ of students who go abroad to study and rarely return. “It’s completely understandable”, he says, given the political and humanitarian situations that many people face, but “if you have that en masse, then you have what has happened in Pakistan where you end up losing around 30-40% of your top talent every year”. Rather than the “shutting the door behind us and moving on” which often occurs in terms of young Pakistanis and members of the diaspora who instead devote their intellectual capital to other countries such as the US or UK, Kamal and the Dil Internship Project want to reopen that door and foster mutually beneficial relationships which can further bring Pakistan onto the global business stage.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Dil Internship Project’s 2020 internships have been put on hold. In its place, the Project’s main initiative this year is to gain charitable donations to help Pakistan through a crisis that could be devastating. “The government in Pakistan has not always been – or has never really been – the place that people go to fulfil that egalitarian need, it’s always been charities or NGO’s”, he explains, and in this time of crisis that will be tested to its limit. Because around 75% of Pakistan’s population – around 150-160 million people – rely on daily wages, they cannot self-isolate without starving. Therefore, in order to help as many people as possible stay at home, the Dil Internship Project is asking for donations for support packages, which will help vulnerable families isolate at home, and hopefully slow the spread of the pandemic. If you would like to find out more or support this venture, go to the Dil Internship Project’s Instagram, or click on the link below.