Meet Ahlem: A Young Emerging Leader
Contributed by Mia Uhunmwuangho
Ahlem sits quietly at the table and stares out the window, taking in a sunny view of Austin. She is calm, cool and collected. Her charming smile brings a warm energy into the room. It’s almost hard to believe that she just flew in from halfway across the world to accept one of the United State’s most prestigious awards.
Ahlem was nominated for the Young Emerging Leaders Award, an honor from the U.S. Department of State that highlights several young leaders who are making a difference in their communities. Ahlem was chosen by the American Embassy of Tunisia for the entrepreneurial work she does in her home country.
The award gives recipients the opportunity to visit an American organization that focuses on an area of work they’re interested in. Ahlem’s passion for women and girls led her to GEN. “I noticed the differences in experiences between men and women early on,” Ahlem says. “As a girl, I was always asked to help cook or clean, while the boys around me were not.”
Ahlem says that even though Tunisia is making strides towards equal rights between men and women, such as having equal representation in parliament, women still face a variety issues. “The challenges we face in Tunisia are similar to the ones you face [in America],” Ahlem says. “There’s strict gender roles, body shaming, slut shaming and women struggle to reach high leadership positions.”
Ahlem says these early experiences and the strong need to improve conditions in her small Tunisian town inspired her to form her nonprofit organization, Young Leader Entrepreneurs. “We were in a remote area, we didn’t have good infrastructure,” Ahlem says. “The public schools didn’t offer good opportunities, so I learned English from the T.V. Observing all of that, I decided to to create my nonprofit.”
Young Leader Entrepreneurs organizes different events for their participants, from workshops to hack-a-thons. “We use tech and entrepreneurship to empower women economically by mentoring them and paving the way for them to be in contact with investors.” Ahlem says. “We empower girls and uplift them. We make them part of the decision making process.”
Part of what motivates Ahlem is the need to create a space for girls that she did not have when she was growing up. “If I could go back in time, I would hug myself,” Ahlem says. “I was very shy, so didn’t have many friends. I didn’t have the chance to have someone tell me to embrace myself.”
However, Ahlem says that she would not change these experiences because they have shaped her and given her the perspective that drives her. “It gave me a lot of think and focus on school,” Ahlem says. “I am thankful for the isolation.”
When she’s not uplifting the girls in Tunisia, she’s helping fight terrorism through a new project called Islab. Islab helps teach students about peace education and conflict resolution.
While Ahlem is working on several different projects and travelling the world, she never loses sight of her goals. Ahlem says the goal behind her organization is to change the narrative that women are victims or helpless. “I want to change the narrative of victimization,” Ahlem says. “Women are change-makers.”