Dr Amjad Saleem (OS 1996)

Dr Amjad Saleem (OS 1996) is a member of Sevenoaks School's working group exploring service and partnerships. This has led to extremely thoughtful discussions about our service education framework and activities. He has spoken powerfully on the topic of Protection, Gender and Inclusion, and inspired our students to think about how inclusivity can be at the heart of their service projects and behaviours more widely.

We asked what led him to his career today.

"In hindsight, I think there are three influences that have made a long-lasting impression on me and encouraged me to now work for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva, overseeing a team looking at Protection, Inclusion, Education. 

The first is my own upbringing and exposure through my family; I was brought up in Nigeria and Ethiopia where my dad worked in the International Development and Multilateral system. I grew up with that sensitivity and affinity so working in the international development sector has been a bit like continuing the family business. 

The second has to be my time at Sevenoaks. Through the IB CAS programme I ended up doing volunteer work with Marie Curie, from working at the office to fundraising on the high street and engaging recipients and donors. This really gave me a sense of working in the third sector with the most vulnerable. 

However, it was not until the tsunami of 2004 which struck Sri Lanka as other parts of Asia, that I truly appreciated working on the ground and working in that sector. I joined Imperial College from Sevenoaks and I was working as a civil engineer when I saw an opportunity for me to go out to build houses for those affected by the tsunami. Having lost a number of family members in the tsunami, I saw this opportunity as a type of redemption for me to be able to do something in their name. It was in that process of working on the ground with communities that I discovered my sense of purpose but also rediscovered that passion that I had felt 10 years previously when working with Marie Curie. I also got to appreciate the enormous challenges to be overcome in working in this sector: to build trust between warring communities; to create safe spaces for inclusive and accessible dialogue; and to really serve those in need. In the end this was the turning point for me to move away from what I had studied at university and take a different career path. 

It has been a path of twists and turns and unexpected journeys: negotiating access with the Junta into Myanmar after the cyclone; exploring the role of faith in peacebuilding in Sri Lanka; working with the royal courts of Bahrain on a new dialogue centre; meeting Prince Charles as part of the Commonwealth Foundation delegation; speaking at a roundtable with the UN Secretary General; meeting and dining with heads of state and celebrities; and currently working with the oldest and largest humanitarian network of 13 million volunteers and 192 national societies meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. Our work has been made more acutely important with the onset of COVID-19 looking at the disruptions caused and the increase in domestic violence. So, we need to do all we can to work with people to keep them safe. In some way it has been a very blessed journey and one that I am thankful for.

This gratitude goes not only to the service exposure I got at Sevenoaks, but also my time at the International Centre taught me to be respectful and mindful of others just as people were respectful of me. This is the third influence which has really helped me.  As a Muslim coming into the school at a time when there were few Muslims, I always remember how I was treated and accommodated with respect for my practice and beliefs as well as dietary requirements, not only by my room mates, peers but also the staff and the administration. It was this quest to be inclusive and accessible that stays with me even today as I try to work on diversity and inclusion to leave no one behind."