nazra zafar

Nazra Zafar was a finalist from the National Young Leader Award (NYLA) 2021, an experience that inspired her to join Halogen as an intern. Her time with Halogen inspired her to enter the youth advocacy space to effect change in the lives of youth, and shaped her outlook on empathy and leadership.

Hi, I’m Nazra! I first interacted with Halogen through NYLA 2021, having been one of its five winners. I found Halogen’s mission very powerful, as a lot of my work consisted of reaching out to and impacting youth directly, a direction that I saw echoed in Halogen’s ethos. With this in mind, I immediately jumped at the offer to intern with Halogen, through which I saw some of my most impactful experiences, made some of the best friends, and worked on projects I never thought I had the capacity to spearhead. Today, I harness the learnings of these lived experiences in the impact work I continue to do, as well as through my leadership roles.

I’m currently a pre-medical student in Chicago, and I’m constantly learning to lead in different communities. Outside of academia, some of the projects I’ve embarked on include serving on the board of a leading Chicago youth leadership programme, Chicago200, and setting up initiatives to help my fellow university mates excel in school through better career and financial literacy. A lot of my work still advocates inspiring and improving the lives of youth — a core purpose that Halogen has ingrained in me.

What was one of the highlights of your NYLA experience?

As part of the lead-up to the finals, we were invited to speak in a panel with Mrs. Cherie Tseng, the Chief Operating Officer of Secur Solutions Group, to engage in what I initially thought was a casual conversation on our thoughts on leadership. I left the filming set with more than a conversation; what happened seemed like articulated introspection for me, because I finally got to share my purpose that drives me – why I do what I do – with my community, and discover what impact looked like from the lens of my beneficiaries. That panel discussion alone served as affirmation for me to continue speaking up for causes that matter, until today.

What were some of the key messages you took away from your NYLA experience and how have you carried that into your life today?

The word ‘thank you’ is a moving yet underused term today. Something I learned from NYLA is to never stop saying thank you: firstly, to appreciate yourself for your hard work, and secondly, to appreciate all the people that have in some way contributed to your growth and accomplishment. I take lots of risks in leadership, and I recognise that not every venture I take on today goes according to plan. But my ability to appreciate the people, events, and circumstances that have led me here has allowed me to see the good even in hard times, and motivate myself.

I learnt from the shared stories of my NYLA finalists that empathy is a superpower, and that every leadership, growing, learning, and teaching experience should come from a place of empathy. With empathy comes passion, purpose, and alignment, and that is how projects should be started.

Yet another lesson I gained was that NYLA wasn’t about competition; it was about collaboration. There is no point in leaders who align in purpose to one-up each other simply in the name of achieving accolades, and I saw that in how my fellow finalists were in some way keen to collaborate or learn about each others’ passion projects.

What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt from your journey with Halogen and how has it inspired you to be a part of the youth development ecosystem?

Never underestimate yourself and your voice, because you seem ‘young’ and therefore ‘inexperienced’ by face value. The trust the staff had in me to take on big projects and events is testament to the fact that my time in Halogen was the perfect time to apply and stretch all the skills I learnt, with my most significant leadership role being the founder of a non-profit initiative. Today, I sit in meeting rooms with much older people that hold fancy titles and positions of power as the youngest person in the room, but I choose to hold that lesson close to my heart and speak up the way I should.

I also love being a trainer with Halogen because I value mentorship, and I see impact made directly from our beneficiaries: through the content I deliver as a trainer, in the heart-to-heart conversations my youth have with me, and the stories and pep talks I share to somewhat help them find their way through the complexity that is teenagehood and self-discovery. Being a youth myself makes it easier for those I work with to see importance in the things I teach them, and I appreciate all the moments in which I see them embracing their personal development.