In late 2009, after safely finishing Vendee Globe 2008-9 and delivering our sitesALIVE program to 250,000 students in the US, I read in the Harvard Business School Bulletin (I had received my MBA from there in 1982), that one of my section mates, Nadeem Qureshi, was also risking his life in pursuit daily of a societal goal.
Nadeem was Pakistani, Muslim, held two degrees in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and after HBS went into the Middle East to work on big engineering projects, such as power plants and desalination plants. He was successful in this career.
Yet 25 years into it, he decided to leave his business, and return to Pakistan to start a new political party, Mustaqbil Pakistan (‘Future Pakistan’), to try to bring the professional classes (Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Engineers, Architects, etc.) into the political process. Those people had shunned politics and so were not participating in the decision-making for the country that goes with active political participation. He also wanted Mustaqbil Pakistan to offer to the larger public a truly non-corrupt political party option.
In the US, often one might see photos or videos of Pakistan, and people sitting on the ground in a town square, listening to a politician. This became Nadeem’s life. 5 times per day, 5 or 6 days per week, he would go and conduct these town square meetings to tell people about Mustaqbil Pakistan. This was a long way from the usual life of MIT and HBS graduates.
I contacted Nadeem by email immediately when I learned what he was doing, to say essentially that it was unusual for HBS graduates to risk their likely comfortable lives for a cause, and since many HBS graduates were very successful, could they help with donations? He replied that in fact, more than money, they needed exposure in the Western press, since this ‘would help keep them safer’.
Whereas the US has only a handful of political parties, Pakistan has 200! And campaigning can be dangerous. Another of our HBS classmates, a highly successful financial manager in London, when I told him about Nadeem, and asked if he could connect him to the Economist or Financial Times reporters, he simply said, ‘he’s going to get himself killed’.
I persuaded Nadeem to come back to the US for our next HBS reunion, to tell people about what he was doing, and he did. To make the trip even more useful, we were able to set up a series of 9 meetings in two days in Washington DC, so that he could tell the US government about this new political party. We met with staffers at: Senate Foreign Relations Committee; State Department; Institute for Peace; American Enterprise Institute; Heritage Foundation; Voice of America (where Nadeem recorded an interview in Urdu!); an election observer for international elections; a group of Pakistani businessmen who offered to help spread the word further in their business circles, and a young intern candidate.
As a Muslim, Nadeem prays 5 times daily. During these 2 days, with many meetings in different parts of Washington, DC, this presented something of a challenge. But after or before a meeting, Nadeem would simply ask our host if there was a spare conference room or office where he could go to pray, and it was fine for everyone. Washington is a very international city, and nobody thought this was odd. After one meeting, he simply went to a corner of the conference room we were in and prayed on the carpet. We then we proceeded across town to our next meeting.
One region of Pakistan, in the northwest, bordering Afghanistan, was so dangerous that political campaigning was prohibited. When this constraint was finally lifted by the national government, Nadeem and Mustaqbil Pakistan were the first political party to go there to campaign. He had to go with armed guards.
In the elections a few years ago, Mustaqbil Pakistan ran 28 candidates for the National Assembly and the four Regional Assemblies. These were early days. None of them won. But many managed to get a significant number of votes. ‘We were not discouraged’, Nadeem says ‘we learned a lot, and we will try again. This is something we must do for our country’.
I will say bluntly, that one of the inspirations for me to take on the life risks of the Vendee Globe again is Nadeem Qureshi. I know what my risks are at sea, but Nadeem can never know when his life might be threatened. If he can do what he is doing, then I can do what I am doing. Nadeem Qureshi, Pakistani, Muslim, MIT and HBS graduate, working to improve his country, is My Most Courageous Friend.