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Meet Joseph - the ICS youth leader on an international stage

From tackling child marriage and gender-based violence in his home country of Bangladesh, to an exciting new role engaging more young people in global issues, ICS alumni Joseph Mahtab is just one example of how ICS can help shape your career in development.

We caught up with him to see how his placement motivated him to lead and to hear why he’s so determined to engage and inspire other young people to follow in his footsteps. 

In Bangladesh, three in five girls are married off before their 18th birthday. It’s a sobering statistic that has complex roots in rural poverty, perceptions of women and honour culture. 

But it’s also something that’s damaging the economy. While in the short-term it may seem to guarantee financial stability for often poor families, it’s actually having the opposite effect. 

A World Bank report says that girls married at 13 will have 26% more children on average than those married at adulthood. Dropping out of education cuts their chances of better jobs and higher salaries. And most importantly, it prevents women being seen as peers to men. 

A young girl dressed in red stands to speak in front of a classroom of girls
© ICS / Justine Kibler
ICS volunteers tackle child marriage by promoting the value of girls staying in school

I grew up with poverty around me 

Joseph Mahtab, 30, has no plans to marry soon.  

‘‘When I was young, I witnessed poverty first-hand. I remember seeing friends in my village being taken out of school and married very young. These things always stay with you.” 

The president of Bangladesh’s national ICS alumni network, NYEN, grew up in the rural district of Barguna in the south of the country – and was all too familiar with gender issues. 

“So when a friend introduced me to ICS in 2016, I knew this was my opportunity to really make a difference. I was excited to be focusing on raising public awareness of the harm of child marriage and gender-based violence and lobbying government for more support. 

Joseph picked up his VSO Impact award in 2018
Joseph and his team won a VSO Impact award in 2018 for their commitment to tackling child marriage

Reaching 15,000 people is achievable

“One of my biggest achievements was a NYEN campaign stickering public transport across the capital, Dhaka to raise awareness of a national helpline for victims of gender-based violence. We wanted to give victims of domestic violence a voice.” 

Over four days, Joseph’s team of volunteers had put stickers on more than 500 vehicles. Ranging from big 50-seat buses to small three-wheeler rickshaws, if they are all full and on the road, more than 15,000 people could see their messages at any one time. 

In a city of seven million, it’s small, but it’s a start. 

A brightly coloured bus sits on a busy street as people walk by
© Shutterstock
Joseph campaigned to raise awareness of a helpline for sexual harassment victims on public transport

Youth activism has incredible power in a country like Bangladesh 

Although the issues surrounding child marriage and gender-based violence are still present, the number of reported cases of child marriage is thankfully reducing. Joseph credits this progress to the increased awareness driven by the collective action of young people. 

“It’s important to remember that young people have the power to solve some of the biggest problems we face on our planet. In Bangladesh, we make up a third of the population.  

“This campaign was started by 40 young activists who were passionate about tackling global issues. That alone shows the power young people can have when we work together.” 

It’s something evident from his work with NYEN. Now boasting 235 members, the collective of ICS alumni tackle issues such as gender inequality, poverty and sexual harassment. 

“Working with NYEN has really showed me the value and power of being a young person. I’m now the President of NYEN, and through this role it’s now my mission to inspire more young people to get involved with active citizenship, and contribute to something bigger.  

Joseph educating youth on the global goals
© Joseph Mahtab
Joseph is now determined to use his voice to engage more people with the global goals

My tips to you to advance your activism 

‘‘Every day I speak to young people who have potential to change the world. My advice to you to advance your career and activism is to start by volunteering, join groups such as NYEN, grow your networks and engage with global issues you are passionate about.” 

And it’s paid off.

Earlier this year, Joseph was selected as an international YouthLead ambassador for USAID, the American government’s development agency.  

In his new position, he’ll be leading initiatives and events to engage more youth in global development issues and establishing partnerships with youth networks to raise awareness of the programme and power of young people.  

“I’m really excited to continue to contribute to global development, whilst hopefully engaging and inspiring other young people to follow in my footsteps.  

“ICS has played a huge part in getting me where I am today. It’s given me the confidence and skills to apply to other organisations, build networks, and pursue other opportunities. For me ICS is a lifelong journey. It gives you the foundations needed to follow your dreams.

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ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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