Get Back Up

A Compassionate Leader Learns the Journey is the Destination

What do you do when despite all your best efforts, life throws a curveball and your great plans fail? If you ask Mahir Rahman on the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council, he will tell you to get back up.

Mahir credits his ability to “bounce back” to several sources of modeling and inspiration he’s had in life. Most close to home, he thanks his parents and his sister who despite the struggles that came with being a low-income immigrant family from Bangladesh, “sacrificed everything to ensure my personal growth.” Other people he looks up to include the likes of Beyoncé and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for their “progressive thought and creativity.” As Mahir will share with us in his story of forming a Roots & Shoots group during a pandemic, adaptability, learning from failure and “bouncing back” are the keys to his success.

When Mahir first began introducing the Roots & Shoots program to his high school in Florida, the world was unknowingly on the cusp of one of the largest pandemics of this century. Attending an incredibly competitive school program, he aimed to INSPIRE a better sense of togetherness and collaboration amongst the student body through a Roots & Shoots service group.

To grow and learn and become strong, compassionate leaders, it’s important to fail. And even more important than failing, it’s important to get back up.

Mahir Rahman Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots Youth Council - US Member 2020
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Around the same time, the opportunity presented itself to join the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council and Mahir jumped to apply. His incredible compassionate leadership skills combined with his commitment to social justice immediately found him a seat on the hardworking team of passionate youth from around the United States.

Together with the other 31 members of the National Council, he works to help the Jane Goodall Institute deliver on its Roots & Shoots program mission to empower young people to affect positive change in their communities. While on the council, he is also growing his knowledge of Roots & Shoots model for improving the impact of his high school Roots & Shoots group. For him, this meant putting the Roots & Shoots 4-Step Formula into practice:

Roots & Shoots 4-Step Formula

Design your own service project in these 4-Steps

  • Step 1: Get Engaged
  • Step 2: Observe your Community with Community Mapping
  • Step 3: Take Action on planning project that is meaningful to your community
  • Step 4: Celebrate your Success

To begin, Mahir wanted to get everyone in his school excited about his Roots & Shoots group. They used OBSERVE through a Community Icebreaker Project which used Community Mapping to get people invested in their group, and to identify the projects they would work on together.

Mahir, NYLC Member: A Compassionate Leader Learns the Journey is the Destination 4

Community-Mapping Icebreaker

But in the words of Robert Burns “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” And indeed, for Mahir’s Roots & Shoots group and for the rest of the world, awry things did go. In March, only a few months after kicking off their Roots & Shoots group at school, the United States shut down with the onset of COVID-19. He used his strength in the Compassionate Trait of ‘Adaptability’  and pivoted the model to meet the needs of the moment. [Take the Compassionate Traits Quiz to see what your strongest traits are and how to grow them through Roots & Shoots.]

For Mahir and his group, this was their moment to make a decision. They could put a pause on the newly formed Roots & Shoots group (certainly everyone would have understood and many might have gone this route) or they could adjust to the new world and the new community needs resulting from the pandemic and act to make a difference. They chose to keep going.

Become a Compassionate Leader Like Mahir

If you’re inspired by Mahir's activism, find out more about the National Youth Leadership Council and ways to apply!
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The group began meeting virtually. And after engaging students with the Community Icebreaker Program and getting inspired, they OBSERVED the issues that they wanted to focus on to help meet two new pandemic related needs. They decided to TAKE ACTION. The first project they identified was a Coronavirus Awareness Campaign, and the second was a Virtual Tutoring Program to help students with the distant learning model.

When planning each of the projects, he and his group members referred to the Roots & Shoots 4-Steps to provide an outline and structure. However, despite their very best efforts,  navigating the administrative red-tape to bring these projects to fruition during such a tumultuous time proved futile. By the time they were able to put everything into place to start the virtual tutoring of students, it was the last week of school.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Mahir’s Roots & Shoots group decided to do Step 4: CELEBRATE from the 4-Step Formula to reflect on their work and appreciate all they’ve been able to accomplish despite obstacles. They discussed the things that had been working with their group as well as the things they wanted to improve and, more importantly, how to achieve that during a pandemic.

Mahir believes that, “the way that society has constructed the term failure has always been negative. But it takes you to fail to learn and that was the most important thing I gained from Roots & Shoots for opening the chapter [group]. It didn’t go as planned but I came out with another life lesson to embrace failure, not to hide it away.”

Check out Mahir during the virtual NYLC Summer Summit at 00:43:20 on School action/ Covid –19/ adaptability

Sometimes the journey is the destination. For Mahir, this was a lesson in how to make it work the next time. Because of their positive outlook and tireless commitment to resilience, Mahir’s Roots & Shoots group is finally getting the support and traction it needs to grow their work and affect positive change. Already this year his group has identified their 2020-2021 Gateway Chapter Officers for their group and Mahir is happy to report that they are more excited than ever to be a strong, virtually-oriented club.

As Dr Jane’s mother would say, “If you really want something, and really work hard, and take advantage of opportunities, and never give up, you will find a way.” 

Are you motivated by a desire to make a difference? Do you share Mahir’s commitment to resilience and adaptability during challenging times? Through Roots & Shoots you can join a network of changemakers just like you! Opportunities for support and leadership include:


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