First stops on a global journey
By Rhea Laube
From helping to establish a university in the mountains of Central Asia to attending Harvard Law School and working with the United Nations refugee agency in the Middle East, Malik Ladhani (BSocSci ’14) is carving out a life full of global engagement.
Reflecting on the turning points that set him on this path, he recalls an inspiring speech by His Highness the Aga Khan in 2012. Upon receiving an honorary doctorate from uOttawa, the Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader and founder of the Aga Khan Development Network addressed the University community. He touched on a topic Ladhani was studying in one of his courses: the role constitutions play in protecting rights and promoting stability.
“It was at that moment I felt that law would be the best path to explore my interests in both minority rights and refugee protection,” said Ladhani, whose parents came to Canada as refugees from Uganda in 1972.
When he graduated from uOttawa in 2014, he wanted to gain more life experience before going to law school – and not just to take a year off, but to make the year count.
During his search for a worthwhile opportunity, Ladhani learned about the University of Central Asia (UCA), which the Aga Khan was establishing with the presidents of the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
The founding dean of arts and sciences at the new university, Ariff Kachra (BAdm ’91, MBA ’93), happened to be a uOttawa alumnus, but Ladhani would need to persevere to show he was the right candidate to be brought on board.
“Dr. Kachra later told me that he threw out my résumé the first time he saw it because he got those requests all the time,” Ladhani recalled. However, he was determined and found ways to convince Kachra he had the requisite skills and commitment. Soon after graduating from uOttawa, he was offered a 10-month contract with UCA in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek.
At UCA, Ladhani worked as a research associate in the academic affairs unit, which was developing the curriculum for the new university. He helped conduct focus groups with Central Asian students and scholars to ensure that UCA courses would be informed by the region’s needs. Workdays were long but enjoyable, thanks to a highly motivated team of local and expat colleagues.
“It was a fantastic experience with a start-up vibe, helping a new university come to life,” he said. “There was energy in our work, knowing that what we were constructing had the potential to impact three countries, build bridges in the region and allow students to get a world-class education close to home.”
Ladhani had already shown enthusiasm for engagement, immersing himself in campus life while completing a degree in political science at uOttawa. He served as president of the Ottawa Ismaili Students Association and director of communications for one of the student associations in the Faculty of Social Sciences (IPPSSA).
“Being in Ottawa is pretty unique,” he said. “I’d really encourage students to take full advantage of the incredible opportunities for education outside the classroom that the capital provides – for example, by completing internships on Parliament Hill or placements in the public service to see firsthand how the government works.”
Ladhani believes his diverse experiences at uOttawa helped him achieve his dream of attending Harvard Law School. Now in his third year, he is president of the Harvard International JD Students Society and editor-in-chief of the Harvard Negotiation Law Review.
In addition to taking courses on a wide array of subjects, including public international law and refugee advocacy, he has undertaken research projects in India, the Kyrgyz Republic and Jordan.
Following his first year of law school, Ladhani received a Chayes International Public Service Fellowship, which allowed him to work for nine weeks at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ office in Jordan.
Once again, his drive and determination had led to a life-changing experience – he set up the internship by sending out countless emails. “I wanted to give back to the organization that had helped my family get to Canada,” he said.
In Amman, he worked with the team in charge of assessing Iraqi asylum seeker cases and assisted with the inter-agency response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
“Seeing individuals who have been able to persevere – and have faith, hope and a desire for a better life – impacted me,” he said. “There’s a lot of good work going on and a great deal more that needs to be done to support it.”
Despite a busy final year of law school, Ladhani also makes time to give back to his alma mater. He volunteers as a member of the Boston Alumni Council, helping to build a strong uOttawa community in the region.
“Wherever I end up, I know I’ll stay connected to uOttawa. Those four years were truly formative. I think I really grew into myself during my time on campus.”
Photo credit: Lorin Granger / Harvard Law School