Young people spend significant amounts of time on-line these days. They use the Internet to connect with friends, write stories, shop and even date on-line. Three South Asian-Americans have found a way to use the Internet not only for social entertainment, but as a medium for cultural communication and positive social change. They've created a family of on-line e-magazines to connect and inspire young people of different ethnic communities across the United States and around the world.
As a marketing and public relations expert, Sumaya Kazi, 23, finds that meeting with successful people is one of the most intriguing aspects of her job. The Bangladeshi American says it has always been interesting to her that many of these hard working young professionals share similar ethnic backgrounds. "I'm constantly motivated and inspired by these individuals and just thought it was a shame that other people don't have the opportunity to meet the people I meet," she says. "So, I thought it would be a great idea to put a spotlight on these individuals."
That great idea became reality when Kazi, who lives in California, met two other young Bangladeshi Americans, Raymond Rouf, from Illinois, and Kaiser Shahid who lives in Maryland. Last year, the three of them founded The DesiConnect, a free e-magazine catering to young Americans with South Asian roots. Rouf says the success of The DesiConnect magazine spawned three other cultural e-mags.
"I have a lot of friends of diverse backgrounds," he says. "I have a lot of Middle Eastern friends. So one of my Middle Eastern friends came to me and said, 'Hey, why don't you have a magazine for Middle Easterners?' I said, 'Well, this is a lot of work. If you guys help me, we can definitely do it.' So, three months later we launched the MidEastConnect. So, that happened with the Middle Eastern magazine. Then, my Asian friends went like, 'Wow, why not one for Asians?' in terms of people from China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan. And again it was like, 'If you help us out, we'll do it.' The same thing happened with the LatinConnect."
Even while running his own consulting company, Rouf has been able to dedicate the time and effort needed to post issues of four different electronic magazines on the Internet every week. Sumaya Kazi says that's the challenge everyone involved in this project faces and enjoys. "There are...23 people on our staff now," she says. "Every single one on our staff is either a full-time student or a part-time worker, and then in addition to that, works for CulturalConnect. Everyone has a passion for the CulturalConnect. We feel like we do really a good work. They want to be part of it."
Even though Kazi and her co-founders live in different cities across the country, they are right next door in the virtual world of the Internet. Rouf says they are always online instant messaging or sending e-mails. And they have a weekly meeting. "Every Sunday we have conference calls," he says. "During these calls we discuss who do we have in our pipeline (works in progress), who we've researched and stuff like that. We give action items to all of our staff members. During the week there is a lot of programming involved, uploading of photos to make sure that it looks like it's a magazine format that you see everyday of the week."
Every week, each edition of the four magazines features two profiles. One focuses on a successful professional, emphasizing the idea that there is more than one definition of success. The other profile features a non-profit organization, meant to inspire readers to become more active in their local communities.
"I look for non-profits that are doing great, amazing positive things in the world today, who are sending positive messages to our youth and the Middle Eastern communities over all," says Ani Zakarian, a contributor to the MidEastConnect magazine. "I go through, contacting them and hopefully we get an interview and feature them in our magazine. So when our readers go to the MidEastConnect and read a non-profit profile, they themselves will feel inspired and, hopefully, make a positive change."
The CulturalConnect co-founder Sumaya Kazi believes their profiles are addressing what she calls a critical need in the world today - finding ways to encourage young people to volunteer their energies to good causes, and drawing public attention to the work of non-profits. "We profiled an amazing organization called Drishtipat. They provide assistance to human rights issues in Bangladesh," she says. "The founder of this Drishtipat resides in U.K. now and has 11 chapters around the world. He wanted to start a chapter in Boston, and found out that almost half of the members that attended the Boston chapter's launching meeting were readers of The CulturalConnect. They learned about this non-profit, checked out their web site and learned that Boston was going to have a new chapter and they were there in the first meeting."
Although each edition of The Cultural Connect is aimed at a particular cultural community in the United States, co-founder Kaiser Shahid says their on-line magazines attract readers from 100 countries. He says the e-mags are accessible and relevant for everyone.
"I encourage everyone to visit our web site, look through what we have and sign up," he says. "Our magazines are free. They are weekly. We're growing. We'll definitely have more features that will further connect our readers and profilers and create more discussions and awareness. It's definitely worth checking."
The CulturalConnect will soon be ready to launch a fifth magazine focusing on African cultures, reaching out to an even wider range of readers. The three friends behind this growing on-line enterprise hope that many of their current readers will eventually become the success stories they'll be profiling in future editions of The CulturalConnect.