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, 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. 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 Zakaraian, 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."
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 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
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 Cultural Connect 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 Cultural Connect.