Esra’a Al Shafei ’08 receives Harvard Law Berkman Center Award
Esra’a Al Shafei, Franklin 2008 graduate, receives prestigious award for human rights and global advocacy.
On May 16, Esra’a Al Shafei received the prestigious Berkman Center Award in the human rights and global advocacy category. The 21-year-old Franklin College graduate is the director of MideastYouth.com, whose mission is “to inspire and provide young people with the freedom and opportunity of expression and to facilitate a fierce but respectful dialogue among the highly diverse youth of all sects, socio-economic backgrounds, and political and religious beliefs in the Middle East.” MideastYouth.com fights for social change with podcasts, blogs, social networks and online video.
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society was founded at Harvard Law School in 1997 as a research program to explore cyberspace, share in its study and help pioneer its development. The Center is now home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff and affiliates working on projects that span a broad range of intersections between cyberspace, technology and society.
Recipients of the Berkman Awards were chosen for their outstanding contributions to the Internet’s impact on society over the past decade. The international group of winners was selected through an open nomination process and comes from a wide range of fields including human rights and global advocacy; academia; communications and media; and law. “There is an amazing amount of public interest, innovation and activity on the Internet, and selecting these award winners from an extraordinary field of nominees and finalists was a daunting task,” said John Palfrey, Harvard Law School clinical professor and Berkman Center Executive Director. “We hope that these Internet heroes will continue to lead and inspire, making the positive potential of networks a reality.”
After the Awards Ceremony, Esra’a Al Shafei said, “The Berkman Center honored me with a prestigious award and I am much too happy to express this in words. While receiving the award in Boston I had the opportunity to meet some of the world’s great thinkers and entrepreneurs, including Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, Noah Samara, founder of WorldSpace, and others who are just too many to list.”
Esra’a Al Shafei was not only the youngest person to receive the Berkman Center Award in 2008; she was also the only female and the only Middle Easterner. She said: “I felt a great amount of pride knowing that people no longer regard our youth as a bunch of hopeless people surrounded by conflicts. With more pride I spoke about friends like Nasim Fekrat of AfghanLord.org and Walid of YemenPortal.net, as well as many others who are doing a great deal. I plan to use the cash associated with this prize to make their ideas a reality, too. Most of it will be used to further build the network and to professionalize Afghan Press, whose Farsi version is about to launch very soon, as well as to develop a new project concerning web circumvention in the Arab world in collaboration with Walid and a few others.”
This is the second award that Esra’a Al Shafei has received for her work and activism; in May, 2007, she was honored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation for leading the “Best Intellectual Entrepreneurship Project for Promoting Liberty.” One year later, only five days after graduating from Franklin College, Esra’a received the Berkman Center Award.
In noting that this award couldn’t have come at a better time, Esra’a stated, “Weeks before graduating I was puzzled as to what I wanted to do with my life, just like any other student. But this award made me realize that I already am what I always wanted to be in the future, and hence it really convinced me that I will be pursuing my passion for a very long time after I graduate, especially now since my work is finally being rewarded and appreciated worldwide.”
She continued, “The communications department at Franklin, along with many of its professors, especially Satomi Sugiyama and Aziz Douai, Assistant Professors of International Communications, really encouraged me to continue on this path which intensified my work and activism. My work was also relevant to many other academic courses, but mostly those within my major, which helped me understand the impact of what I do more clearly. The Franklin community was really supportive as they signed petitions, attended my presentations and were curious enough to request further updates on the kind of projects I work on. The fact that the Internet was widely available around campus of course played a crucial role in my achievement. I also appreciate the strategic location of Switzerland and used that to create lasting relationships and partnerships with European nongovernmental organizations and students from neighboring universities who were involved in some of our projects. I could not have studied in a more perfect location and was thankful that the communications department was helpful to me in achieving my goal.”
Professor Satomi Sugiyama revealed, “It was a great pleasure having Esra’a in my classes. I was truly inspired by her passion and commitment to promote human rights and peace through the power of new communication technology. Esra’a has left a lasting impact on so many in the Franklin community, and I am sure that she will continue to do so.”
In recognition of her contribution in the field of communications and overall study at Franklin College Esra’a was awarded the 2007-2008 Communication and Media Studies Award. Sara Steinert-Borella, Dean of Arts and Humanities, commented: “We are so proud of Esra'a, both for her achievement and her profound commitment to human rights and freedom of expression. She has given a great deal to the Franklin community. As a graduate, she will undoubtedly continue upon her quest to make the world a better place. She serves as a model to us all and perhaps especially to our current students: as Esra'a has proven, your work really can make a difference.”