The Chicago Council on Global Affairs awarded the 2009 Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellowship on Social Entrepreneurship to Shehzad Roy, a Pakistani pop star and president and founder of the Zindagi Trust, an organization working to improve primary and secondary education in Pakistan.

Roy was honored for his commitment to providing better learning opportunities in government-run schools, and his goal of encouraging Pakistan's disenfranchised "to value education and provide them with the knowledge and opportunities to realize a peaceful, democratic political future." Roy uses the proceeds from his hugely popular concerts to fund the work of the Zindagi Trust, which has established vocational centers and health-care clinics and has worked to improve Pakistan's educational system since 2002.

In October 2009, Roy and his wife, Salma, who also works for the Zindgadi Trust, spent a week in Chicago exchanging ideas about education, the arts, philanthropy, and nonprofit management with the city's civic, government, business, and educational leaders.

“I was impressed with the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) program initiated by the Koldykes in Chicago, where teachers train specifically to work with students in high poverty areas, and work with a mentor teacher in each class,” said Roy. The Zindgadi Trust is working to replicate the program in Pakistan.

Throughout the week, Roy presented work undertaken by Zindagi Trust at events organized by The Chicago Council, often in conjunction with local organizations, including universities and schools. He was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune and on WTTW Chicago Public Television’s Chicago Tonight and WBEZ Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview. He also spoke and performed at Buddy Guy’s for an audience of the Council’s Young Professional members and delivered the annual Patricia Blunt Koldyke Lecture on October 29, 2009.

“It is truly an honor for Zindagi Trust to be recognized internationally. Interacting with Chicago's best minds has been a learning experience, and this award will ultimately promote our efforts in reforming government schools in Pakistan,” said Roy.

Patricia Blunt and Martin J. (“Mike”) Koldyke established the Patricia Blunt Koldyke Fellowship in Social Entrepreneurship in 2006 to recognize leading social entrepreneurs between the ages of thirty and forty-five from any region of the world, working to transform their society through creative innovations to social problems.

“Shehzad and Salma have dedicated their lives to education. We are very fortunate to have this fellowship go to them (Zindagi Trust),” said Mike Koldyke. “The stakes are so high; these are important and dangerous times in Pakistan. Prioritizing education in Pakistan is terribly important for them and the United States.”

Speaking to Chicago audiences throughout the week, Roy pointed out that while the rich “bend over backwards to give their own children the best of educations, the same people consider education for a poor child as an act of charity, an option. Quality education is the responsibility of the state which, unfortunately, doesn’t recognize it as such, in Pakistan. It’s ironic that the walls of government school buildings have quotes such as ‘Education is Light’ painted on them but the government’s attitude is anything but that.”

While being a well-known singer and public figure in Pakistan did make it somewhat easier for Roy to take over the management of the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School in Karachi, it wasn’t without resistance from the government. Zindagi Trust finally adopted the 2,500-student school in May 2007. Roy’s first task involved ridding the school campus of stray dogs. A complete makeover of the school building and a curriculum that embraced individual growth, arts, and sports soon followed.

The school now boasts art classes, library periods, sports, photography, and a range of other modules that discover and nurture a child's talents. SMB students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are competing and winning against the most elite schools in Karachi.

At the end of the week in Chicago, Shehzad and Salma along with Mike Koldyke and Chicago Council President Marshall M. Bouton attended meetings in Washington D.C. to talk about further cooperation with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and members of the State Department. They hope to use some of what they learned during their week in Chicago and their time in DC to further the mission of the Zindgadi Trust.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is currently in the process of selecting the 2010 Koldyke Fellow, who will come from Afghanistan. The Council will welcome him or her to Chicago in fall 2010. Learn more about Chicago Council fellowships.