Interview with Zubair Junjunia, founder of ZNotes
Zubair Junjunia is an educational activist, social entrepreneur, and founder of ZNotes – an online learning platform he started at 16 and today, has reached over 3 million students globally. To learn more about ZNotes and the impact it is driving, visit znotes.org.
Tell us about your background and your work. What inspires and motivates you as a leader?
Hundreds of thousands of students worldwide take the same exams and yet, the access to resources, advice and support available for them varies drastically. How is that fair? Realising this at the age of 16 and after my first set of international exams, I set up a blog to share the resources I had created for my exams. Through word of mouth, these high-quality and concise revision notes were discovered by students all over the world and ZNotes was born. Soon after, I began to receive emails from passionate students asking how they could help as the idea of learning resources produced for students by students resonated with them. Today, seven years later and with hundreds of contributors and volunteers globally, ZNotes has had over 21 million views and reached more than 3 million students, teachers and educators from every country on this planet! ZNotes has proven that the power of community is truly phenomenal, and to harness that power, we must empower students and allow them to lead their educational journey. The more this becomes a reality, the closer my dream will be to fruition. And, so I continue to dream of a world where everyone, everywhere, will have access to the very best quality education.
What are the greatest challenges facing young people today?
The Internet and connectedness have revolutionized the way we do anything today. But at the same time, it has brought to light challenges that we have never faced before. Our health and mental wellbeing are at risk with overexposure to the different forms of media – from mainstream television and advertising to the constant demands of social media. With all these platforms leeching on our attention and energy, we must discern what is good for us and not be detrimental to our lives.
How do you think society will be different after the Covid-19 pandemic is finally behind us? What risks are there? What possibilities for progress?
Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the health and wellbeing of mankind. At the same time, though, it has also been a reset button. It has challenged some of our greatest assumptions and shaken practices that have been in place for many generations. I believe there are two contrasting risks post-Covid-19-either we go back to how we used to be, or we hold that our existence in lockdown is the ‘new normal.’ After this massive shake-up, it would be a great shame to return to some of the less socially conscious practices such as unjustified business travels or under-consideration of mental wellbeing. At the same time, we cannot continue working from home with no scope to discover new people and places. Humans are social animals, and for our distinguished breakthroughs, for serendipity to come into action, we must come together socially and professionally with fewer agendas and schedules. Particularly in the field of education, the way technology has been accepted and leveraged is an incredible feat and one that can lead to further democratisation of education in the future.
How can institutions, whether in the public, private, or civic sector, help empower youth and facilitate their engagement in public life?
A hurdle faced by proactive youth who are impassioned to lead change is the inability to speak with those in pivotal and decision-making position in the public, private, or civic sector. Amidst innumerable layers of bureaucracy and policies, it is difficult to begin amplifying and empowering those working on critical projects. The potential impact of young people knocking on doors to share social projects could be greatly enhanced by corporations becoming more vigilant and accessible. In addition to this, having the advice and experience of those working in the high-level position available through mentorship programs would be invaluable to some earlier stage projects.
What role do today’s youth have in tackling the world’s greatest challenges?
Greta Thunberg, at the UN Climate Action Summit, said “I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!” The youth not only represent hope but a genuine will for action, as demonstrated by them taking the lead as the future of this planet. Whether it is through setting up their own projects and startups or by being vocal and ensuring the industry take the human and ecological consideration, the youth will need to take the reins sooner rather than later to tackle these global challenges.
What gives you hope about the future?
Being a relentless optimist is part of the job description of a founder. It is indisputable that some massive challenges are looming ahead of us, but at the same time, I believe we are vectoring in the right direction. Never before has the quality of life been so high for such a large proportion of the global population. We are more knowledgeable and connected, recognizing the necessity of coming together to work towards global goals. Seeing initiatives and projects being launched and run by people of all age groups and all over the world, each working towards supporting a community facing a challenge – this is what fills me with hope!