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W&L’s Hamza Zia ’26 Receives Davis Projects for Peace Grant Zia plans to continue his work with the PINK Center Project in his home country of Pakistan.

Hamza-Zia-Updated-Headshot-600x400 W&L’s Hamza Zia ’26 Receives Davis Projects for Peace Grant

Washington and Lee University student Hamza Zia ’26 has received a Davis Projects for Peace grant for his work with the PINK Center Project, an organization dedicated to supporting and advocating for Pakistan’s transgender community. Zia is an engineering major and mathematics and education minor from Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

As a partner school of the Davis United World College Scholars Program, W&L is eligible to receive Davis Projects for Peace grants. The program is funded by the late Kathryn Wasserman Davis, who established it on her 100th birthday in 2007 to challenge young people to plant seeds of peace throughout the world with innovative projects.

“To me, the Davis Projects for Peace grant, signifies a pivotal milestone in my endeavor to establish Pakistan’s first ever trans-led and trans-based social enterprise model,” Zia said. “Beyond mere financial assistance, this grant symbolizes a vote of confidence in my unwavering commitment to fostering economic justice and inclusion for one of the most vulnerable and ostracized communities within my homeland.”

Zia’s project, titled “PINK: Promoting Transgender Inclusion for Economic Justice,” outlines an economic stimulus empowerment package for Pakistan’s transgender community through the formal establishment of a production unit for transgender individuals to start mass production of hand-embroidered bags, as well as an e-commerce platform to launch the startup on a national level. “By providing a supportive, inclusive workspace and equipping transgender individuals with entrepreneurial skills, I aim to not only create employment opportunities for the marginalized community at hand but also sow the seeds of sustainable, long-term change,” Zia said.

“Hamza’s selection as a Davis grant recipient is a testament to the quality of his work and commitment to social change,” said Mark Rush, the director of international education at W&L and the Stanley D. and Nikki Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law. “He is a natural leader with creative, context-driven ideas for combating marginalization in his home country.”

With the Davis grant, Zia’s current project will consist of two sequential phases that will take place over 10 weeks in the area around Zakariya Town, Multan, in collaboration with the PINK Center and Saro Imran, a Pakistani trans rights activist.

The project is an extension of Zia’s past efforts to create economic opportunities for Pakistan’s transgender community and advocate for a more equitable and just society. Last summer, he received a Center for International Education Summer Grant and Johnson Enhancement funding to travel to Pakistan and work with Imran to provide training sessions in social entrepreneurship, business management and microenterprises to communities across the country. This venture paved the way for the formation of PINK, which aims to provide economic empowerment to Pakistan’s transgender community by creating a startup where individuals design, manufacture and sell high-quality traditional hand-embroidered bags. In August 2023, Zia presented PINK at the Rising Stars of Pakistan startup competition and pitched the concept at the Prime Minister National Innovation Award, Pakistan’s biggest and most competitive startup contest.

Zia is grateful for the opportunity to continue his economic empowerment efforts in Pakistan and to be “an agent of positive transformation and a voice for the marginalized.”

“Receiving the Davis grant is a humbling affirmation of my social advocacy efforts and my dedication to gender equality,” Zia said. “And most importantly, it serves as a reminder that even in the face of deeply ingrained societal norms and systemic obstacles, there are those who recognize the urgency of my cause and the potential for the impact it holds on itself.”

Zia also looks forward to incorporating his interdisciplinary studies of engineering, mathematics and education to take a multifaceted approach to technology and social justice. In addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing marginalized communities, he is confident W&L has equipped him with the technical skills to develop cutting-edge solutions and better understand the complexities of poverty, inequality and human development.

Zia is a Bonner Scholar and says his involvement with the Bonner Scholars Program has been his most impactful experience at W&L. He has appreciated being able to immerse himself in community engagement and social service efforts, and these local endeavors are what inspired him to travel back to Pakistan and advocate for marginalized communities there.

“Had it not been for the Bonner Program, I probably would have never truly discovered my passion for social advocacy and transgender empowerment,” Zia said. “The summer I spent back in Pakistan completely transformed not only my personality and perspective but also my future aspirations. It was then I realized the true power of education and empowerment, and I witnessed firsthand how even the smallest acts of kindness and understanding could bring hope to those forced into society’s fringes. That experience solidified my commitment to utilizing my privileges and resources to create lasting change, and I haven’t looked back since.”

On campus, Zia is a resident advisor for first-year students and an ambassador for the Office of Inclusion and Engagement, where he helps promote efforts and initiatives to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment on campus. He is also a peer tutoring coordinator for the Peer Tutoring Program and serves as the treasurer for the Around the Globe Multicultural Dance Organization. For Zia, all these experiences have deepened his understanding of the intersectionality of social issues and the importance of collaborative and community-driven solutions and equipped him with the skills necessary to be an informed and responsible global citizen.

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