Meet the Generation17 Young Leaders: The Story of Zubair Junjunia
The experiences of his family showed Zubair Junjunia that education can be a passport to opportunity. So, he used his passion for technology to level the playing field of standardised testing and empower students in underserved communities to change their path.
Zubair Junjunia is a member of Generation17, a partnership between Samsung and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), empowering young people around the world who are contributing to the Global Goals.
When Zubair Junjunia was 16, he had an unsettling epiphany. He and his friends had just finished taking their grueling International General Certificate for Secondary Education (IGCSE) exams in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and he was struck by a distinct disparity in the preparation resources available to students. Some had robust educational support, others a limited amount – and yet, they all sat for the same exams.
Zubair’s grandparents had left everything behind in India to give their children better opportunities in Pakistan, and their sacrifice enabled his father to use education to change the trajectory of their life, so Zubair was instantly compelled to act.
“Standardised tests play a pivotal role in determining college and career opportunities, and they’re a gatekeeper for social mobility,” says Zubair, now 26 and living in London. “Providing resources and leveling the playing field for these exams means you can actually make a better life for yourself.”
He was a tech enthusiast, diligent student and copious notetaker, so he built a site to post his class notes and give anyone with an internet connection free access to valuable educational support – creating the digital version of the age-old practice of group study.
A month later, students all over the world had discovered his blog, and it officially became ZNotes. Within two years, word spread, the site reached a million visits and other students began contributing their notes as well. Today, it’s a youth-led learning platform that helps address the Global Goals in 190 countries. Its mission: ending educational inequality for young people everywhere.
“The most empowering thing about technology is how it provides amplification and reach at a global scale.”
Making a Tangible Impact with Technology
ZNotes started as an open resource blog of exam prep notes, but Zubair and his team have developed it into much more. Today, it’s a thriving online community where users from around the world support each other with live classes, video tutorials, podcasts, blog posts, email newsletters and engagement in peer-to-peer learning. The platform has over 350,000 registered users and houses 130 sets of robust notes that span seven international exam boards and 30 different subjects – from natural and social sciences to humanities and languages.
“The most empowering thing about technology is how it provides amplification and reach at a global scale,” Zubair says. “ZNotes is a testament to how a tech-enabled, community-powered solution can create educational equity.”
In a world where 78 million children lack safe and reliable access to education and international secondary and admissions tests are a primary requirement for applying to universities and for scholarships, ZNotes is giving more young people the chance to learn and pursue higher education. To date, the site has reached over 4.7 million secondary school students and teachers around the world and garnered more than 33 million hits – contributing to Global Goals 4 (Quality Education) and 10 (Reduced Inequalities).
ZNotes currently has the most student and teacher users in India, Pakistan, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates, but the organisation is gaining traction elsewhere, including China, South Africa and Zimbabwe. According to ZNotes’ 2022 Impact Report, 91% of learners feel more confident about their exams after using ZNotes and 4 in 5 learners say the resources have been very important or quite useful to their academic performance.
Most importantly, the long reach of technology is enabling ZNotes to put invaluable educational resources directly in the hands of teachers and students at under-resourced schools in developing regions.
“We have some incredible testimonials from teachers who said they couldn’t afford textbooks and instead used ZNotes as a way to deliver lessons,” Zubair says. “One of my mentors was in a remote underserved area in Nigeria and saw printed copies of ZNotes stacked inside a school library because that was their learning resource. That type of impact is incredibly motivating.”
Zubair is also proud of how ZNotes, with over 100 contributors, 50 interns and 35 ambassadors, has become a catalyst for young people who want to make a difference.
“Many of our interns took their experience and went on to lead their own initiatives in their local community – from starting their own NGOs to supporting their university’s outreach efforts – because they could see how they were able to contribute towards a Global Goal on such a massive scale,” Zubair says.
Alexa Wong was one such intern. The University College London (UCL) student credits the organisation for galvanising her as she launched a support platform for disabled and neurodivergent students at the school. “ZNotes taught me what goes into running a start-up and empowered me to take more initiative in engaging in causes I care about,” Wong says.
Zubair has grown along with his organisation. He’s evolved from a solo founder into a CEO who manages dozens of team members, stakeholders and advisors around the world. Today, he continues to advocate for fair and equitable education and looks for more ways to elicit positive change.
“I want to reach over 100 million young learners before I turn 30,” Zubair says. “I am determined to take this scalable and cost-effective community-led model of learning and apply it to the most under-resourced education systems in the world – and to be able to localise it, so youth on the ground are the owners of the impact.”