What happens when thousands of young people from across the globe get together to discuss and share stories on the world’s current issues? ... Change! Changed mindsets, changed views, changed perspectives and most of all changed hearts.
This year, One Young World took place in Bangkok, Thailand. On 18 November 2015, followed by a boat procession down the Chaophraya River, the pathway to change opened up at The Royal Palace in Sanam Luang where 1,500 of tomorrow’s leaders from 129 different countries gathered for a spectacular opening ceremony. With the COP21 (Paris Climate Conference) taking place in Paris next week, this year’s One Young World pointed heavily toward the issue of climate change.
In his opening speech, prominent diplomat and former UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan addressed the pressing issue saying: “It will take all of your creativity, vision and determination to find and implement effective solutions. You will need to work together with your peers from around the world to convince today’s leaders, that they must act swiftly and decisively to secure the safety of our planet. Kofi added, “We are rapidly approaching a tipping point by where climate change may be irreversible and no other issue will have a greater impact on the well being of your generation, your health and your security. “Together, you can proclaim loud and clear that no other target is too ambitious to reach and no obstacle too hard to overcome. Your call for climate action will make it clear for the world that you the youth of today, simply will not accept failure.”
Sir Bob Geldof didn’t hold back the punches either. He was determined not to stoke our egos, but to shock us into the cruel reality our world currently faces. “People like myself, Professor Yunus, and Kofi also listened to old men like ourselves tell us: ‘You’re the glowing future’, But that’s a cliché. You are the present! Go back to your countries, get real with your governments, get the people of your age group to understand precisely what happens and stop with violence, it doesn’t work. You’ve got three days to work out in your own minds and together, not just what you do in these important critical days in your lives but for the coming lives, days and years which you will see but we won’t. My job is to make it real, not to big you up.”
Believe me, I didn't feel big. At all. The following three days showed us all just how real our global issues are. Over the three-day summit, Counsellors and delegate speakers from different fields graced the stage and discussed topics that pertain to the 17 Global Goals and how they were combatting the issues in their own way. At times, their talks made me feel uncomfortable and inadequate. There I was, 26 years old and I’d barely even started implementing all my plans to change the world. But the feelings of failure didn’t torment me for long. At a private KPMG breakfast hosted by Lord Michael Hastings, David Jones the co-founder of One Young World said something that stuck with me and quickly adjusted my perspective: “I’ve heard many people say they feel inadequate," he said. "Good. That’s how we want you to feel because it urges you to get up and make a change.”
And just like that, I went from feeling inadequate to inspired.
The counsellors and guest speakers continued to blow my mind. Professor Muhammad Yunus had my full attention when he so simply broke down the concept of social business. He spoke about how he began in social business by looking at the problems around him not with a bird’s eye view, but a worm’s eye view. He spoke about how we should aim to fix the little things around us and that social business is charity with a return. It enables those in less fortunate positions, to create their own projects to better themselves thus contributing more to their economy.
I also learnt that supermodel Liya Kebede is not just a pretty face, but a beautiful soul. Through her organisation the Liya Kebede Foundation, she is an advocate for maternal health and is committed to advancing motherhood in Africa through education and partnerships. Her short but powerful documentary showed us just how hard it is for women in places like Ethiopia to deliver their babies safely. Many mothers die during childbirth, or their new-born baby doesn’t make it to one day old. Liya urged the young delegates to raise awareness of this by donating and spreading the word.
Then there were the delegate speakers who to me, were the real stars of the conference. I will not forget most of them. But there were people in particular who moved me to tears and have me now thinking of practical ways to help my community. On her home soil, Kamolnan Chearavanont a passionate advocate for those who are stateless, shared the harrowing story of Sunshine who at the age of 14 was raped and trafficked and mothered two children as a result. For Sunshine, love meant abuse and safety meant prison. Through tears, Kamolnan highlighted that statelessness means that over 10 million people lack an identity, making them more susceptible to inequality.
Another powerful woman was Esther Marshall from Unilever. She spoke of how through her own struggle with domestic abuse, she was able to approach the head of her company to ask for help to launch Stand Tall, an organisation for victims of abuse.
Everyday, I was inspired and amazed by someone new. Everyday, the atmosphere was charged with the burning passion of like minds and hearts. Though I was sad to leave, I was also inspired to come back to the UK, up the pace and actually do something when I say I’m going to do it. World problems might seem vast and too big for us to handle, but we don’t actually know what we as individuals and a collective, can achieve if we put fear and doubt aside.
So, One Young World delegates, advocates, activists and future world leaders, hold your head up high, straighten up your backs and remember that any change you make whether big or small, is still change.