Viewpoint By Bill Reese
I was thrilled to receive a book signing invitation recently from a long-time friend, colleague, and champion of women's empowerment issues, Ritu Sharma. Her newly published book, Teach a Woman to Fish: Overcoming Poverty Around the Globe, draws from her own personal experiences working with women worldwide to improve their economic prospects. A singular pioneer in her field, Ritu has been an inspiration for me over the years to continue to expand opportunities for young women and girls in my development work at the International Youth Foundation.
As Americans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- banning discrimination by race, religion or gender in areas like schools, public facilities and employment in the United States -- it’s important to remember that young people played a critical role in this country’s often violent – and ultimately victorious -- struggle for civil rights.
This past weekend, I drove through America’s deep south to Jackson, Mississippi to attend a reunion of activists from across the United States who 50 years ago, as 19, 20, and 21-year olds, came to this state to accomplish what seemed utterly impossible. Their mission as volunteers for Freedom Summer was two-fold: to help ensure that African Americans seeking to register to vote could do so -- and to establish “freedom schools” that taught local youth about democracy, voting rights, and organizational skills. Nearly 1,000 young people – primarily college students – signed up.
I was incredibly frazzled on my ride to the airport in Bangalore to catch a plane to Davos, Switzerland where I would be one of fifty 50 Global Shapers to participate in the World Economic Forum. It felt wholly inappropriate to be so preoccupied with funding proposals, technology issues, and the administrative needs of my social venture when I was poised for a week of amazing interactions. As the mental anguish continued, I suddenly realized that what made my presence at Davos interesting to those who invited me was probably the amalgam of all these scrappy social entrepreneur experiences, alongside the fierce drive and sense of possibility that myself and my social change peers possess. It would be a fun juxtaposition, I realized, to have the leaders of million dollar institutions engaging with the 50 of us, bristling with intimate knowledge of our communities and ideas for setting them right. So I gave myself up completely to every worry, excitement, thought, and impulse that came my way that week and got so much back in return.