Viewpoint by Bill Reese
I recently returned from Lima, Peru, where I had the privilege to meet with 20 young social entrepreneurs who had traveled from around the globe to take part in a week-long leadership retreat. The event was hosted by Laureate International Universities/Sylvan Laureate Foundation and the International Youth Foundation. Together with these Laureate Global Fellows, we talked about their visions for change and what it takes to transform their communities. For me, this yearly gathering of talented innovators -- all of whom are founders and CEOs of their own social ventures -- is an invaluable opportunity to take the pulse of today's youth leaders. What issues do they care most passionately about? What do they need to be even more effective? What innovative approaches are they using to solve the problems facing society?
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.
Arundhuti Gupta is Founder and CEO of Mentor Together, which provides children and youth at-risk in Bangalore, India with empowering one-on-one relationships with mentors that help them to achieve their goals and dreams. In 2011, the International Youth Foundation selected her as a YouthActionNet® Global Fellow.
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.