Leiden International Studies Blog

One Young World, How Can International Studies Students Make a Difference?

One Young World, How Can International Studies Students Make a Difference?

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the One Young World Summit, thanks to a sponsorship by Leiden University. This blog post is more than a reflection of that experience, it is a call to action!

Last Sunday the elections in Brazil propelled yet another representative of the far right, into international politics adding to the rise of (right wing) populism across the globe. Another advocate of xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and racism… Bolsonaro and others like him might lead you to think that the world is heading down a dark path, a dangerous future for the climate, minorities and democratic values at large. There are many reasons to think so, but I am here to give a brighter perspective.

Introducing Tabata Amaral: Equipped with a dream of better education for all, she ran for election earlier this year in Sao Paulo. Today at 24, she is the elected deputy for Sao Paulo with over 260 000 votes. One of the most popular female candidates in Brazilian history.
Brazil has Bolsonaro, but Brazil also has Tabata who is one of many young leaders taking power today.

Two weeks ago I had the honour of meeting Tabata at the One Young World Summit in The Hague. Thanks to the sponsorship of Leiden University I was able to attend as a delegate at the summit this year to meet with other young people from 193 countries ready to change our world for the better and many of them actively doing so already. This blog post intends to reflect on my experience there.

What is OYW?

In short, OYW is a summit for young leaders to address and act on global challenges. With a strong focus on the global goals, young leaders initiate change through networking, workshops and talks. Over 1.800 attendees, from 193 countries come together for four days, representing business, civil society, government or academia. Helping the young leaders are an incredible group of counsellors including people like Muhammad Yunus, Mary Robinson, Emma Watson or Desmond Tutu just to name a few. As such, OYW is a powerful forum for young leaders to come together and address the challenges of our world. It comes as little surprise that some call it “Young Davos”. OYW is more than talking as the impact report shows.

Meeting people like Tabata at OYW are the reason for my optimism about the future of global politics, but also the reason why I want to tell every single student of International Studies and beyond. Bolsonaro and his friends who represent values we don’t, are in power…until we replace them.

Kenny Imafidon who helped Tabata win her campaign (another OYW ambassador) phrases it much better than I can:

If you don’t do politics, politics will do you! Ask yourself, if not me, then who? If not now, then when?

This call to action really struck me and I realized I am not an observer but a participant to the problems we have in our world; we all are.

Change in perspective

One of the key learning experiences for me at OYW was that of networking. Networking is not the rationalized economization of people for what worth they have to you. Networking is giving something to someone else, creating more value by connecting people than there is in the sum of their individual selves. In the university environment, you might end up underestimating yourself. After all, everyone around you is an expert in more or less same thing as you, but outside of this environment there is so much to contribute and a lot of value to add. Tabata and Kenny were linked together at the previous OYW summit and this is only one example of how this summit is an incredible forum for creating value through networking.

But what did I experience?

One blog post cannot come close to summarizing the extraordinary experience that is One Young World, however below I have listed some personal highlights:

The connections I made with other delegates at One Young World are what has really left an impact on me.

Take the inspiring story of Willy: an environmental activist from Vanuatu, one of the pacific Island nations existentially threatened by rising sea levels. Willy is an incredibly modest and humble guy. I really enjoyed chatting with him about life in Vanuatu and his long trip to the Netherlands. Only later did he tell me he will be at the negotiating table of COP24 (huge climate conference from which the famous “Paris Deal” originates).

Willy is one of dozens of new friends I have found at OYW, friends from all over the world. From Kenya to Japan to Canada or The Gambia. But they are more than friends: these people are partners for our projects and this collaboration creates a feeling of unity beyond borders. Together we are fighting to achieve sustainable development on a local level, but globally united.

On a more personal note, meeting and discussing South Africa with black South Africans recounting their and their parents’ experience of apartheid, has made me question my identity as a white South African and given me a perspective that I never had growing up twelve years in South Africa.

Next to these individual encounters the summit was packed with plenary sessions on topics such as poverty alleviation, healthcare, education, human rights and environment as well as workshops to help young leaders achieve their goals. Some of these were live-streamed at Wijnhaven and they are still available online in case you are interested.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to cover these completely so I will try and give some details that give a good feeling of what these sessions were about.

During the environmental plenary, one of the many former heads of state attending, Mary Robinson, put climate change into a new perspective: “Climate change is the space race of your generation”. Robinson also pointed out, that climate change is an ideal way to practice multilateral solution building to global challenges.

One of the highlights of the conference for me were undoubtedly the workshops. I was able to register and attend for three workshops (thanks to experience from the “Hunger Games” at Leiden...): a workshop how to run a successful election campaign, promoting female entrepreneurship and finally a workshop on effective use of social media for campaigns.

Many attendees to OYW were sponsored by the business sector. Shell, BP, Western Union, BMW, PWC just to name a few. Their CEOs were also present to talk about their view on making the world a better place.

The CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman definitely left a memorable impression by proclaiming with teary eyes, his frustration with the inaction concerning global challenges and calling for more love (still not sure how to interpret that from the CEO of Unilever and former CEO of Nestle).

Richard Branson recounted his attempt to stop the Iraq war together with Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan (by peacefully allowing Saddam an exile in Libya). Had the US invasion of Iraq been delayed by a few days, the history Iraq war would have been a much less brutal one if not completely averted. Branson’s recount puts light onto something quite fundamental to OYW: the cooperation of stakeholders across sectors such as business, politics and civil society.

Some of the sessions left me quite emotional. Listening to the moving recounts of people like Luke Hart, who had lost his sister and mother to domestic violence, Amanda Nguyen who recounted her experience of sexual violence or Mark Tewksbury who shared his story of coming out, created a painful and new kind of empathy for the injustice that I have never experienced.

So how does this all relate to International Studies?

At International Studies we learn about challenges resulting from globalization ranging from the rise of populism, inequality, climate change, refugee crises and numerous forms of oppression be it of imperial, racial or gendered nature. Many of these complex challenges and the resulting fear are the fuel of populist leaders promising simple solutions. As aspiring experts of these challenges but more importantly as young people (who are under-represented in politics), we have a unique perspective and thus a responsibility to act.

Would the world be so slow in dealing with climate change if more young people were represented in politics and business?

If International Studies is the place to learn about these grand challenges, then OYW (and other youth initiatives) are the place to act on them.

So what now?

You might be thinking, it’s just a conference with a lot of talk and I’m just an international studies student. That is something I thought for a long time.

Then I started volunteering in an NGO combatting violence against women, which in turn gave me access to opportunities that ultimately convinced Leiden to sponsor me to go to OYW.

Let me tell you one last story of a OYW ambassador, that of Fatoumatta Kassama: a nurse from The Gambia who has worked to improve healthcare in her country. She noticed that Glaucoma was a huge problem in her community while treatment was so simple. So she started an initiative with 10$ of her own wage. With these 10$ she bought the required medicine for treating the condition. Now she has helped over 70.000 people with her initiative and saved thousands from blindness.

Fatoumatta had little resources, she was not privileged to attend higher education and she did not need to go to any conferences for making a positive change in her community.

Fatoumatta’s examples shows there should be no excuse for us to remain inactive. So if you are wondering, how to take action now but do not know how. Or think that you cannot offer anything. Think again! Be creative! Look at the Sustainable Development Goals and ask yourself where and how you can improve the world.

And if you’re still wondering then Let’s meet! Contact me and we’ll find something.

I think OYW is unique and very fitting opportunity for motivated International Studies students to become active and I will try to convince Leiden University to sponsor more students next year for the OYW 2019 in London.

I think we have many young people like Tabata at International Studies and OYW2019 is the ideal place that will give you the network, motivation and tools to remove the Bolsonaro’s of today and tomorrow from power.