Georgina-Kate Adams is founder of The Seed, Africa, a girls’ education and empowerment project based in Swaziland, Southern Africa. From 15-19 October 2014 she was sponsored by BoardPad to attend One Young World as part of the company’s CSR programme.
This time last year I was in Swaziland, sat in front of my laptop wide-eyed as a stream of inspiration cascaded down my Twitter feed. The source? One Young World: a global forum for young leaders, which brings together nearly 1,500 change-makers under the age of 30 – and connects them with a feast of counsellors, including Sir Richard Branson, Bob Geldof and former-UN-secretary-general Kofi Annan.
I scrambled to the website and applied on a whim – determined that I had to attend next year, although it seemed a wild dream. When I was accepted a few weeks later, my jaw hit the floor. I knew this experience could be nothing short of life changing. However, as a self-employed founder of a non-profit, the delegate fee was beyond my means.
Enter BoardPad – with its superman-coloured logo! ICSA Software’s offspring app truly was my superhero; committing to sponsor my One Young World ticket and make my greatest wish for 2014 come true! So it is that I have just returned from five days in Dublin, with some of the brightest, bravest, most extraordinary souls we have on this Earth. And I was right: it was life changing.
In truth, I’m at a loss for words (which, those who know me, will tell you is unheard of!) How can I explain the devastation of a girl from Kurdistan hijacking the microphone, tearfully begging for help for Yizidi sisters kidnapped by ISIS and raped 73 times? Or the utter awe of learning that space travel will become commonplace within my lifetime? Or weeping in union with 1,300 delegates and the 21-year-old North Korean girl on stage, as she shared her unbelievable survival tale of escaping the dictatorship of her homeland?
I can’t…. but fortunately, I don’t have to. The whole forum was filmed and can be watched back in clips on YouTube. I would ask everybody reading this to empower yourself with the story of Yeon-mi Park: Link – an unimaginably brave, wise young woman who powerfully illustrates our responsibility to look after more than ‘our own little patch’. Her speech was followed by the longest standing ovation I have ever known.
By bringing together such a wide-reaching pool of delegates [the only event more extensively represented is the Olympics], One Young World shines a human spotlight on the global issues often marginalised in our home press. Although it welcomes prestigious names to its panels, the focus is firmly on the young leaders. In some sessions, counsellors are tasked with introducing delegate speakers, rather than sharing views of their own. And when it comes to comments, they’re sent into the audience to man the roving microphones – even if they’re Bob Geldof!
By giving young people a rare and elevated voice, One Young World offers an opportunity to hear incredible stories of triumph against adversity, demonstrating the power of just one person. People like Jennifer, a girl from Sierra Leone, who one year ago set up World Health Equity – reaching more than 25,000 patients in just 12 months; and Eddy, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who created and got approved a Children’s Act to protect his contemporaries from being drafted into the army (before having to flee when the government changed their mind); and Sophie, a young woman from Sheffield who used to live on the streets, but shunned a life of drugs to mentor other young people back to education, setting up The Really NEET Project in 2011.
One Young World offers young people a clear call to action about the responsibilities of our generation – while introducing alternative ways of thinking, to reform the mistakes of the past. These new perspectives came from a range of approaches. From an introduction to ‘circular economy’ by Dame Ellen MacArthur – after sailing around the world on rations made her realise that the globe’s resources are similarly finite; to a film by Sam Branson about the case for legalizing drugs.
Caroline Casey, a legally-blind activist for reforming attitudes to disability, had the auditorium plunged into darkness while her panel of guests introduced themselves. By the time the lights came up, we were so moved by their words, that we hardly noticed one was a little person (‘dwarf’) and another had been born without limbs. They were just people.
Perhaps the most extreme was an offer from astronaut Ron Garan, who so passionately wanted to affect our perspective on the importance of preserving the Earth that he launched a competition offering one delegate the chance to go to space! What made this even more extraordinary is that it was the second such offer we’d had in three days! (Michel Mol, CEO of XCOR Space Expeditions, launched the ‘Rising Star Programme’ two days earlier, committing to send a One Young World delegate to space in early 2016.)
To say these five days exceeded my expectations is a slight understatement. I have come out of the experience not only with the title ‘One Young World Ambassador’ to my name, but more conscious, more connected, more educated, more empowered – and with a 650:1 chance of going to space in the next two years!
As for the impact on The Seed, Africa, the opportunities are endless. I’ve had training from Upworthy and Unilever on building viral video campaigns – expanding the potential reach of my project to a whole new audience; completed an innovation workshop with Barclays; gained a huge amount of expertise and inspiration to drive my project forwards; and cultivated a whole new network of talented friends, who, if they don’t become partners to the project, will certainly be cheering me on at the sidelines! As anybody who runs their own business knows, that support is invaluable.
When I was selected to wave the flag for Swaziland (where my project is based) in the opening ceremony, I really thought everyone would think ‘Who’s that funny white girl in a sarong?’ But instead I stepped out on stage to a roar from the Southern African delegation, and am already planning projects with several of them for The Seed. Now, I feel like roaring: with gratitude for this opportunity! And so, this is my standing ovation for BoardPad and Mike Evans. Thank you for making this dream come true, and for all the doors it may open for The Seed and the girls we work with in Swaziland. Girls who, I hope, will be the young leaders of the next generation.