Disclaimer: Upfront apologies for a long narrative but our experiences at One Young World (OYW) couldn’t be summarized in handful of tweets or 140 characters.
Unarguably, the technology industry is the one which is altering the face of all other industries. Technology advancements are opening up doors of newer possibilities which were unimaginable to us, as recently as a few years ago. Digital technologies such as Mobile, Big Data & Analytics, Cloud, Security, Social, Sensors/IOT, Cognitive Computing etc. have disrupted the traditional business models, processes and customer relationships altogether. At the same time, these have the power to impact billions of lives.
But hey, I am not here to write on the tech industry today – am I? Right…I am supposed to talk about our experiences from One Young World Bangkok Summit! (Human Psychology I tell you …).
In the recently held Mahindra Aspire competition, three ‘Mahindraites’ & ‘Tech Mighties’ (Ashima, Varoon & me) were chosen to represent the Mahindra Group at the One Young World (OYW) Summit 2015 in Bangkok. To be honest, we didn’t have much clue on what OYW was all about or what to expect or even how to prepare for it but the gut said that it would be an amazing experience for sure! So, here we were – proudly representing Tech M > Mahindra Group > India at a summit which had 1300 Young Leaders from 196 countries of the world converging together, to ‘change the world’; to ‘act’ and not just ‘talk’.
The funny side of human psychology
Before I share some of my memorable experiences from OYW 2015, I want to touch upon my funny observation. It is only after attending OYW that I have been reflecting on how interestingly the human psychology works; how we restrict ourselves to the imaginative tiny, little universe defined by our work area, our families and friends; how we limit our thinking and responsibility only to this limited sphere… and treat everything as ‘out of syllabus question’. Being in IT industry for 9 long years, all I was worried about till now was what would happen to India’s IT industry if US implements a stringent Immigration policy or the recession comes back; I was telling the global customers of ours how their businesses may be doomed if they don’t adopt the digital technologies & listen to their millennial customers; I was worried about how to accrue funds to make the down-payment for my recently bought house…it goes on & on. It was all about me & my tiny little world. But now, it is so interesting to see how we limit our identity from being the child of the earth or a global citizen to being someone from a particular country/state/city or religion or caste etc. Is it lack of attention span (thanks to quick scrolls thru FB & Twitter feeds) or lack of empathy towards others or lack of awareness & connect with the larger global family that prevents us from being someone with global conscience?
One Young World led us to experience a myriad of different emotions in the same moment. OYW stumped us, shook us, made us cry & laugh, applaud & share grief, gave us hope & courage and above all, redefined our identities – to be the global citizens who could really make the difference, once we decided to act!
The Summit called One Young World
OYW Bangkok Summit 2015 was the 6th edition since the inception of One Young World in 2010, as a UK-based not-for-profit that gathers together the brightest young people from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change. OYW’s annual Summits bring together the most valuable young talent from global and national companies, NGOs, universities and other forward-thinking organizations, who are joined by world leaders, acting as the One Young World Counselors. At the Summit, delegates debate, formulate and share innovative solutions for the pressing issues the world faces.
OYW 2015 focused on the following key themes:
The event brought together 1300+ best of the best Young Leaders from across the world, who are driving real changes at the grass root level through host of initiatives covering the above themes. We were also very fortunate to have the global change makers joining us as OYW Counselors such as Honorable Kofi Annan (7th Secretary General of UN), Prof. Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize Winner & the man behind Grameen Bank), Sir Bob Geldof (Irish Musician & Political Activist), Paul Polman (Global CEO, Unilever), Ron Garan (NASA Astronaut), Liya Kebede (Supermodel, Actress & Maternal Health Advocate), Jon Landau (Oscar Winning Producer of Titanic & Avatar), Lord Michael Hastings (Global Head of Citizenship, KPMG International), Steve Waugh (Legendary Australian Cricketer), Angelica Cheung (Editor-in-chief, Vogue China) and many more!
It was a power packed agenda spanning over 3.5 days. The event kick started with a boat procession on Bangkok’s famous Chaophraya River which took us to the Royal Palace of Thailand, the beautiful backdrop for Opening Ceremony of OYW 2015. The Flag ceremony, a hair-raising experience, was on the lines of Olympics Opening where delegation from each country marches in with their country’s flag! Here, one delegate from each of 196 countries across the world walked up to stage waving their flags with pride. And rest of us sitting in the audience lived up to being true OYW Delegates, by cheering each and every country with the same enthusiasm…the claps just didn’t stop (Watch the opening ceremony here)! A moment worth remembering was to see the representatives of North Korea & South Korea walking together to the stage! #Goosebumps
Over the next 3 days, we attended plenary sessions (around the themes chosen for OYW 2015) and a host of special sessions. United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were the prime glue for most of the sessions. The best part about OYW sessions is that it brings the Legendary Counselors & the young Delegate Speakers together on the same stage where we get to see diverse perspectives, heart-warming & many a times heart-wrenching stories. But at the end of each session, what invariably stands out is the belief that the hope is not lost when Young Leaders like these are taking action and changing the world.
UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
It may take me to write a mini book to express everything we experienced at OYW. I would write about a few instances that really moved me.
Freedom – An easily ‘taken-for granted’ luxury is not that freely available
When Yeonmi Park narrated her moving story of escape from North Korea at OYW 2014, it brought tears to almost everyone who heard her (2 million views on the YouTube videos are just consequential nos.). And when she joined us again at OYW 2015, her story of finding freedom didn’t fail to move us, again! Here was a young girl from a land where everything is dictated by the administration (or dictatorship) – what to wear, what haircut to be taken, what to speak…in short, how to live (or just be alive). And there came a moment in Yeonmi’s life when she decided to run from this land, not for anything else but just for a bowl of rice. To her, food was freedom! And the story narrated thereafter broke most of us down with tears. Here is the video of the session. How funny it is that we crib about the most insignificant things in life and forget to be grateful for what we have, including the freedom to be who we want to be. #RespectFreedom
Wage ‘Love on Terror’, not ‘War on Terror’
Arizza Nocum is all of 21 years but her thoughts could shake the most powerful leaderships of the world! She narrated the story of how societal & economic inequality in Philippines has led to conflicts between the Christian & Muslim population, even leading to extremism. She knew that education & love were the only most powerful weapons which could change this. She started the not-for-profit KRIS Libraries in the poor & conflict zones of Philippines, to provide access to books, computers & Internet (a rare commodity there…think of how we crib when the download is slow!) to young children from both the religions. When these libraries started the operations, Christian & Muslim children would sit separately. But as time went by, they start interacting with each other, made friends and learnt together. Isn’t this moving & humbling? And when Arizza closed her session by saying “Whenever someone asks to wage a war on terror, it’s our responsibility to wage love on terror”, we couldn’t help but take a bow in respect! (Video) #WageLoveOnTerror
When Love means Abuse and Safety meant Prison
At the tender age of 19, Kamolnan Chearavanont is perhaps addressing such a sensitive issue that most of us may even not have thought about – giving a helping hand & care to abused stateless people. When she was 14, she started an organization called Voices to provide primary care & education support to infants & young children in emergency homes, often abandoned by mothers who were victims of rape & abuse. And as she engaged more & more with them, she realized that the root cause for this was lack of protection for the stateless & hence rightless people. She narrated the story of a woman called Sunshine, whom she met at the Thailand – Burma border. Sunshine had been raped, abused & trafficked for several years. The perpetrators included her boyfriend as well who used to beat her. Yet she loved her because she felt that being beaten was better than being raped! That was the definition of love for her. Last year, when she was crossing the border to Burma, she was captured & put in a prison. However, she preferred to be in a prison as that meant safety for her! A totally different meaning of life, as seen from the eyes of a stateless person. (Video) #Let’sBeGrateful #StatelessAlsoHaveHumanRights
Hearing stories of refugees from all the war torn regions made us feel lucky & helpless at the same time.
Marshall Islands – The beacon of hope to save Earth from Climate changes
To be honest, I had not even heard of this place before OYW. Republic of Marshall Islands is an island country located near the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Marshall Islands is just 3 meters above the sea level. And this piece of land in a way has been worst hit due to all the climatic changes caused by Global Warming. So, if the sea levels rise due to the melting of ice sheets & glaciers with the threatening 2 degree Celsius mark, Marshall Islands would be amongst the first few nations to get extinct! Bryant Zebedy, the delegate ambassador from this tiny country came to stage and made an appeal to all of us to be the change agents against Global warming as eventually, all of us & our coming generations would end up facing nature’s fury. His sign off comments “If Marshall Islands survive, I promise you that the whole world will survive!” was truly a war cry for all of us (Video)…We just saw what happened in Chennai…I need not say more. All we need to do is ACT & ACT NOW! #GlobalWarmingIsReal #BiggestAgenda4Businesses
There are no borders from the top!
One session which summarized the message of world peace, unity, oneness & the cause of climate change in a very different way was one with the former NASA Astronaut, Ron Garan & the Director of documentary ‘Planetary’, Guy Reid. (Video). Ron took us through the glimpses of his journey in space…looking at the beautiful blue planet from there dawned a very different realization upon him. The realization was that despite being detached from the earth made him deeply interconnected with the entire humanity. The fact that no other life sustaining planet has been discovered yet, makes our responsibility even more profound – to be kinder to each other, to protect this one & only one home we may ever have. His 6 month stay on the International Space Station (which is perhaps the most complex of technology structures created together through collaboration by 50 countries many of whom are not the best of friends too) made him reflect how it would be if the same degree of collaboration could happen on earth too, how fewer problems we would then have, if we set aside our cultural differences and saw each other as humans! Collaboration doesn’t mean that we agree on everything, it means that we are willing to seek a common ground, build trust & work towards addressing what we don’t agree on!! Truly a moving session.
I can go on & on…there is one thing I realized after these 3 days. The fundamental needs of all races, from every single country on this planet, are the same – love, nutrition, security, health, education & a good life. We may come from different walks of life but no one can deny the fact that all of us originated from the same species from East Africa 200,000 years ago. Blame it on human psychology again, our only challenge is that whatever we don’t understand, we hate, alienate or look down upon. All we need is a bit of compassion, empathy, wisdom and love to accept.
In words of Kofi Annan, Prof. Yunus, ours is the most powerful generation of all times…as we have the power of technology – to connect us, to act & impact NOW. All we need is a cause to believe in, a conscience to empathize & a will to steer us through the challenging times. They say each one of us is a Key – all we need is to find the lock to open!
One Young World gave us back the inspiration & fire in the belly we were missing & looking for. It made us realize how lucky we are, to have received the best of everything – supportive families, education, an awesome organization as 2nd family, nutritious food, shelter, access to health facilities and above all, freedom to express ourselves and a definitive identity! It made us realize how smaller our problems are when we expand our horizon to look at the larger human family. It made us realize that we have a lot more to offer to this world than what we think. We have a lot of potential waiting to be untapped!
All we can say is that there are summits and then, there is ONE YOUNG WORLD! Would like to finish with the lyrics of the song from Rachel Platten that energized us over these 3 days.