Catalysing Collective Action at One Young World: Leadership, Emotions and Diversity
By Bonnie Chiu
Lensational’s CEO Bonnie writes about her reflections after attending One Young World, the preeminent global forum for young leaders aged 18–30 in Ottawa, Canada in September 2016.
I cannot remember how often I have heard about One Young World. Every time when I was close to applying, I was scared away by the competitiveness of the process. But this year, I was encouraged by a friend, and a One Young World Ambassador to apply, and I finally gave it a go. I was then awarded the Marmalade Fish scholarship, and had the opportunity to attend the Forum this year in Ottawa, Canada.
My first lesson learnt is: if you never try, you will never know. So just do it.
The past three years of experience of starting a global social enterprise, Lensational, made me reflect a lot on social change. Increasingly, it occurred to me that without the involvement of corporates, actions by civil society organisations will be slow, and, at times, futile.
When I came across the Marmalade Fish scholarship, the description very much resonated with me as I truly believe in the role that businesses play in creating social change, and the need of redefining the purpose of businesses. And indeed, there is no better platform than One Young World for businesses, civil society organisations, government and media to interact intimately and to discuss what they can do collectively for the future.
There have been many impressions and inspirations during the conference that one blog post is not enough to do it justice. But three themes stood out to me that are the missing pieces in creating a better world for all.
Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector of South Africa, began her talk on leadership with the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
A leader should be someone who can catalyse collective action. Thuli also introduced the concept of EPIC — ethical, purposeful, impactful and committed — leadership, which is key to creating sustainable solutions to personal, business, community and global challenges.
Finally, she said that people are more persuaded by what we do, than what we say. Thuli herself, as well as all other global leaders that we had a chance to interact with, all exemplify the core values of leadership.
2. Power of Emotions
In the Social Business Forum Canada, which took place right before the One Young World conference, Anita Nowak from the University of Montreal said that her research tells her that “empathy is the second most powerful emotion after love”, when it leads to empathic actions.
At One Young World, we are all encouraged to take actions to tackle global challenges, and I think Anita’s advice would help us root our actions in empathy.
This theme is echoed by Oscar-winning Director, Jon Landau, who talked about cinematic storytelling and social consciousness. We are all familiar with his movies, Titanic and Avatar, but perhaps only few of us are familiar with the why of his movies.
He said that his movies encourage us “to see the world from each other’s eyes, and to think about things in a different way.” He wants his movies to get the audience “out of their seats — do something that matters to them or to the world,” and to influence the unpreached.
When I shared my insights from Jon’s talk with my scholarship sponsor Samie Al-Achrafi, he said that “it’s not commonly known but Avatar starts and ends with Jake opening his eyes. At the end it’s an awakening, this time with a new purpose.” Perhaps as Jon suggested in his talk, he wanted the viewers to open their eyes to see a different world.
The final talk by Emmanuel Jal, a South Sudanese-Canadian musician and former child soldier, said that “when we share stories for social and emotional learning, we can have peace.”
One Young World is a conference that shows how emotions, when positively harnessed, can lead to strategic actions.
It was very symbolic that the conference this year took place in Canada, which, according to the Economist, “stands out as a heartening exception” in a post-Brexit world scarred by divisions.
As someone inspired by intersectional feminism, I have focused my work and activism looking at the overlapping social identities and related systems of discrimination — that entail gender but also age, race, sexuality, class and/or disability. The conference this year addressed all these forms of differences and is a living example of how different groups can unite to create change.
One Young World was itself founded on the belief that young people could change the world, and many studies have shown that young people are recognised as passive beneficiaries but not active promoters of change.
The conference included speeches from activists on women’s rights, disability rights, LGBT rights, aboriginal rights, refugee rights. The flag ceremony even included a flag for the refugee nation, which visualised the conference’s focus on inclusiveness and diversity.
As Emma Watson said in her speech, she sees
“ripples of hope from every race, human experience, ability, class, walk of life.”
This made me recall the British late Member of Parliament, Jo Cox, who said:
“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
These two quotes summarise what One Young World means to me, and I hope I will collaborate with other One Young World ambassadors to create a better world for all.