What happens when 140 youth leaders across 5 countries step into their stories to unleash change?
By Mohsin Mohi Ud Din, Founder of #MeWe International Inc., Storytelling Innovator at Ashoka’s Youth Venture
“Who is ready to step into their story and unleash their voice?”
What seems like an awkward silence is actually the noise of battle taking place internally among young leaders wrestling with their limitations, fears, and self-doubt.
#MeWe International, in partnership with Ashoka, the U.S. State Department, and U.S. Embassies across five countries are using storytelling to break arrested narratives among youth communities.
Why? So that youth potential is no longer anonymous under the veil of silence and fear.
After a few seconds of silence, a young leader walks up to the front of the room. She is nervous, and taking deep breaths. Then, something miraculous happens: she begins to connect her mind and heart with her breath in order to unleash ideas, feelings, and thoughts. This is her first time speaking in public, and opening up about gender based violence. Once one person does this, almost always others follow suit.
“This is the first time in life I am expressing myself like this,” says the young leader from #MeWeTajikistan.
Thousands of miles away, a young Honduran girl says, “ I did not ever think I could do this.” For the first time in her life, she shares what migration has done to her family and community, and how she wants to stop this from happening to more young people.
Further north, a young Mexican participant during the #MeWeMexico trainings shares an epiphany to the room of 40 young leaders.
“This program, I am realizing now, is not a workshop but a form of leadership therapy. As leaders, we are not looking after other leaders, nor taking care of ourselves,” he says.
Since January 2018, more than 400 young leaders across 5 countries applied to #MeWe International’s storytelling for changemakers workshops, made possible thanks to support from Ashoka’s Youth Venture, and ‘The Collaboratory’, part of the State Department’s Education and Cultural Affairs Office.
In April 2018, more than 140 young leaders were selected by the U.S. Embassy and local NGO partners across the 5 pilot countries of Tajikistan, Moldova, Ecuador, Mexico, and Honduras.
Once selected, young leaders from each country experienced an interactive three-day training to understand the power of words and communication as tools for healing, community building, and empowerment.
Throughout the #MeWe trainings, young people explored the science of storytelling, learned about story structures for social impact, and exercised internal communication as a foundational step towards effective public communication. The program’s exercises involved mindfulness practices, communications strategy-building, public speaking, creative writing, and video making.
After the initial three-day trianings with youth leaders, small teams formed around a set of self-defined social issues. Since May, more than 15 youth teams have been initiating their own pilots for shifting mindsets in their communities by applying what they learned in #MeWe International Inc.’s communications methodology.
In our storytelling work as #MeWe International, our hypothesis is that arrested narratives among young people fuels arrested development among youth, and their communities.
Below are snapshots of the changemaker stories and community events that young leaders from each of the five country pilots are initiating. Click on the links below to stay up to date to the changemaker magic unfolding from the #MeWe global sprint.
#MeWeTajikistan (#MahBaMo) | CVE
MARCH 27- 1 APRIL 2018 | Local partners: Y Peer Tajikistan and Beyond Conflict| U.S. Embassy Dushanbe
60+ applicants for 30 spots | 30+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 5 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2MbbCRU
Over the course of 3 days, young people from both rural and urban areas of Tajikistan explored ‘they why?’ driving their leadership aspirations, and exercised ways to communicate choices and alternatives to their peers when it came to violence, gender inequalities and gender discrimination. With the help of Beyond Conflict, much time was spent on understanding how stress, anxiety, and fear — triggered by violence or abuse — impacts the brain and one’s behaviour.
Powerful moments in the training included young girls coming together for the first time in their lives to open up about the prevalence of gender inequalities and violence in their own communities, and then communicating with one another effective solutions to navigate their challenges.
Since the initial direct #MeWe International training in April, Youth teams activated in #MeWeTajikistan (#MahBaMo) have already led 3#MeWe community events, including 1 public debate session on the topic of gender inequalities. Youth teams successfully engaged more than 60 people, approximately, in their own locally organized #MeWe events where they transferred their learnings and insights from the #MeWe training to their peers in the community. Two other #MeWeTajikistan youth team produced and edited 2 short videos on education and gender inequalities.
#MeWeMoldova | ANTI-CORRUPTION
9–13 APRIL 2018 | Local partners: CDA | U.S. Embassy Moldova
50+ applicants for 24–30 spots | 25 youth leaders successfully engaged | 5 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2vZWjk3
#MeWeMoldova teams are launching a public event this September, with local partner ADC. At the community event, youth teams will present their #MeWeMoldova stories and share insights from their community projects which have been targeting corruption in Moldova.
Youth teams have already produced more than 3 short videos, 1 blog series, and are currently mobilized dialogue spaces at more than 3 local libraries where teachers and youth are actively discussing how to redefine and reframe society’s understanding of the term ‘corruption’.
#MeWeMoldova youth teams have successfully engaged more than 40 people, approximately, in their locally organized #MeWe events, not including the upcoming event in September.
#MeWeEcuador | Gender Based Violence
APRIL 19–22, 2018 | Local partners: Ashoka Andean Region, Esquel, and Plan International | U.S. Embassy Quito
120+ applicants for 20+ spots |24+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 5 youth teams activated
#MeWeMexico | CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
MAY 18–21, 2018 | Local partners: Ashoka Mexico | U.S. Embassy Mexico City
70+ applicants for 50–60 spots | 44+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 6 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2vE4MtB
The largest of all the #MeWe country pilots took place in Chapultepec park in Mexico City. More than 40 young leaders from across the country participated in 3.5 days of intensive training on communications for social impact. ‘Civic Engagement’ was the theme for the #MeWeMexico pilot, led by #MeWe International and Ashoka Mexico. Young leaders formed collaborative relationships and workshopped ways they wanted to combat apathy and lack of trust in civic institutions among young people in Mexico today. Community distrust and was particularly prevalent due to persistent challenges since the devastating earthquake last year and rising gang violence in recent years. Issues of discrimination against the LGBTQ community also were addressed among youth leaders in the program.
To date, #MeWeMexico youth leaders have launched more than 4 community events, targeting youth civic engagement, gender violence and discrimination, and community building. After the initial training #MeWeMexico teams have reached more than 400 people in their own communities by replicating key exercises from the #MeWe International methodology.
#MeWeHonduras | MIGRATION
MAY 25- 27 2018 | Local partners: OYE, CCS San Pedro Sulas | U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpas
100+ applicants for 20–30 spots | 20+ youth leaders successfully engaged | 4–6 youth teams activated | More info: http://bit.ly/2KOv1m9
Migration and gang violence dominate the national and international narratives of Honduras. Young leaders in #MeWeHonduras wanted to tackle this misrepresentation by giving voice and visibility to the talent, creativity and resilience within Honduran youth.
During the #MeWeHonduras trainings, young leaders, many for the first time in their lives, broke their silence around how violence and migration have broken their families and communities; and expressed ideas and pathways to reframe their losses and tarumas into opportunities for empowerment, collective problem-solving, and healing. For these youth, migration is not limited to leaving to the U.S. for work. Instead, migration is a threat to the health of family and community dynamics of an entire nation, and they want to reframe the narrative of how Honduran youth view and engage with their own nation.
Since the pilot training in May , #MeWeHonduras youth teams have launched more than 4of their own community events, targeting youth, migration, and broken families. After the initial training #MeWeHonduras teams have reached more than 100 people in their own communities by replicating key exercises from the #MeWe International methodology, and have produced a social media video series on migration that has reached more than 1,000 views on Facebook. The national news televised their locally organized #MEWE event in August, reaching thousands more households across San Pedro Sulas.
Throughout 4 of the 5 #MeWe country pilots, we are obeserving significant qualitative and quantitative evidence that communications development is a crucial piece of programming that enhances leadership development, creative collaboration, and community building led by young people.
On average, the #MeWeInternational storytelling methodology activated 4 small team projects per country, with an average of 2 small teams-per country remaining active in the months following the initial trianing. On average, #MeWe youth teams launched more than 2 #MeWe community events per country, and these took place in the months following the direct trianings. Most the community showed young leaders training others on #MeWeInternational’s methodology.
(1) Honduras, (2) Moldova, (3) Mexico, (4)Tajikistan, and (5) Ecuador represent the top performing #MeWe youth teams — in order of impact— who achieved all of the following: released a video series, published blogs, and mobilized multiple community events targeting a social issue.
Across all countries, youth particpiants reported significant growth when it came their leadership and communications abilities.
Over the course of the Latin America #MeWe pilots, Ashoka and #MeWeInternational executed a pre and post assessment among youth leaders. The results are quite encouraging.
Data across the three #MeWe Latin American countries — Mexico, Ecuador, and Honduras — shows that more than 90% of beneficiaries self-reported the program enhancing their leadership and communication skills.
90% of beneficiaries reported that they would recommend the training to their peers and community.
NOTE: The #MeWe projects across Latin America, in Moldova, and Tajikistan were sponsored by the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. Government, and were designed and administered by #MeWe International Inc. and Ashoka’s Youth Venture, with support from Beyond Conflict.