You Are Never Too Young to Lead

By Meghan Pasricha

Young people are often told, ‘you are the leaders of tomorrow.’ At Global Youth H.E.L.P., Inc. we urge young people to become leaders today by taking the first step and turning their passion into action.

Image courtesy of Meghan Pasricha

A single person, even if young or inexperienced, can become a powerful catalyst for change and a leader in his or her community. This conviction is based on my personal experiences gained while training thousands of youth leaders around the world. Although it sounds daunting, every leadership journey begins with one step. Small, local positive actions can create huge ripples that can spark change in distant shores. I share my story in hopes of empowering more young people to take their first step, however shaky, to take action and become change agents.

Growing up as an asthma sufferer, I struggled to breathe in smoke-filled rooms and missed my friends’ birthdays in restaurants and bowling alleys because of pollution from cigarette smoke. When I learned Delaware’s legislators had begun debating an indoor smoking ban in 2001, I decided to use my pain to take action. From research I learned that smoking was a leading cause of disease and death and nearly 9 out of 10 smokers try their first cigarette by age 18. Armed with this knowledge I decided to apply for a grant from the American Lung Association to start an Anti-Tobacco Action Club (“ATAC”) at my school and began testifying at legislative hearings, writing articles and organizing rallies with friends to mobilize 2,000 youth to support the passage of the law. We partnered with Delaware’s Kick Butts Generation and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids as we encouraged young people to “stand up, speak out and seize control.”

I remember peering over the podium in Delaware’s Legislative Hall at the age of 16, and nervously beginning my speech to urge legislators to ban indoor smoking and protect children from the hazards of second-hand smoke. I wondered if anyone would listen to a girl too young to vote. The thought of voiceless children, who like me suffered from second-hand smoke, gave me courage and my fears melted away. I explained to my legislators and the press that this was a public health issue. I argued, “Having a ‘smoking’ and ‘non-smoking’ section at a restaurant was like having a ‘peeing’ and ‘non-peeing’ section of a public pool. The rule does not work!” There was pin-drop silence, and I realized they were listening.

In 2002 Delaware became the 2nd state in the nation to pass a comprehensive indoor smoking ban thanks to our courageous legislators. This success convinced me of the power of youth leadership and taught me that community service can be the best training ground for developing leadership skills. Through service to others, young people can gain a platform to practice, make mistakes, build confidence and have an impact. I realized that you are never too young to lead.

Through community service we had fun and built our self-esteem by creating a positive network of peers who encouraged each other to make healthy choices. The desire to train and support other youth leaders motivated me and my sister Dr. Sarina Pasricha to co-found a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Global Youth H.E.L.P. Inc. (“GYH”). At GYH, we train youth to turn their passion into action by launching their own community service programs. Through each of our health, education and leadership programs (H.E.L.P.), we empower young people to lead through their actions by making healthy choices and serving their communities.

In 2007 we were overjoyed to receive the World of Children Youth Award that provided the support and resources we needed to grow our service projects. In addition to this generous grant for GYH, the World of Children team, including Harry and Kay Leibowitz, provided invaluable encouragement and advice as we expanded our programs. Additionally, World of Children’s network of previous Honorees serving vulnerable children around the world inspired us to continue expanding our efforts globally.

The World of Children Youth Award has enabled us to transform our local and national anti-tobacco program into a global youth leadership movement where we have trained and helped more than 15,000 children worldwide. Putting into practice my learnings from Harvard Business School, I strive to promote authentic and collaborative leadership among our youth leaders. GYH is entirely volunteer-based and we are incredibly grateful to our core leadership team who have grown GYH through their hard work and unwavering passion — Ananya Singh, Radhika Malhotra, Varoun Gulati, Mohan Malhotra, Anisha Singh, and Anjali Gupta. Together we continue to expand our international anti-tobacco programs, conduct youth leadership trainings, organize health camps for underprivileged children and their families, set up computer literacy programs, and establish libraries in rural communities. We also donate backpacks, school supplies, sports equipment and musical instruments to homeless children, foster care youth, and mentally and physically challenged children in the U.S. and abroad.

We are incredibly humbled to be honored again with the 2017 World of Children Alumni Award, which is a testament to the hard work of our inspiring team of youth leaders. This award has energized us to work harder, train and support more young people, and lead with community service.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Transform Your Pain into Your Source of Strength — Use your challenges as fuel to help others
  2. Dream with Your Heart and Lead with Your Actions — Your authentic youthful voice is powerful
  3. Service is the Best Training Ground for Leadership — Community service enables you to improve your world and practice leadership skills. Helping one person means success!

5 Steps to Take Action:

  1. Find a local problem and create a solution — Take the First Step confidently –Don’t let fear paralyze you into inaction.
  2. Build a Team and serve as a Bridge — Partner with organizations to expand your impact
  3. Evaluate and Learn from Each Experience — Create a checklist for each project and evaluate items to keep or improve
  4. Have Fun! — Organize fun events and include friends and family.
  5. Seek support and express Gratitude — Share the wins with your team and say thank you.

Our incredible team of youth leaders thanks World of Children, our committed Board of Directors, mentors, donors, family and friends for their support.

To learn more, visit www.globalyouthhelp.org and www.worldofchildren.org

Meghan Pasricha co-founded Global Youth H.E.L.P Inc. in 2003 to harness the power of youth by developing a global network of passionate youth leaders dedicated to creating positive change through health, education, and leadership programs.