On 29 May, a group of 11 young Colombian leaders joined a roundtable discussion with former US President Barack Obama. The Obama Foundation often organises similar conversations between the President and national youth leaders during his diplomatic travels. In these loosely-structured sessions, the President offers advice on youth leadership and active citizenship. What surprised me about Obama, however, was his openness–his willingness to listen to and learn from us and our experience.
I participated as one of the leaders of a project called Citizen Monday, which promotes weekly open forums in the public spaces of 15 Latin American cities. During these dialogues, we talk about the various challenges that our cities face. Using this democratic approach, citizens can co-create solutions–inviting government, academics, and entrepreneurs to do it together. Since its establishment six years ago, our methodology has been an innovative way to educate citizens, oversee government action, reinvent the way we protest, and build proposals that impact public policy.
For example, in my city, Medellin, with a combination of conversations, creative protests, and active citizen networks, we successfully pedestrianised one of the city centre’s main streets. We have also successfully campaigned for new bike routes be built and developed an ambitious Air Quality Plan in conjunction with the government and other citizen groups. Thanks to our combined efforts, our plan to reduce pollution is now being implemented.
I was additionally surprised with the level of emphasis Obama placed upon the relevance of free dialogue to empower people to transform our realities. In my experience, people tend to underestimate open conversation as a tool for change. I was encouraged to find that a global leader like Obama invited us to meet with other people and talk about what makes us feel inspired or worried. His example bolstered my confidence in our ability to find ways to work together, spread this inspiration to new places, and change the situations that adversely affect us.
So I want to extend this invitation to you: if you have ideas that you do not know how to realise; if you have a passion or a pursuit you would like to share; if you are completely outraged but do not know what to do; or if you just feel alone, then call a public meeting! Come together and create a movement! You have the power to bring change to your neighbourhood, your city, your country, and even your world! As Barack Obama told us, “All begins with a conversation in a small group, but there is a moment from which you are not alone anymore.”
It may be difficult in the beginning, but don’t get discouraged. If you need support to do it, you can consider implementing Citizen Monday’s methodology or you can e-mail me. Let’s move the world!