This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post.
“Dear delegates of 2015”
If you attended the Bangkok Summit - congratulations. You were celebrated as having potential in and a track record of affecting positive change in the world. However, delegates be warned: even as fresh-faced Ambassadors, you all have serious commitments to fulfill.
Now that the Summit is over, the 2015 Ambassadors should have a sound grasp of the roles and responsibilities that they will undertake. These were alluded to in their applications to join the Summit and should also have been brought into even sharper focus, as a consequence of the experiences and conversations they have had during Bangkok.
I explore how perceptions of a “talking shop” are perpetuated when Ambassadors fail to act and fail to be seen as acting.
Talking the talk; walking the walk
Let me state for the record: I do not consider One Young World as a talking shop. I believe in the immense influence it carries - both in real and latent terms. Readhere about the Ambassadors who have promoted impressive change.
Nobel Laureate Prof Yunus agrees: “Today’s young generation is the most powerful generation in the entirety of human history.” But - Prof Yunus is merely “talking big”. Crucially, it is incumbent upon Ambassadors (past, present and future) to “walk big”. The question now is how we and whether we do so - in a tangible, measurable and visible manner.
When theory does not mirror practice
What frustrates me is the notion of Ambassadors returning home from a promising Summit, sitting back and wilfully ignoring their commitments. When even a small number of Ambassadors do not continue promoting positive change - and are alsoseen as not doing such - three things occur:
Firstly, One Young World’s image - as a credible movement - suffers, further exposing itself to pre-existing cynicism. Secondly, deserving applicants to the Summit who were rejected - have unjustly lost out. Thirdly, One Young World’s efforts to place younger generations at the heart of driving positive change are damaged.
Momentum for such change (in whatever form that may be) falters and a great opportunity becomes wasted. But when Ambassadors actually perform their fair share (as I am sure many do), they are not complicit in the above.
Reality check: but some just won’t believe in working towards idealism
What I have said so far hinges upon one’s mind-set and approach. Ambassadors who, for example, are solely driven by their self-interest to include an impressive position on their CV are beyond reproach. Indeed, my article is unlikely to deter them from their aim.
Those who are sincere, however, should be aware that One Young World exists within a clash in our social thinking between cynicism and idealism. I believe this primarily originates from it joining the ranks of other well-intentioned organisations that have, for example, a broad social justice, humanitarian or development element.
Nonetheless, it is especially in the face of diatribe such as Milo Yiannopoulos’s - that One Young World must remember to show, explain and justify to audiences-at-large why it is deserving of the world’s optimism and how it is not a talking shop.
(Not all criticism is cynical; I would recommend Alex Polkey’s balanced criticisms as worth reading.)
A call to action: we must become even more visible
Ambassadors, therefore, bear an additional duty to be seen as leading by example. This requires being proactively seen and heard in mainstream and social media - either on local, national or local levels. Continually increasing the visibility of Ambassadors, their initiatives, how those initiatives are developing, and their impact achieves three things:
Firstly, it allows active Ambassadors to project an authentic image of the work that they - as Ambassadors - perform. (In turn, this allows active Ambassadors to break away from those who are merely lazy or self-interested.) Secondly, being visible makes raising awareness or the outright championing of One Young World-related causes easier. Thirdly, and most crucially, this showcases how One Young World’s brand of idealism can be pragmatic and operable.
This point is not to act as propaganda machines. Instead, it is to provide parity of message: by releasing more, balanced and contemporaneous accounts of what Ambassadors can do and actually do. This should be irrespective of whether you work locally or achieve global recognition on the scale of 22 year-old Yeonmi Park, for instance, who shot to global prominence last year as a North Korean refugees activist.
Only Ambassadors can dispel “talking shop” perceptions
The co-founders of One Young World - David Jones and Kate Robertson - assert that One Young World Summits are not just “another youth conference.” (There appeared to be a slight trace of indignation on their part; they seem to be aware of other underwhelming youth conferences and wary of the comparisons that can be drawn.) I agree with their overarching sentiment.
It is not, however, for them to prove that claim. It is for Ambassadors to do so.