Last week I had the pleasure of attending the twenty-third annual National Service Learning Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference was jam-packed with excellent workshops, best practice exchange seminars, inspirational stories, notable leaders and motivational speakers. The goal? To invigorate thousands of individuals who lead and represent the global youth service-learning movement – students, educators, non-profit professionals, volunteers and more!
As I begin to reflect on the week of learning I’d like to share a few highlights and takeaways that are fresh on my mind…
I had the good fortune of experiencing several poignant presentations including Iran’s first Nobel Laureate and first female Judge Shirin Ebadi. The Nobel Peace Prize 2003 was awarded to Shirin Ebadi for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights, with a special focus on women and children. Ebadi currently resides in exile in the United Kingdom where she continues to fight for human rights in Iran. Despite facing ongoing hurdles and resistance, Ebadi’s life story is one of perseverance, leadership, passion and humility. Her message was that no one in the world has everything they want and so individuals should share what they do have with others, be it knowledge, rights or freedom. Ebadi stated that it is important to empower youth with the right tools so that they feel empowered to change the things they don’t like in a productive manner. From Judge Ebadi’s words of wisdom, I believe more strongly that an investment in youth and education can provide the greatest return on investment to help communities strive for success. This is why United Way is recruiting one million volunteer readers, tutors and mentors to help improve the academic success of students in the United States.
Another powerful speaker, Geoffrey Canada from Harlem Children's Zone, spoke about strong leadership requiring the courage to make tough and often unpopular decisions in order to get the results desired. Canada believes that youth volunteers are leaders of today and tomorrow and that service-learning has a tremendous value to society. Canada also spoke of real heroes that he admires such as Harriet Tubman, a civil rights activist who fought in private and not for the sake of celebrity. This was a great reminder that effective leaders often work tirelessly behind the scenes not for the recognition but in order to advance the causes that they champion.
I also had the pleasure of presenting alongside five amazing panelists on the topic “Discover our Voice: Youth Action and Corporate Philanthropy.” Youth panelists Cooper Kennard (State Farm Youth Advisory Board), Molly Messner (NYLC Board of Directors) and Alexandria Rice (Youthprise Board of Directors) shared how their organizations are searching for systems changes, long term solutions with sustainable impact to address community problems. These three student leaders, in high school and college, serve as a reminder for the outstanding results that can come from authentically engaging youth in our work. Corporate panelists Janice Johnson (Community Engagement Director, UPS Foundation) and Kathy Payne (Senior Director of Education Leadership, State Farm Companies Foundation) shared their advice on the importance of youth engagement, empowerment and education in order to help equip the leaders and workforce of tomorrow. I shared stories about young people across the country making an impact by giving, advocating and volunteering in their communities through Student United Way. Collectively, the panel expressed the importance of engaging youth so that their voice would be heard. Other advice included the desire for more cross-sector partnerships and collaborations to help to stretch limited resources, improve efficiency and enhance community impact.
Last but not least, I’d like to give a shout-out to Greater Twin Cities United Way for showing their commitment to youth empowerment by being a Title Sponsor for The National Service-Learning Conference & Youthrive PeaceJam Leadership Conference for the fifth year in a row.
These are just a few lessons I learned on leadership from a Nobel Laureate and youth leaders of today and tomorrow. Inevitably, when you bring together energetic youth and caring leaders whom advocate for youth empowerment, sparks will fly, ideas will be generated and new partnerships will be formed. If we work together we can succeed.
United Way believes that education, income and health are the building blocks for a good quality of life. We recruit people and organizations around the world who bring the passion, expertise and resources needed to get things done. We invite you to be a part of the change. You can give, you can advocate and you can volunteer. That’s what it means to LIVE UNITED.