Leaders as Dreamers
Often branded ‘the leaders of tomorrow’, young people around the globe are already leading, inspiring, and ‘walking the talk’. Elizabeth Wainwright meets some of them.
At a time when global financial systems are failing, peak oil has been reached, environmental disasters seem a weekly occurrence and people are questioning the ‘business as usual’ leadership paradigm, there are change-makers from the new generation who are rolling up their sleeves and taking action to literally change the world.
Undeterred by the barrage of stories of doom and gloom, these people are already turning ideas into action and, through this passion and commitment, inspiring leadership, belief and enthusiasm in others.
From the Cordillera in the northern Philippines, Jennifer Awingan is a young Igorot leader who coordinates the Asia Pacific Indigenous Youth Network (APIYN), which mobilises Indigenous youth for the promotion and protection of Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-governance, ancestral land, cultural integrity and socio-economic development that is, most importantly, consistent with their values.
“A leader should be a dreamer,” she says. “Leadership is about being part of a movement and a struggle. Leaders can be individuals or whole groups.”
Since 1990, Jennifer has helped to re-establish the Progressive Igorots for Social Action, and also works with the Cordillera People’s Alliance Youth Center: “I am trying to develop the kind of leadership I believe in,” she says. “Leadership should keep hold of identity, but promote harmonious living between tribes. When there are boundaries, there is only chaos.”
Jennifer also played an active role in the organising and running of the Asia Pacific Climate Youth Camp in the Philippines last November: a lesser-known Indigenous antidote to the media-frenzied but apparently fruitless top-level Copenhagen talks of the previous year. “The number of Indigenous peoples’ movements across the globe is growing,” she explains. “Global leadership has to take this into account. It must be participatory. And it must involve the new generation.”
Kelvin Cheung is founder of Foodcycle, which brings together young volunteers, surplus food and free kitchen space to simultaneously tackle waste and poverty in Britain. Foodcycle helps volunteers set up an operational structure that will allow them to collect, cook and deliver food to various beneficiaries every week.
Kelvin talks about what defines him and motivates him, saying that he is a ‘doer’, and someone who channels his energy into solving a problem, not moaning about it. “How can food poverty and food waste happen side by side, on the same street?” he asks, adding, “We really are going to be the change we want to see in this world.”
In Kibera, the slums that surround Kenya’s sprawling capital, Nairobi, Salim Mohamed co-founded and served for eight years as executive director of Carolina for Kibera, which fights abject poverty and helps prevent violence through community-based development.
“A leader is a change-maker,” Salim says, and this defines him well. At just 16, he became involved in the development of the largest youth sports programme in Africa. Subsequently, the British Council has twice employed Salim as a consultant to help launch youth sports programmes in Ghana and Nigeria.
In 2002, Salim was nominated to serve on the Diversity for Peace Advisory Board with various Nobel Peace Laureates. He was selected as a TED Conference Africa Fellow for 2007.
“Leadership has several forms,” he says. “You can be a servant, and a leader at the same time. But whatever kind of leader you are, you have to care. You have to be able to communicate.”