The Transformative Power of Networks
“We’re learning things that can’t be learned anywhere else.”
“I’m asking the hard questions…redefining who I am.”
“The world feels like a less lonely place.”
These words, and similar sentiments, were spoken during the closing circle of this year’s Laureate Global Fellowship events in Peru. Seated casually on the floor, each Fellow shared what the week meant to him or her and how they envisioned their newfound community going forward, as each returned home to the myriad responsibilities of leading a social venture.
In partnership with the Sylvan/Laureate Foundation, each year YouthActionNet brings together twenty remarkable young people who have bypassed conventional careers for the up-and-down life of social entrepreneurship. And each year, magic happens. There is the obvious value of connecting like-minded individuals from diverse backgrounds and facilitating peer learning—they are the experts in on-the-ground realities, after all. Conversations get heated as ethical issues are discussed—Should we share photos of teenage beneficiaries who want to tell their story? What if there’s a chance it might stigmatize their family? When the topic of financial sustainability comes up, the room buzzes with Fellows rising from their seats to share their creative methods with the group, and more questions abound. How did you convince local hotels to become fundraising partners? How did you break in to the high-end market to sell handicrafts? Are there any aspects of my work that I could monetize?
And so go conversations throughout the week—not just in leadership training, but over shared meals, afternoon walks, and late into the evenings. Fellows test their boundaries and grow together over experiential learning challenges in design thinking, systems change, storytelling, and more. They bring home tools to plan more strategically, terminology to tackle team dynamics and other conversations that can be difficult to have, and a set of deeply-reflective personal goals to work toward throughout their fellowship year with support from the YouthActionNet staff.
Beyond these concrete tools—and what cannot be conveyed through PowerPoint or covered in a curriculum—is the life-affirming realization that they are not alone. Many Fellows admit that entrepreneurship is a lonely endeavor—their parents are still wondering why they haven’t become doctors or lawyers, their friends wonder why they have no free time, and Fellows themselves wonder if they have what it takes to lead the transformative, long-term change they envision. The shared challenges, the shared pressures, and the shared passion for making our world a better place is what allows Fellows to form a community so quickly—to be vulnerable, open about failure, and willing to share hard-learned lessons with peers. It’s what keeps them connected, now that they are continents apart, chatting on the messenger platform What’sApp at all hours of the day. It’s what will keep them connected in the years ahead to YouthActionNet’s growing network of more than 1,000 Fellows like them—all young people who have traversed similar journeys and who find fulfillment in helping one another along the way.
The change effected by this year’s event does not stop with twenty Fellows— hundreds of university students from Laureate’s Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC), host to national YouthActionNet institute Premio Protaganistas del Cambio, had the chance to meet and learn from Fellows during a one-day conference in Lima. Through interactive breakout sessions, students and Fellows discussed the role of universities in the social change movement and how to put innovative ideas into action, learn from failure, and scale a venture for increased impact. Premio Protaganistas del Cambio is just one of YouthActionNet’s nineteen leadership development institutes around the world, 11 of which are carried out through institutions within the Laureate International Universities network. Cristiano Vélez, a Fellow of the Protaganistas program in Peru and 2012 Laureate Global Fellow, made the journey to Lima from his home in Iquitos—3,000 miles away in Peru’s rainforest—to attend the conference and offer the twenty new Fellows a heartfelt welcome to the YouthActionNet global network.
Fellows also had the opportunity to share their stories on stage, with students and guests enthralled by Fellows’ innovative ideas and profound passion. In surveying our alumni, YouthActionNet has found communications to be a key area of strategic importance for social entrepreneurs and their organizations at all levels. Thanks to the American Express Foundation, Fellows received focused communications support and experiential learning opportunities during the training week. Fellows learned how to identify where their breakthrough solutions fit within larger social narratives, how to shift narratives for positive change, tell stories that inspire and engage audiences, address their presentation weaknesses, and more. Fellows put their new skills to the test through five-minute storytelling challenges and video interviews to be featured online with support from American Express and the Sylvan/Laureate Foundation.
Though in-person Fellowship events have come to a close, it is just the beginning for this new cohort of twenty. Paths are crossing already as Wiclif visits one of Peggy’s primary schools and Mariana meets up with Daniel in Costa Rica this week. Enes Kaya, Fellow and film producer from Turkey, used this graphic to describe the Fellows before and after their time together.
As the tightly-knit community of these twenty leaders is just getting started, so too is their lifelong YouthActionNet learning experience. Fellows have gained access to YouthActionNet webinars, exclusive organizational development opportunities like University Connect, platforms to tell their story to a global audience, and more. They will self-reflect and challenge themselves as leaders and individuals through our yearlong Fellowship experience and lifelong learning opportunities, and continue pushing boundaries in their countries and redefining the narrative of their generation.
As Anoka explained in her recent reflection on the fellowship events, “Once you stretch your mind, it can never go back to what it was.”