Activism, Leadership, and Youth

CMCers Gain International Perspective at Prague Conference

By Veronica Pugin
International Editor, CMC ’12

In November of 2009, the International Leadership Association (ILA) held its 11th annual global conference, “Leadership for Transformation” in Prague. The Kravis Leadership Institute (KLI) sent four Claremont McKenna sophomores to compete in the Student Case Competition: Michelle Kim, Miles Bird, Zephanii Smith, and me. Interestingly enough, in a conference of over 650 attendees with the overwhelming majority being professionals well into their careers, the themes of youth leadership and the younger generation were ubiquitous. What makes us different than former generations? What responsibility lies within this difference?

The ILA serves to promote “a deeper understanding of leadership knowledge and practices for the greater good of individuals and communities worldwide.” The conference opening keynote speech, titled “Exploring Leadership for Transformation,” emphasized leadership among youth and the leadership characteristics that the younger generation carries. The speakers recognize the importance of the next generation and encouraged the older more experienced audience to learn from the younger conference participants. Having a sense of idealism, being open to risk-taking, and believing in the potential for change are among the youthful characteristics the panel praised. It seemed implied that change lay in the hands of the youth.

In addition to winning first place in the Student Case Competition, Team KLI had the opportunity to meet university students from around the world. Together, the students reflected on these youthful leadership qualities that we hold and that other generations desire. I sought to compare different views on these issues through discussions with a Czech student, Petra; a Dutch student, Yori; and an American CMC student, Zephanii. Much of our discussion centered on the following question: If change lies in the hands of the youth, then is it up to the youth to change the world?

All three students found it interesting that the older generation referred to us as though we came from an entirely different era. What is it that separates us? Petra reflected on the differences between her and her parents, who lived under the Czech Republic’s communist government: “We don’t have to fight for our rights… if I realize that my parent’s generation could not study abroad, read what they wanted and finally do what they wanted, I am really happy to be born in this generation of unlimited opportunities.” Zephanii agreed, marveling at the possibilities and opportunities that technology has created.

If we have so many more resources, opportunities, and possibilities, does hope for finding solutions to today’s global problems lie among the youth, or will we repeat the same mistakes as our predecessors? Yori and Zephanii had confidence in our generation’s demand for “action.” “We are taught history, so we can learn from our mistakes,” Yori explained, “but the ones in charge seem not to learn from them.” Yori calls for a change in leadership; we should empower individuals committed to “reform the world” while reducing the political clout of those who are not committed to these principles.

The three students all insisted that responsibility to find solutions to global issues does lie in our hands, but we must be sure to take initiative and not succumb to apathy. Though “young leaders can change the future,” Petra mainted, “they must only take the initiative [and] not flap.” Zephanii also warned against the temptation of apathy: “We cannot be passive and have idling minds.”

In an age of increased communication, access to information, and interconnectedness, there is no legitimate excuse for our generation not to respond to global issues. None of the students showed a hint of doubt or irony when they expressed the need for change.

Is a commitment to changing the world idealistic? Perhaps, but this idea that idealism is foolish has prevented numerous individuals from taking the risk to enact positive social change. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, a pioneer of microfinance whose work received much skepticism and criticism, once expressed, “If we do not believe that we can overcome poverty, then yes, we will not overcome it.”

Along these lines, Yori discussed the need for international youth cooperation. “We should gather people who want to do good, get them to know each other, and start to reform the world,” he said. “I believe we can do it, and I think our generation should take its responsibility.”

If CMC truly holds the next generation of leaders, it is our responsibility to use the talent, skills, and opportunities we all possess to find solutions by innovative and unconventional means. And if our generation has such an abundance of human capital and resources, then our generation also has the responsibility to change the current state of global affairs.

Petra is studying French for Economic Practice at the Palacký University in Olomouc of the Czech Republic. Petra’s ultimate career goal is to be a leader in project management such as organizing cultural and educational events and conferences in order to “work with people and see the results of her work.”

Yori is studying Industrial Engineering at the University of Twente in Enschede of the Netherlands. Yori seeks “to have as big as possible positive impacts on as many people’s lives.”

Zephanii is studying Government and Media Studies at CMC. As she shapes her career, she wants to “continue to serve as a bridge between youth, opportunities, and resources while using the government as a vehicle to drive lasting, positive change

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