Global Citizens Youth Summit Students Share Ideas on Good Work
The second annual Global Citizens Youth Summit was held at Harvard University in August 2015, bringing together rising high school seniors from 14 different countries. Founded by Yumi Kuwana, the Summit is an intensive program designed to foster a world-wide civic outlook and to encourage the next generation of leaders to do good. Several of the Summit’s lectures focused on the three E’s of the Good Project (excellence, ethics, and engagement).
Kuwana invited us to come to her session on “Excellence.” During the discussion, she focused attention on the need to cultivate qualities such as self-esteem, resilience, empathy, and integrity in order to thrive in a multicultural world. Asking students to offer their ideas on the meaning of “excellence,” Kuwana stressed the importance of developing a disposition of perseverance while remaining open to continuous learning.
We spoke with four students about their experiences at the Summit and learned about their insights on leadership and Good Work. Please see, in an edited version of our discussion, selected quotes from the young scholars.
Q: After today’s session, which of the 3 Es (engagement, ethics, and excellence) did you find most compelling? Why?
“Excellence, because it can be difficult to remain excellent in challenging situations. I also find ethics to be compelling because it may be hard to hold true to your values as well.”
“I liked learning about all of the 3 Es. One thing I would add to the discussion is that ethics varies based on your culture or doxa (shared beliefs with others), and that through comparison across cultures, we can see the varying norms that shape societies under the surface.”
“Ethics was most compelling for me because there are many ethical problems in the world, and I am very curious about that. There are some Korean people living in Japan because of the former colonization efforts, but sometimes these Koreans are disoriented by Japanese society. Many Japanese young people are interested in this and other ethical problems.”
Q: Tell us about a memorable experience from your own life that you think connects with Good Work themes.
“I see engagement in the way my father loves having children and has a passion for his family. I have over twenty siblings (which is not entirely unusual in Somalia, where I am from), and I see serious engagement in the way that my father cares for us.”
“There is one committee member of my school’s student union who really embodies engagement. He is always able to mobilize other members to take action on specific issues and to bring lots of people together in discussions that incorporate multiple viewpoints.”
“In my own education, I’m used to passively listening to lectures from my teachers. The Harkness method of teaching that was used in this program has motivated me to strive for more.”
Q: What kinds of projects do you do in your own life that reflect Good Work?
“I worked at an orphanage center in Somalia, tutoring children. The military officials who are charged with overseeing the orphans are usually not very caring, but because I showed concern for them, the children came to trust me.”
“I am very active in figure skating, which gives me a sense of accomplishment outside of academics. By striving for excellence and feeling a sense of engagement in this hobby, I find that it easy to stay involved even when there are times I feel like quitting.”
“The organization of our school carnival was a project that required excellence and engagement from me and my peers. This was open to the entire school community, and in order to ensure that everything ran smoothly, we had to put in long hours of effort filling out paperwork, inviting local businesses, and setting up booths. The event was a success because of our dedication.”
Q: Tell us about a mentor that you have or someone that you look up to. What makes this person admirable? Do they exemplify Good Work?
“I look up to Jonathan Starr, a former hedge fund investor who started a school with the goal of providing a better education to young Somalis. Everything was provided to me as a student there. With Mr. Starr as a mentor, I see how he gave me a valuable opportunity to tap into my potential, which I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access.”
“I have a friend a year older than me who is going to Oxford this year. He is gifted at math, and his commitment to the subject demonstrates excellence and engagement. I am grateful for his encouragement, pushing me to do better at my studies and to be more involved in extracurriculars.”
“My father is a doctor, and I really respect him and the way he interacts with patients. Even if he gets a call in the middle of the night, he makes sure to be available, consulting with other doctors over the phone. He works hard and is still very modest, which for the Japanese is an important virtue.”
Q: What does leadership mean to you? What are the characteristics of a “good” leader?
“A good leader understands what his or her people need and the best ways to satisfy those needs. Leaders also set positive examples and create a legacy for themselves, understanding the responsibility they have to show people there is something ‘better’ for which to aim.”
“Good leaders should have the capability to organize people and be forceful commanders with the strength to make difficult choices while still remaining aware and thoughtful. They commit themselves to serve the will of the community. However, good leaders are not necessarily good people (as outlined in Machiavelli’s The Prince).”
“Leadership isn’t only about the ability to talk in front of large groups of people; leaders are ideally good listeners. On a wider scale, I think “global leaders” must understand other countries’ histories and perspectives and respect the traditions of others. I was born and brought up in Japan, so I have only known Japanese people, but when I look around the room at my fellow scholars, I see that I have friends and connections from all around the world.”
Q: How do you think you will take what you learned about Good Work and apply it to your life and work?
“My long-term goal is to help Somalis create a more stable government. It takes time to understand your capabilities, but this program has brought me a step closer to realizing how I can use my leadership skills to help those in my country.”
“I learned how beneficial discussions are to the understanding of multiple viewpoints. In Hong Kong, where I am from, it is taboo to ask ‘stupid questions’ in school, but the sessions at this summit have given me the confidence to ask for clarification if I don’t understand something that is being said in the classroom. I also learned more about life as a whole through the 3 Es; I feel that I now can recognize the effects of culture on our beliefs and how stereotypes can influence thoughts and actions. I will be more curious and seek to learn more in the future.”
“I want to be a diplomat and work globally, and what I learned in this summit will definitely be applicable in that line of work. The biggest thing I learned is to have a broader perspective and to be less judgmental of others, particularly those who come from different backgrounds. Before coming to this program, all I knew about some countries was what I had read in a textbook, and I automatically made certain assumptions about “developing” or “poorer” countries. However, by listening to the stories of the other scholars who come from these places, I see things in a different light. I should have more respect for those countries and those people. Here, we have had many conversations in order to share our ideas and diverse experiences.”
Click here to learn more about the Global Citizens Initiative.