Attendees from China, Mexico, and local Massachusetts public schools
Is “globalization” mostly good, mostly bad, or somewhere in-between? How can we as consumers use our purchasing power to help lift those in developing countries out of poverty? More broadly: how can people of different cultural backgrounds see beyond their differences to truly forge meaningful connections?
These were just some of the weighty questions tackled by a group of 130 students and young professionals at the first-annual Emerging Global Leaders Conference, organized by educational consultancy KnowledgeLink and held on July 20 at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Participants ranged from 13 to 39 years of age, and had traveled from China, Mexico, and local Massachusetts public schools to attend the conference. The Massachusetts contingent hailed from Leicester, Masconomet Regional, Rockland, Wayland, and Wellesley High Schools.
“Being an American ambassador at the Emerging Global Leaders conference was a unique and amazing experience,” said Jaymi-Lyn Souza, a rising senior at Leicester High School. “Learning how to communicate through language barriers provided a glimpse into a new culture, and the skills we developed will aid us in so many aspects of our lives.”
The event began with a keynote speech from Poonam Ahluwalia, founder and president of Cambridge, Mass. nonprofit Youth Employment Summit (YES), which strives to bring global youth out of poverty by encouraging entrepreneurship and employment. Ahluwalia spoke on the power of making conscious decisions, whether as a consumer deciding to purchase products from manufacturers who pay their employees a living wage, or as an ambitious young person deciding to believe in the ability to achieve one’s dreams.
“Create from the future,” Ahluwalia encouraged the delegates. “Imagine yourself having accomplished your goals, and work back in time. Be and find a dream catcher.”
Ted Gilman, Executive Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, followed with a second keynote address entitled “How Will Globalization Affect You in Your Lifetime?” After asking the audience what “globalization” meant to them and receiving mostly positive responses, he challenged the audience to dig deeper and consider the negative repercussions.
“Your first question should be: who’s benefiting, and who’s losing?” he advised. He then used this framework to explore the issues of migration, nationalism, local cultures, the interplay of large and small businesses, women, and the environment, among others. “When you engage with other cultures, you will first perceive differences,” he told the audience. “I recommend that you look for the similarities. In my own career, the sport of rugby has been a way for me to create bonds wherever I go.”
After each keynote speech, KnowledgeLink instructors led groups of students in breakout activities designed to foster additional discussion and debate around the themes of the day. In these smaller groups, the Chinese, Mexican, and American students were able to exchange their unique perspectives and forge friendships.
“This has been a great chance to develop my oral English, as well as meet international friends,” said sixteen year old Ivy Zhong of Shenzhen, China. “I have now decided to come to the US for my college studies.”
“It was so interesting to be in a single classroom with students not only from different countries, but from different schools and of different ages,” remarked twenty four year old Prisciliana Hernandez Velasco of Mexico. “The discussion topics fit very well with the group.”
Tracey Hippert, principal of Leicester High School, reflected on the long-term benefits of the conference for the participants. “When students are prepared to work effectively in a global economy, they are better able to think globally, communicate effectively, and contribute responsibly in their society. KnowledgeLink staff made the day exciting and engaging for all the students.”
“Creating opportunities for students to achieve their academic and professional aspirations in a global context is at the heart of what we do at KnowledgeLink,” said Peter Gangemi, Associate Director of KnowledgeLink. “The students gathered here today have demonstrated great promise as future leaders, and we look forward to seeing all they will go on to accomplish.”