“Even if what you do is just a drop in the bucket, it’s not an excuse for inaction. I’m a believer in drops in the bucket.”
These were the closing words of Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, at the latest EF Global Student Leaders Summit on Human Rights. Carefully chosen, they acknowledged in just two sentences how daunting the human rights realm can often seem. With humanitarian issues spanning a dizzying array of communities, borders, cultures, religions, economic markets, languages and generations, it’s easy to find yourself with more questions than answers, and feeling unsure of what direction in which to take your first step. In short, it’s easy to feel like a very small drop in a very large bucket.
But when those single drops translate into over a thousand high school students and teachers, gathered in one place because of their belief in the human ability to find answers to even the world’s most challenging human rights questions, one’s faith is largely restored. And for this reason, the June Summit in The Hague, Netherlands was one of the most inspirational events I’ve had the privilege of attending.
“We are born to live, to think, to express ourselves, and to feel comfortable. Human rights are a way for us all to appreciate and respect one another for who we fundamentally are.”
– Joseph Munyambanza, African Leadership Academy
Over the course of the two day Summit, students and teachers from across the United States heard from a variety of inspirational speakers including Dr. Arun Gandhi and Ndaba Mandela – the grandsons of world-renowned activists Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi – to Pulitzer Prize winning authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. They participated in workshops led by refugees, artists, scientists and NGOs like UNICEF on raising awareness about human rights issues and launching social movements. They defined what human rights meant to them, discussed the importance of education in addressing Human Rights abuses, and then set to work – developing, prototyping and evolving solutions to a Human Rights issue of their choice. After all, explained Kristof, “the greatest threat to extremism is not a drone overhead, but girls with books. [The goal of education] is to empower students so they’re not passively learning, but actively problem-solving; so that, as adults, they don’t sit back and accept a problem, but rather jump forward to fix it.”
While education was an important theme throughout the conference, students and speakers alike highlighted the opportunities that exist in various fields and industries for enacting change in the human rights realm, as well. What makes today’s world so exciting, and what gives us all so much hope for the future, is the fact that social entrepreneurship spans industries and careers and is now seen as an increasingly credible field to enter. “Solving these issues takes skills – in Public Relations, in Law, in Medicine and in the Arts,” explained Ms. WuDunn in an interview with Summit attendees. “It’s okay to pursue a career in something else that you’re passionate about, and then apply it to the human rights world later on as an expert. Because tackling these huge global challenges often comes down to the nuts and bolts of breaking those issues down and therefore requires different perspectives and skills.”
In his closing remarks, Dr. Gandhi spoke of the danger of “letting the wheat rot” – of experiencing something life-changing and letting that experience end with you rather than sharing it out with the rest of the world. As these students head back to school this fall, I am hopeful that they will take his words to heart. That they’ll feel empowered to make their positive mark on the world in their own ways, based on their own strengths. That they’ll share the insights and epiphanies that they had with others, growing the group of people looking to find new and innovative ways – however big or small – to impact change. Because it’s when we work together that amazing things can happen, and when the strongest, most resilient seeds of change can be sown.
Upcoming Summits will take place in Peru and tackle Global Citizenship in a Changing World and the Future of Food in Italy.