Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Before I became president of WYA, I had the reputation as the worst intern in the history of interns. I spent my evenings and weekends partying and brought other interns along with me. This obviously led to a significant reduction in useful work that happened, for them, not for me. At that time I had endless energy and would stay up till all hours of the night, grab a quick nap between 3 and 8am, and then run to the office arriving about 10 minutes late.

NB. For any interns reading this, my productivity never suffered. You only have permission to follow my example if you have the energy to do it properly!

Once I became President of WYA, my bad habits changed. I spent so much time traveling and working that I didn't have the energy to stay up all night every night and stagger into the office late every morning. Plus, there's the whole example business. Have to set a good example for the current interns...

I did however still have my own personality. I was the only science major among WYA staff, I definitely played the most sports, I came up with the oddest ideas even in serious brainstorm discussions, I was the youngest staff member, I could still be the most extreme version of certain things. All that changed when we hired Cathy.

Cathy who joined us after leaving a PhD in molecular biology, Cathy who not only has odd ideas but brings them to completion, Cathy who does Tae Kwon Do and hip hop. At least I'm still the youngest staff member. The worst part about having Cathy here is not only am I no longer the most extreme in certain areas, even when I have weirder ideas than she does, she gets all the credit. What does she have to say in her defense? "All I did was sit there."

You can poll the office: who found out about coed naked nonsexual yoga, and who got all the credit? Who found out about the 7th annual no-pants subway ride, and who got all the credit? Who discovered the game of freeze-tag on wall street and who got all the credit? (For freeze tag I harbour no grudges for Cathy getting all the credit, I wasn't in NY that weekend and not only did she go, but she even wore my beer-goggles. She deserved credit for that!) For the other events, my angst runs high. Neither of us has participated in the first two events, but Cathy gets all the credit.

I guess the only bright side of all this, is if I ever want to do something really off, I just have to tell everyone Cathy made me do it, and she'll get all the blame!


This past weekend I spoke at a conference in Mexicali called "Protagonists for a Culture of Life." The conference had a number of speakers from around the world; Mexico, Poland, Ecuador, Argentina, Spain and me! The conference was one of the friendliest I have ever been to. The organisers were incredibly friendly and made every effort to either speak to me in English or speak in very slow Spanish so I could understand. The participants were receptive to my talk and to the World Youth Alliance, there was so much interest and enthusiasm from the young people to join the World Youth Alliance and to become more involved. Perhaps most amazing, the other speakers also were friendly and open. Often I will go to conferences, and the opportunity to interact and meet the other speakers is limited at best. During this conference we had a number of meals together and were able to discuss each others speeches and ideas for how to collaborate in the future.Personally, the conference was quite exciting. I'm 23, live in NY, meet new interns every few months, work with the staff from around the world, occasionally play ultimate frisbee, pick-up hockey, or rollerblade around NY to do my errands. Traveling to this conference gave me the opportunity to meet hundreds of young, and older, people mostly from Mexico but also from around the world who are working to make the world a better place. Most exciting? They were excited to hear that they are not alone.

When I talk to friends on Wall Street or who work for large companies they'll often give me some advice "you know you can't eradicate poverty, right?" "look, not everyone wants to change how they live" "ok, it's great that you're working to improve the world, but there's lots of corruption and people working to destroy lives too." Exactly, that is exactly why my job is so important. More specifically, that is why it is so important to find all the people worldwide who want to improve the world, and introduce them to people who live nearby or far away who have the same goals; put them in touch, offer them resources, at the very least encourage them to do what they are passionate about and capable of doing.

Every day I receive emails from and talk to people who are passionate about changing the world and their communities, so why would this conference be so exciting? Because I can forget that not everyone spends their days speaking to incredible, dynamic people like I do. Meeting the young people, hearing from the older people, brainstorming about what each group could do to address the problems they were faced with reminded me once more of just how important World Youth Alliance is.

Why specifically World Youth Alliance? There's thousands of organisations and people worldwide doing incredible things to improve the world, many of them working in ways that WYA is not capable of working. So what is so great that we offer?

Three things:
1. We are an organisation of young people - this means that every single activity and project we undertake is spearheaded and completed by youth, under 30. Obviously we screw up a lot, but at the same time it is so empowering for a 20 year old with no prior experience to be in charge of a huge project and have it turn out ok, if they can do that, they can do anything!
2. We are international - this means that in many of our projects young people have the opportunity to meet and work alongside, and become friends with, people from around the world. In the process they have to deal with cultural sensitivity issues, and can understand the problems and solutions of people living in a country they knew nothing about prior to that experience.
3. We base all our activities on the dignity of every person - this means that no matter how irritating someone is, or how intensely you may dislike them, you still have to treat them with respect. More than that, you have to treat them with the respect they deserve. Overcoming all our personal prejudices of race, economic and social stature, language, religion, whatever else we may judge people on, and seeing them for who they are - another person who is worth just as much as we are - takes great courage. Once young people can do this, it changes their lives and how they view world problems and offers a new, humane solution to all the issues worldwide.

Attending the conference allowed me to share the idea of the dignity of every person with hundreds of other people. Hopefully the idea grabbed them and they'll now implement it in their lives and their communities. This is an idea that needs to be spread worldwide, and having the opportunity to tell more people, see their faces light up, and then to see all the ideas that flow from them of how they can improve something with that idea is so rewarding.

I also had the opportunity to improve my Spanish, which I hadn't spoken for two years. Having the opportunity to share my work and passion with hundreds of people and improve my language skills? What could be better.