Young social pioneers

On Wednesday night I attended the YouthActionNet Awards nights at the gorgeous Finnish embassy. YouthActionNet is an awards program run by the International Youth Foundation which recognizes young social change leaders from across the world. To enter you must be the founder of an organization or initiative aged between 18-29. Meeting and hearing the stories of these emerging social entrepreneurs was uplifting and inspiring. They are tackling some of the hardest problems in the world; creating a culture of non-violence, moving a community towards sustainability, providing quality education to slum communities. It's impossible not to feel more hopeful when hearing of their commitment to addressing these issues and feeling the heart that goes into their efforts.

Despite this I had mixed emotions as I watched the ceremony and the preceding panel discussion. Two years ago that had been me up on the panel, speaking with passion about the work of Vibewire, the organization I founded. Even though at that stage, in November 2007, I already had a departure date set and a succession plan in motion, I remember the intensity of my feeling of commitment to both the organization and our cause, the sense of deep personal connection born of seven years hard work to get to that point.

A year later I was back at the ceremony having just moved to Washington and started work at Ashoka. Life was a wonderful blur. I had been through the desperately-difficult process of leaving Vibewire, had travelled for several months, landed in America, got a job, got married, attended Burning Man and finally settled in DC. So: exciting.

Now a year later I'm just another mid-career mid-level staffer at a big NGO. Don't get me wrong, I love my work and find it challenging and fulfilling, and I'm inspired by our mission. But it's obviously different. It's what I need and where I want to be right now, but I do sometimes miss the unique sense of destiny you get when you're running your own show, convinced of your own power to change the world, and the community you feel when you spend time with other people on a similiar journey.

Thinking about this reminded me that my friend and fellow YouthActionNet alumni Anna Rose filmed me speaking at the 2007 Awards night so at the risk of self-indulgence I'm going to post it here:


Look how young I was!

Read more about this year's YouthActionNet Fellows here. It's also very cool to see the first group selected as "Young Social Pioneers" by the Foundation for Young Australians, a national version of the YouthActionNet program.