“You can’t get people to change the fundamental things in their life if they don’t trust you,” Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka, told several hundred youth Friday morning in the opening address of the World Youth Peace Summit.
The summit follows the World Scholar-Athlete Games, providing young athletes and artists the opportunity to learn more about peace policies in workshops and lectures.
In Chase Arena on the University of Hartford campus, Drayton addressed youth from around the globe.
“We’ve lived in a world [...] in which a small, elite runs everything. Everyone else does repetitive functions,” he said, before stating that this model is changing.
What is developing, Drayton said, is a “team of teams,” or a horizontal power structure. While in the past a person could get by merely by following the rules, now, “if you do not have empathy [...] you are screwed.”
A panel discussion including Drayton and Becca Heller — the director and co-founder of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project — followed opening remarks and a short video. Heller’s own journey into activism followed Drayton’s assertion that “90% of Ashoka fellows started something” when in the 12-20 age range.
As a youth, Heller was aware of social problems, like homelessness. She entered a “petition phase,” inspired in part by The Baby-sitters Club, a book series that features young females who use petitions as a way to solve problems. Then, as is the case with many, her activism was placed on the back burner during her teen years. Unable to attend college directly after high school, she was confronted with the question of what to do with herself; a friend suggested she “put her money where her mouth is,” so, Heller joined up with AmeriCorps and reentered the realm of social justice.
“Your first obligation as a social change maker,” Heller said, “is to notice.”
A young person in the audience asked Heller if she ever thought her project was impossible, and how she was able to not just give up on it.
Heller said there was not one answer for that, but she tells herself, “this is supposed to be hard. You signed up for this fight.”
She added, “if it were easy, it would have been done already.”
She also suggested that when feeling frustrated, “call someone who thinks you’re awesome and let them tell you how awesome you are.”
Interactive workshops begin this afternoon and youth are required to attend these sessions. Workshops and panels will feature topics such as grantwriting, fundraising, “utilizing your community resources to launch your venture,” and several that are tied in to sports.
Nobel Laureate Jody Williams will be speaking Saturday afternoon; General Colin Powell will deliver the keynote address Sunday evening.
The Hassenfield Center for Social Entrepreneurship will be created Monday morning, the final day of the summit.