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One Young World Testimonial

OYW 2017- The Purpose of Life

The One Young World 2017 conference at Bogota came into my life when I was at a strange phase of cynicism, constantly questioning, “What is the purpose of life?”. The journey of impactful speeches started from the opening ceremony, my personal favourite speech by Bob Geldof. The singer turned political activist started by saying, “I am is sick of it” and went on to expanding on every political leader, political activity, violent act that fills him with loath and how it is time we take action in this “increasingly dangerous world”.

On the coming days, the conference attended by more than 1000 representatives from various countries, cultures, organizations witnessed speeches on various themes,  all of which opened up a world of realities. Hearing humble delegate speakers or celebrated personalities, their experiences in their fields, their stories filled with struggle, pain, death held revelations of what human nature can withstand and resist. Be it the doctor in Nigeria who curbed the high rate of child deaths caused by dehydration by his innovative mobile platform with child health information for mothers or the engineer in Nepal who innovated portable shelters in schools to withstand earthquakes; be it Jérôme Jarre who collected 10 million$ by social media and flew 8 flights of food within 2 hours to Somalia during the famine threat and supplied phones to each household for credit banking; be it the Omani girl who started the first Arab women’s football team or the blind Indian entrepreneur who developed a business of self-employment for the blind by giving them opportunities to make soap, organic products, run cafes etc.- all of these talks delivered a key message- the message to give back to society. 

There were some truly magical moments filled with standing ovations, audiences crying and participants making a personal diversity pledge (during the talk by Ellyn Shook, HR head at Accenture). Among many was Rosanna Bee, a social media celebrity who spoke about her sexual abuses, her fight with depression, insanity and even poverty. Today she, with her family popularly called Eh Bee Family use the earnings from their videos to fight social exploitation and human trafficking. Speeches by the Johnson & Johnson foundation ‘Save the Children’ narrating the stories of refugee children in Syria and other corporate social responsibility speeches by L’Oreal, Siemens, GE, RB, BP, BMW strongly emphasized on the need for integration of corporates with society. This integration can be a critical tool to innovate, finance, implement policies and CSR programs. They vouched together for the betterment in the world as we know it and how they are as much a part of the ecosystem as we, as consumer of their products, were. Coming from the Leadership & Diversity Chair, the section for LGBT and women empowerment held a special place for me. From the Tunisian women's rights activist to the Indian fighter against sexual abuse and child marriage to the Olympic swimming champion and openly gay panel member of LGBT Olympians Mark Tewksbury- each had a powerful story to share filled with dismal statistics, a personal rage and this urgent call for action to make a change. 

It was a moment of a lifetime to hear Kofi Annan give his remarkable advice to us, the youth, as he said “Peace is a complex process. It needs reconciliation. It needs patience. It needs a relationship between society, state and individuals. It is difficult but the reward is worth the struggle.” He repeatedly emphasised, “Never lose hope. We need hope.” The last speech before we headed to the glamourous closing ceremony, Paul Polman urged corporations to move business models from “net takers” to “net makers” just as the Unilever Sustainability Plan is modelled for. The closing ceremony had a moving talk by the astronaut Ron Garan where he showed us his fascinating capture of the earth at night. He shared his bemusing story of hitting home but actually finding himself in Kazakhstan only to convey the message, no matter where we are from, we are indeed one world. 

As part of a final tradition, every participant of the conference had to write on a white ribbon a cause they will work towards. We tied all of these ribbons and added to the growing ball of ribbons, representative of a better and developing world around us. While creating the hype for the 2018 OYW at The Hague, the conference left us in awe, in a state of mind of questioning, this state of discomfort, this fire to act. We were irked by all the injustice and violence around us, we were awestruck by the revolutionaries, we were inspired by the real stories but most of all we were given a peak. A peek into what is the purpose of our being? It is so much more than our personal goals and wellbeing. For me, as I stitched together every impactful talk at the OYW 2017, my cynicism had suddenly morphed into a well-defined purpose. The purpose to serve- be it for our family, our immediate community, nation, continent or the world itself. It is imperative to act now and action is in a way serving the ones suffering and in need.

- Aatreyi Mitra, One Young World Ambassador, Bogota 2017