Some 200 students from around the world converged in Abu Dhabi at the end of January. They shared a common goal: to develop solutions for global issues. Traveling from countries including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, and Vietnam, the students were in town for the Global Issues Network Conference, a three-day event that encouraged them to make a difference by empowering them to work internationally with their peers to generate results for worldwide problems.
Much like NYUAD, the conference — which takes place throughout the year in locations around the world — is made up of young global citizens. Established by teachers and students from six international schools in Europe, it is based on ideas from High Noon: 20 global problems, 20 years to solve them, a book by Jean-François Rischard, former World Bank VP for Europe, in which he states that imminent issues, including infectious diseases, poverty, and environmental degradation, can only be solved through global cooperation.
I knew that volunteering at this type of conference would help to make a difference. Also, I hadn't had the chance to get involved with the community outside of NYUAD
"I knew that volunteering at this type of conference would help to make a difference," said Jorge Zarate Rodriguez, NYUAD Class of 2014. "Also, I hadn't had the chance to get involved with the community outside of NYUAD." One of ten students from the Class of 2014 who joined their American Community School counterparts to participate in the conference, Zarate Rodriguez acted as a discussion facilitator during guest speaker sessions. "Our responsibility as facilitators was to assist during the reflective periods — called Global Villages — after the talks and to steer the discussion toward practical solutions to tackle some of the world's issues," Zarate Rodriguez explained. "The message we wanted to get across was that changes are also brought by small actions of individuals."
The speakers, who shared their stories and organizations with the students, included Robin Wiszowaty from Free the Children; Chris Bashinelli, who runs a cultural program called Bridge the Gap; Pippa Biddle, a Roots & Shoots Fellow; and Justin Bedard and Frank Cohn (an NYU alumnus) from the Jump Foundation, which works on youth development. Topics ranged from HIV/AIDS and universal education to environmental sustainability and gender equality. For Zarate Rodriguez, it was Wiszowaty's work that meant the most. "Robin works with rural communities in Kenya to provide the people with education for their children, access to potable water, as well as the means to develop alternative income sources, both to prevent child labor and to make the communities self-sufficient," he said. "I felt touched because I hope to do this kind of work in the future."
In addition to talks, the conference included workshops run by the American Community School students, during which they presented personal projects for feedback and support. It also incorporated service projects, Zarate Rodriguez's favorite aspect of the event. He took part in an activity called "Make a fuss, raid a bus," which entailed the preparation of many packed lunches. "We then walked over to a construction site and delivered them to the workers," he said. "I liked it because it was a small and simple activity that probably made their day. Everyone likes to feel appreciated and cared for."
And that's what the conference was all about — empowering the students to perform small acts that inspire big change; actions that improve the human condition. "I feel the conference was successful in the sense that it presented to the participants many different ways to make a change and an array of skills they can use to do so," Zarate Rodriguez said. "What I hope is that they don't lose momentum or enthusiasm as they return to their schools and communities."