On Saturday, September 24, 2011, I had the privilege to help organize a panel discussion at the United States Mission to the United Nations in NYC, followed by a presentation on the new USAID FWD the Facts campaign that had just been released a few days prior. The panel consisted of civically engaged youth both domestically and globally and was moderated by Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero. There were well over fifty young people in the audience ranging from college students to professionals.
After the panel ended, we regrouped for a presentation and workshop led by Nicole Goldin of USAID (with collaborating representatives from the Ad Council and RGA) to educate the audience on the new FWD the Facts campaign. It is a new effort that hopes to educate and engage the American public on the crisis affecting over 13 million people in the Horn of Africa. After being presented with the facts and goals of the campaign the audience split up into three groups to discuss both the strengths and opportunities we saw.
We loved that the website is so simple and that it is so easy to become engaged in the initiative through the “ACTION” tab, specifically the “FWD Knowledge” download. Many people also brought up the campaign’s opportunity to build connections through personal experiences of those living in the Horn of Africa. This would motivate people to get involved as we want to see both the macro and micro dynamics of the situation. Much of the conversation also centered around what college students could do on campus to bring awareness and action to the cause. Ideas that floated around ranged from creating a network of “interns” on different campuses that could work with preexisting campus groups and administrators to finding corporate sponsorship to create an online interactive platform that could include a direct action piece via the web. People also suggested an App and serious gaming.
It was an empowering opportunity to be a focus group for such a large initiative and have the ability to provide direct input and ideas to representatives from USAID, RGA, and the Ad Council. Programs like this are exactly the types of things that make us feel directly involved in the process in a meaningful way. These occasions are the motivation that many young people need to become involved in initiatives and some of the ideas from those in attendance have the potential to empower even more young people in meaningful leadership experiences through service-learning. I know this was the beginning of the conversation, not the end, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.
Ross Seidman is a freshman at the University of Maryland, a member of Youth Service America’s National Youth Council and Board of Directors and the Youth Working Group to the U.S. National Commission to UNESCO.