Global Citizens Initiative empowers young global citizens from all sectors of society to be lifelong leaders of positive change. We talked with Elizabeth Losch, COO of GCI to learn more.
Tell us about the GCI Fellowship.
The GCI Fellowship begins with the Global Citizens Youth Summit, a nine-day residential program held at the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.* At the Summit, 28 Fellows from countries around the world – Mongolia, Uganda, Syria, Colombia, and the United States, to name a few – discuss global issues in academic sessions. We cannot overstate the value of cross-cultural exchange amongst peers from such a wide range of backgrounds and nationalities (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsymNq5DYvU).
Fellows each identify an issue in their home community that they wish to address through what we call a Glocal Service Project, and they use Design Thinking to outline an initial action plan. Upon returning home after the Summit, they receive guidance from volunteer Mentors – experienced professionals from a range of industries – to further scope and implement their service projects. The goal is to launch a feasible and sustainable solution to one of the many issues collectively identified as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Each year you invite 28 global citizens to work with your faculty on various ventures. What characteristics stand out to you when choosing whom to work with?
While we certainly consider quality of academic record, extracurricular activities and essays, we ultimately look for demonstrated commitment to making positive social change and the leadership potential to make that transformation a reality. Our Fellows also hold a strong sense of responsibility to continuously seek to understand those of other backgrounds, cultures and perspectives.
We also consider what these young people may not yet have – educational opportunity, community support, a sense of empowerment, social or financial resources, some combination of the above – so that their joining our community will positively affect their trajectory versus being just another stamp on the resumé.
Your mission, similar to GIFF’s, is to take action and generate positive changes in our community. What does making a social impact mean to you?
That’s a great question, along with ‘What is a global citizen?’ Our thoughts have evolved and continue to evolve on this. In simplest terms, it’s the effect that an individual or entity has on a community and the wellbeing of its constituents. Not all change and impact is good, of course – and ‘positive’ is or should be inherent in the definition.
Our conception of social impact also stresses the importance of specificity and understanding – that is, responsibly and thoroughly identifying a true need within a community, and setting a definition for success, however difficult it may be to measure. This process requires suspending judgment. There are issues that we can all agree are ‘bad’ – hunger, violence, waste – and social objectives that are largely ‘good’ – education access, nutrition, community, a sense of belonging. However, a true social innovator is cautious not to assume too quickly what is a ‘positive’ solution. Development, for example, is a term that seems to place communities on either side of a misguided barrier – ‘developed’ vs. ‘developing’ – as though we really have it all sorted in the ‘developed’ world. Solutions derived for one community may not be appropriate to all.
You talk about engaging and inspiring our youth to become budding leaders. How does this competition help students achieve this role? How do you think this partnership with GIFF will benefit the greater community?
We are particularly excited about our partnership with GIFF because we espouse a ‘glocal’ approach – addressing global issues by beginning within one’s own backyard. Although we have welcomed a number of students from this area as Fellows, this competition is open to all high school students in Fairfield County – a much broader and more inclusive level of engagement. Our hope is that this effort will encourage and inspire high school students to be more civically engaged and socially minded. In light of recent events and the leadership that many minors have taken in driving several key national conversations, this really seems to be their moment.
You talk about prizing innovative thinking. As this year’s social impact video competition kicks off, what overall message are you looking for or hope to see?
Our overarching message is that through commitment, hard work, and collaboration, we all can – and should strive to – leave the world a better place than we found it. Think big, but start small. Before diving in with your ‘solution,’ really do your homework to understand the people you wish to serve and discover what their needs truly are. Maintain both the humility and confidence – not conflicting qualities – to learn from mistakes and pivot. Do no harm, but don’t let fear of failure stop you from asking questions and taking action. Your voice matters.
GCI’s Fellowship program provides our youth with the resources to become effective and ethical leaders. What skills do you think a young person needs to obtain this mindset?
We have found that, curiously, the ingredients for creative problem-solving also happen to be the stuff of great leadership:
- Empathy – the desire and capacity to understand others who many not be similar to you
- Optimism coupled with action – as distinct from mere positivity
- Comfort with risk-taking and therefore failure – coupled with the impulse to self-reflect and learn from those failures
- An ability to build upon the ideas of others, through a “yes and” rather than a “yes but” mentality
- And particularly relevant to GIFF, a mastery of narrative or storytelling, to make sense of the world and to effectively communicate one’s brilliant ideas.
We strongly believe that these lessons are not only helpful within the classroom, but within everyday life and a life of service leadership. “Learn more about the GCI Social Impact Video Competition and enter today: http://www.greenwichfilm.org/GCICompetition/”
* GCI has no official affiliation with Harvard University.