Written By Joseph Conciatori, Creative Spirit Candidate and Advocate
November 11, 2023
YOUNGA 2023 Kicks Off with Networking and Engaging Discussions
I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in YOUNGA 2023 as a youth delegate for the second consecutive year. Once again, I participated in a variety of engaging virtual events, including networking sessions, a fireside chat with the UNA-USA Youth Observer, and many more.
My first event of YOUNGA 2023 was a networking session on Monday, October 2. During this discussion at YOUNGA 2023, I learned several helpful tips about networking, such as focusing on the quality of connections, not necessarily the quantity. Other delegates were eager to share their advice, with my fellow delegate Patience Osinaike stating that it is important for us to be our most authentic selves. Another of my fellow delegates, Blessing Precious, noted that we should always be ready to make an impact while networking.
After learning more fundamental networking principles and practices, my fellow delegates and I engaged in two rounds of networking breakout rooms, each about 10 minutes long. I introduced myself to my fellow YOUNGA delegates and learned more about them and why they decided to participate in YOUNGA 2023. Treasure Mayowa, whom I met during breakout room discussions, said that she joined YOUNGA because she was interested in solving problems in order to create positive change in our communities. I also met two more delegates – Ore, a fourth-year doctorate student majoring in criminal justice, and Ajayi Temiloluwa Samuel, a YOUNGA delegate interested in developing solutions for mitigating our collective CO2 emissions, whose respective experiences I both found fascinating.
I later struck up a conversation with fellow delegate Misha Nicholas. I told Misha that as an individual on the autism spectrum, I was passionate about disability rights, specifically helping people on the spectrum like myself find valuable employment opportunities. Misha then told me that she works as a disability rights activist, which I found interesting. After speaking for a few more minutes, Misha invited me to connect on LinkedIn, an offer I gladly accepted.
After the session ended, I was delighted not only to have met fellow changemakers, but to have started building lasting connections with them as well.
My next YOUNGA 2023 event was on Saturday, October 14, when I participated in a fireside chat with the 12th UNA-USA Youth Observer, Ose Ehianeta Arheghan. Ose (they/them/theirs) represents US youth at the United Nations, including the UN General Assembly. To begin the discussion, Ose asked the delegates which SDGs (sustainable development goals) resonated with them the most. One delegate mentioned volunteering with the Red Cross, which aligns with SDG 3 for health and wellbeing. Another described volunteering at a local school to promote literacy.
Kelly Lovell, the founder of BridgingTheGap Ventures – the organization behind YOUNGA 2023 – then spoke to Ose, asking them where they believe the largest gaps in youth opportunities can be found. Ose replied that although many organizations want to bring youth into the fold so that they can meet the SDGs, that work of meeting the SDGs is already being done. Ose then said that they often recommend people to new organizations and opportunities so that these individuals can make a difference. However, Ose noted that finding stakeholders who want to incorporate youth onto their teams is a major obstacle, since many have not yet created those opportunities.
Kelly then chimed in, stating that while the public and private sectors have ample funding that my fellow delegates and I lack, and we as young changemakers have innovative solutions, it was important to bring these two groups together to achieve our desired results. I wholeheartedly agreed with Kelly’s sentiment, despite being on mute.
Ose then shifted emphasis to their own experiences as an activist. As a trans person of color, Ose was frequently discriminated against, so much so that they filed a discrimination report. While it was difficult for Ose to find a supporting framework after the discrimination incident, they attended a high school receptive to gender changes and the like. Ose wrote for their school newspaper for many years, uplifting others in the community through their writing, which I found fascinating. As a writer myself, having written articles for both my high school and college newspapers, I was able to relate to Ose’s story. My fellow delegates and I recognized that we can engage in activism through simply telling our stories and showing people where we can go.
Kelly then added her insights at YOUNGA 2023, saying that young changemakers need a “passion pitch,” not unlike an elevator pitch at a job interview. She noted that this pitch should include two components: how we as changemakers can tell our stories, and why we want to make a difference in our communities. I learned that although Ose became an activist through their school newspaper, we each need to find our own brands of activism without copying someone else’s approach. My fellow delegates and I also learned that we must find the right fit with both our audience and our platform; for example, whether our audiences would read newspapers, or discover our stories on social media platforms.
Ose then continued sharing their experiences. While they worked solo at home and in the school journalism office during high school, Ose was able to find a team of fellow changemakers while attending Ohio State University. When Ose created the Undergraduate Black Caucus at Ohio State, they largely wrote the caucus’s constitution, they quickly found others who could bring their own talents to the table, such as organizing on-campus demonstrations. Kelly then chimed in, adding that we must understand the strength of our voices, while also noting that changemaking can be a particularly lonely path. Therefore, my fellow delegates and I realized that we must bridge the gap between ourselves as changemakers and others who share our passions.
Ose and Kelly then answered the delegates’ questions at YOUNGA 2023. One delegate, Chanda Chikwanka from Zambia, asked Ose what they would advise youths who must choose between following a well-paying, maximum-job-security career path and one that aligns with their values and that they are passionate about but does not pay as well. Ose replied by stating that after they graduated from Ohio State, they asked where they would be able to find health insurance outside the state of Ohio. It was important for Ose to find mental and economic stability for them to continue with their changemaking platform, a sentiment with which I agreed. Ose then pointed out that if changemakers like ourselves need job stability, that is perfectly fine. I recognized that my fellow changemakers and I can find stability first and foster our passions second, or vice versa.
Kelly then added that although we are taught an either-or mentality, we need not sacrifice a stable job to pursue our passions. For example, she noted that we can work our primary jobs and then pursue our passion projects on the side. Kelly continued by stating that if we reached the point where we have a stable job but would rather devote more time to our respective passion projects, we were more than welcome to do so.
Another delegate, Lynn Mapiye, asked Ose about the importance of mentorship. Ose stated that mentorship is important. Although we may seek a mentor in our desired career field, they may be unable to mentor you. However, Ose explained that we may find an ideal mentor without even knowing it. They then spoke about a mentor with whom they meet once annually. Although he often speaks with Ose quite informally – via Instagram DM – this mentor is more than ready for them to list him as a professional reference on their job applications.
Once Ose finished speaking about the importance of mentorship, Purvi Shenoy, a delegate from Singapore, mentioned that she just started her own organization. However, Purvi noted that in Singapore, youth changemakers are rarely acknowledged unless they have a college degree or professional degree. Ose then replied by stating that although they never started an organization, they worked with many youths who did. They noted that the most successful organizations were created with a specific goal in mind, such as writing letters to people with mental health issues. Unfortunately, Ose noted that many of their friends who started organizations saw them fizzle out rather quickly.
Kelly then shared her thoughts, adding that we must be specific about our passions to gain more stakeholders in our organizations if we start them. Although she did not have much of a job history due to frequent illnesses, Kelly regularly organized events such as bake sales to build her skills in marketing and fundraising. She then added that if we are struggling to formalize organizations, we should organize informal events that align with our mission’s goals.
Ose concluded their part of the discussion by stating we should not keep the opportunities coming our way to ourselves. Rather, they encouraged us to encourage our friends and other young adults to sign up for YOUNGA 2023.
After signing out of Zoom, I felt empowered not only to use my writing as a platform for activism, but also to encourage my fellow youths to join me as a YOUNGA delegate in 2024. In short, I found both the networking event and the fireside chat with Ose to be illuminating, enlightening experiences.