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A matter on many minds is whether the young generation is ready to take up positions of power and live up to society’s expectations. Francesca Martonffy, director at Global Changemakers, says “there is often a misconception, that ‘matters that affect the world’ are something discussed by people ‘in charge,’ in the halls of power of distant world capitals.”
In this exclusive interview with Toonari Post, Martonffy says what the young people do or say is as relevant to the world as the latest meeting of G8 finance ministers. She also speaks about Global Changemakers’ mission to empower young people to create social impact on the societies of the world.
Toonari Post (TP): Tell us about yourself, your studies and your work.
Francesca Martonffy (FM): I come from a family of five sisters and grew up with a sense that what mattered most was using your unique set of skills to give back to the world.
Not surprisingly, I studied political science in university and international security and political economy in graduate school because I thought learning as much about the world as I could was probably a good first step in figuring out how to give back. I’ve worked across sectors – in Washington DC where I helped run an NGO focused on international affairs education, in the policy sphere, at the World Economic Forum, where I was a Global Leadership Fellow and now as Director of Global Changemakers.
While I’ve worked across a large number of issues from foreign policy to education to social entrepreneurship, what drives me continues to be the same values I learned from my mother – learn, give, and grow as much as you can. And never take yourself too seriously!
TP: Global Changemakers was inspired by the fact that young people were not being given a voice at major world events such as the World Economic Forum. Are young people now given a chance to participate in matters that affect the world?
FM: I think there is often a misconception that ‘matters that affect the world’ are something discussed by people ‘in charge’ in the halls of power of distant world capitals. Yet, there are three billion individuals under the age of twenty-five today. Surely, what these individuals learn, experience, and create on a daily basis is as relevant to affecting the world as the latest meeting of G8 finance ministers.
We all – young and old alike – decide on a daily basis how we interact with the world and what kind of impact we make on it. In terms of whether young voices are being heard at major world gatherings, I think institutions are broadening the set of stakeholders with whom they engage and generally doing a better job across the board.
Due to a number of factors, including social media, institutions are finding themselves being held accountable to wider and more diverse sets of stakeholders than ever before.
TP: What is the scope of The Global Changemakers movement?
FM: Global Changemakers is a British Council funded global youth network of social entrepreneurs and community activists from 126 countries worldwide. Its mission is to empower youth to catalyse positive social change, something which it achieves through:learning and teaching; Global and regional summits, community and personal capacity building supported by free online curriculum.
TP: What difference has Global Changemakers made since it came into existence in 2007?
FM: There are currently nearly 800 Changemakers, more than 200,000 young people involved in Global Changemakers activities each year, and four million beneficiaries of projects developed and run by Changemakers. Since its inception in 2007, Global Changemakers has organised and run over 20 regional and global youth workshops across the world – in Amman, Beirut, Cape Town, Doha, Delhi, Gaborone, Harare, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro and London, among others.
Global Changemakers have been invited to participate in World Economic Forum events in Cartagena, Dar es Salaam, Sharm el Sheikh, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro and Davos, the Clinton Global Initiative, G20, UN World Climate Conference, UNESCO Peace Summits, Women Deliver, and the launch of the World Bank’s Youth Anti-Corruption network, among others.
Individual and group projects address key global issues and facilitate joint working and create shared values: 193 projects in 78 countries supported to date. The Global Changemakers community is represented at high-level events and disseminates best practices in youth-led development
TP: What challenges have you faced in bringing together young people together from all over the world?
FM: Of course, there are the administrative challenges of tickets and passports and visas which can quickly become all-consuming and quite complex when you’re trying to physically bring together individuals from so many different countries, some of whom have never travelled before. But generally speaking, we haven’t faced too many challenges.
It doesn’t mean that the journey of becoming a Changemaker is an easy one. We’ve had many Changemakers tell us that attending a Global Changemakers summit has been quite difficult because they have been forced to confront certain issues or had their views or beliefs challenged in fundamental ways.
The challenge for us as the organizers has been to ensure that we create an environment of respect and openness where all views are fairly heard and where individuals can draw their own conclusions.
TP: What is your opinion on the current efforts of female empowerment in developing countries?
FM: I think it’s important to start by recognizing how much things have progressed for women in the last fifty years – in developed and developing world alike. Yet women still bear the brunt of many of the issues facing the developing world – lack of access to quality education, poor health, poverty, and limited economic mobility.
In terms of the present efforts, one would have to break it down country-by-country to see what is working, where, and why. Generally, however, most of the new data from development institutions like the World Bank is encouraging. Things are getting better for many women. But there is still much work to do.
TP: Tell us a bit about the forthcoming Euro-Africa Youth Summit in Brussels.
FM: The Euro-Africa Summit in Brussels will bring 60 new Changemakers from 34 countries into the Global Changemakers family. We’re planning five intense days of activities where participants will learn about the key economic, political, and social issues facing Africa and Europe, gain concrete skills like project management and fundraising to better design and deliver their grass-roots work, and connect to other young activists in order to exchange knowledge and best practices.The summit is designed to amp up the current skill set of participants so they return to their home countries able to do even more.
TP: Are there specific requirements for someone to become a member of the Global Changemakers?
FM: Yes. In order to become a Global Changemaker, an individual must be selected for one of our events. Selection criteria are:
However, to be active in the larger Global Changemakers community – as over 15,000 are already either on our website and/or Facebook – all you need is an interest in making a positive change. While we will never be able to meet the demand – we have 10-20 times more applications than places available for our events– our wider community and online curricula are a great way for all who are interested to engage and to make effective change in their local communities.