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AIESEC at the World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka

“We are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today”
– Opening remarks by Jayathma Wickramanayake, Sri Lanka’s first Youth Delegate to the UN

Last week Sri Lanka hosted the World Conference on Youth. Over 1,500 young people representing 169 different countries gathered in the capital city of Colombo for this conference which has been held all over the world every few years since 1936. The United Nations is currently in the process of drafting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the replacement for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire in 2015. The biggest problem with the MDGs was that there was little to no youth participation, even though youth were the ones who were responsible for carrying them out. The young people at this conference and around the world are determined to make sure their inputs are considered this time around.

The purpose of the conference was to gather youth input from all over the world to produce a joint outcome document between the government representatives in attendance and the global representation of youth, officially called the “Colombo Declaration on Youth.” This document will be taken back to the UN headquarters in New York City to be considered in the negotiations of the SDGs.

Participants came from all over the world and were fully funded by the government of Sri Lanka. Delegates included youth from marginalized backgrounds, youth leaders and experts, Sri Lankan youth delegates, national youth delegates representing 200 nations, and youth from international youth-led organizations—including AIESEC. Cassandra Ruggiero, Global VP of Public Relations for AIESEC International, and myself as the AIESEC Representative to the United Nations, who represented AIESEC at the conference. There were roughly 20 other AIESECers in attendance from Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.

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The biggest testament to the strength of the AIESEC network was that anyone you asked about AIESEC had either participated in a program or definitely knew all about it. Whether or not they were formally a part of our organisation, everyone had the mindset of an AIESECer: determined to make the world a better place through youth leadership.

Cassandra was able to step in for a missing speaker on the Globalization and Youth-led Development panel to share these values with an audience of nearly one hundred people. She was given only 5 minutes to prepare after being asked to speak on the panel, a tribute to the ability of AIESECers to adapt under pressure to any situation. After speaking on the panel, we ran a side event on “Becoming the Leader the World Needs” to help delegates reflect on their leadership journeys so that they can take the excitement of the conference back home and make an impact in their countries.

While many side events focused on presenting information on different thematic areas, AIESEC’s event stuck to a youthful vibe that allowed delegates to learn from their past experiences in leadership and start to figure out what they feel their strengths are. This was just a taste of AIESEC’s leadership development program that runs for each of their members around the world.

“By figuring out how to be the best version of yourself, you can be a better leader for the world, and have more impact in whichever path you choose.”
Cassandra Ruggiero

The Millennium Development Goals have done a lot over the last 14 years to change the world we live in, but take a moment to think about how your leadership can shape the world post-2015. There are many avenues within the United Nations to express your vision for the future, including the MyWorld Survey, but the most important thing for you to do is think about your own community/village/town/city/country/world and figure out how you can make an impact, starting today.

To read more about the outcomes of the World Conference on Youth, head to their blog

Are you challenging yourself enough?

Hugo Pereira, President of AIESEC in 2010-2011, recently held a TED talk at TEDxAUBG in Bulgaria about the questions that move us forward. He looked back at his 8 year experience in AIESEC as well as his volunteer internship in a non-profit in India to really figure out what it was that motivated him and helped him to grow as a person; he found it was human connection.

“Looking back I found that you find the right questions when you are surrounded by the right people…Do you know who are the 5 people you spend the most time with? Are they challenging you enough? Are they helping you find the right questions? Who are the right people for you?”

Watch his full TED talk here:

Do you feel yourself challenged by the people you spend your time with? How can you surround yourself with new people and different perspectives so that you are constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone?

To explore and develop your leadership potential by embarking on a global internship experience, visit www.opportunities.aiesec.org to get started.

Solving Youth Unemployment in Europe

“There are 26.2 million people unemployed in the EU today – an increase of more than 9 million people from 2008. This trend has significant economic, political and social consequences for Europe. The challenge for European leaders is to solve this puzzle and to help citizens find sustainable and long-term employment opportunities.”

(www.iiea.com – The Institute of International and European Affairs)

Sustainable and long-term employment opportunities do not include just generating new job posts, but also educating and preparing youth to be ready for responsibilities these job posts bring. Nowadays Millennials complain about the lack of open job posts, while businesses argue that Gen Y lack the needed skill sets.

Who is right and who is wrong?

Rather than taking one side, let us consider the fact that there is a gap in expectation setting from both sides: what young people want from their employers vs. companies’ expectations from their employees and the type of employee they would be more likely to hire. Imagine what would happen if we aligned supply and demand – the kind of the jobs young people are looking for and developing the set of characteristics young people need to perform in their dream jobs.

What is also often disputed when talking about youth unemployment is the mindset young people born as Gen Y share – they are ambitious but not humble; they expect excellent conditions from the get go; they are not prepared to start from scratch and work up the ranks, rather demanding everything right now. How can we make sure young people understand what is needed in order to land their dream job? How can we shift the current mindset?

As often happens, challenges arise from more than one source; it is the combination of everything mentioned above. On one hand, the education young people are acquiring is leaving them unprepared to deal with today’s job market reality. They lack practical knowledge, skills and strategic thinking, which are usually not acquired through formal education. And on the other hand, employers seek young people who are ready to dedicate themselves to work, learn and advance but who nevertheless have some previous experience or at least certain set of characteristics and skills. Do we as young people know what these characteristics are? And are we developing them?

On April 7th in Warsaw, Poland, Europe Youth to Business Forum will gather all stakeholders important in solving the issue of youth unemployment – young people, educators, government and business. They will have the opportunity to discuss and generate ideas on how collaboration can lead to solving this challenge in the region.

Join us on livestream (bit.ly/EuropeY2BF) and contribute to flipping the switch on youth unemployment in Europe!

The Unique Benefits of Volunteering Abroad

Lately there have been countless discussions about the benefits of volunteering and about the benefits of traveling. But what happens when you put the two of them together? What happens when you don’t only travel but you dive into a new culture? When you have to work with volunteers from 10 or 20 different countries?

Well, this kind of experience doesn’t offer you just a random range of benefits but it changes you fundamentally. It challenges you and it makes you strive to be at your best.

So what exactly makes these volunteering abroad experiences so unique?

While volunteering, you will face events that will challenge your mindset

An internship abroad will give you the chance to travel to new places, make new friends, make new memories and learn new skills. But it also challenges you; it teaches you first hand what intercultural communication really is; it will challenge your mindset and it will help you become more open minded and more culturally aware.

“I’ve worked on the project with people from Ukraine, Russia, Bahrain, Poland, Egypt, Turkey, Portugal, Argentina, Germany and USA. I now feel that student exchange programs are crucial in getting to know so many different nationalities at once. It’s never too late to learn new things. The awesome experience has just taught me that life is not all about yourself, it’s about you in a society and how you adapt to it.”  – Jaya, on her internship in Ukraine

Volunteering abroad changes you because it gives you the chance to change others

The volunteering internships that AIESEC is providing are focused on solving particular issues in society, such as: cultural education, environment, cultural understanding or career development. This means that in most cases interns work with children or with students, and they have a chance to impact their life either directly in the short-term, or long-term, providing them with the skills and knowledge to be more successful.

Raluca was a volunteer in Poland. She says that: “this experience is about stepping out your comfort zone; about being crazy and letting go of what others think about you; about leaving a mark on some people’s lives. I wasn’t sure that I would be able to do this. To be that person that changes lives. But one day, during the last moments we had in one of the schools, the teachers came to us and told us: “You don’t know what an impact you had on these kids. You changed their lives.”

But we must admit there is one downside of volunteering abroad: it’s addictive.

Mihaela, who volunteered this autumn in Ghana, says that “now I’m even hungrier for adrenaline and adventure so I can’t wait to see what the future will bring regarding any new internship.”

 

AIESEC provides over 26,000 young people with the chance to go abroad each year. If you are looking to go on an internship or volunteer experience abroad, please go to opportunities.aiesec.org and check out all our available opportunities. 

4 Reasons why AIESEC provides the perfect education for an Entrepreneur: Part 1

This is two part Guest Blog post from Tom Weaver, previous Member Committee President of AIESEC United Kingdom 2002-2003, Founder of Flypay.

“A startup is a company designed to grow fast. Being newly founded does not in itself make a company a startup. Nor is it necessary for a startup to work on technology, or take venture funding, or have some sort of “exit.” The only essential thing is growth.” 

– Paul Graham, investor & founder of startup incubator Y Combinator

My story: University, AIESEC and becoming an Entrepreneur

The AIESEC experience is like being thrown in the deep end of the swimming pool when you’ve just taken off your life jacket. Fortunately, this is exactly the induction that is needed for the aspiring entrepreneur. With AIESEC’s safe environment to try new things and fail, members are able to learn and acquire practical skills that are very much needed in the world of startups.

I felt I was in the deep end at every step of my AIESEC career, from a new member, to Local Committee President in AIESEC at the University of Southampton, to a trainer, and finally to National President of AIESEC United Kingdom in 2002.  The kinds of issues and challenges we faced day to day were well beyond what I needed to deal with for many years after, until I founded my startup company, Flypay.

At that point, I felt like I’d jumped into an even deeper swimming pool.  Fortunately for me, I knew a little bit about swimming by now.

Flypay’s Journey: From an idea to a startup

Flypay is an app that allows restaurant customers to check, split and pay their bill from their smartphone. The typical restaurant customer waits over ten minutes from the moment they are ready to leave, until the moment they are paid up and can leave. There are all sorts of difficulties with splitting the bill with others at your table. I felt that my business partner and I could solve this problem.

We launched in Wahaca, a major London Mexican restaurant brand, last month. We’re now slowly rolling out across their estate, as well as having some very positive discussions with some very large and well-loved UK restaurant brands.

Now we’re focusing on growth; growth in the number of restaurants using our solution; growth in the number of consumers using the app. And we need that growth fast! We need to get there before the PayPals of this world decide they can do what we do.

We’ve gone through one investment round, and will shortly begin our second, much more significant round.  We’ve had our first transactions, first users, first press, first positive tweets, and have just been nominated for Mobile Business of the Year (we need votes for this, so if you think we’re onto something please help by voting here)!

Through all of this, the skills I had gained in AIESEC were critical to our success, and I realized why AIESEC is such a perfect primer for startup founders.  Here are my four reasons.  It was three, but who needs to follow convention anyway?

Reason 1: Entrepreneurs need to be a generalist as well as a specialist

Aside from designing and creating the actual product, here are some of the things I’ve had to do in order to get Flypay off the ground. They may sound familiar to the well-seasoned AIESECer (a term we use for “members of AIESEC” for those of you who are not in the organisation):

  • Cold email the Managing Director of our first customer to persuade him to meet us
  • Persuade our first customer to take a chance on us in our first meeting
  • Persuade critical partners to work with us by selling them the vision of what we were going to achieve, and how they could be a part of it
  • Develop a business plan outlining what we were going to achieve (used as the basis for fundraising)
  • Pitch for funding (somewhat like going for sponsorship, only a bit of a larger number)
  • Build the best possible Board of Directors
  • Create a new business development and marketing strategy
  • Develop the product and execute the vision you’ve sold everyone
  • Sort the finances, and develop a very focused budget

Some people have very defined careers. They build up specialisms that determine their day-to-day job descriptions and projects.

Running a startup is not like that.  It is just like working in AIESEC- every day holds something very different.  One day I’m meeting a new client.  Another I’m networking with senior executives at a conference.  Today I’m running a board meeting and had a lot of materials to prepare.  We’ve got employees to manage, and product deadlines to hit.  I’m interviewing PR companies this week. I need to prepare a contractual agreement for a potential new client.

Being able to deal with a wide range of things from the very big picture to the very small details and shift from concept to execution very quickly is essential to the success of a startup.  This is what AIESECers do all the time.

Reason 2: Entrepreneurs need to be very good at persuasion and presenting

When you initiate a startup, you have a vision for something you want to change.  Often, you need to persuade a myriad of people to work with you.  We’ve needed to convince a lot of people that Flypay was worth their time- including our first clients, the restaurant systems that client used, a very large payment gateway provider, several merchant banks, investors and initial consumers.  They had to take a chance on something that (at early points) didn’t even have much of a product to put in front of people.

AIESECers learn to be persuasive because what they are selling is very conceptual (you don’t have a physical trainee there) and relatively complex (there is a whole process to go through).  That is a very useful thing to learn.

Once I left AIESEC I was blown away by how poor “normal professionals” are at presenting.  I saw, and still see, many highly paid and important, but insanely poor presenters. Yet, in AIESEC, we are used to getting up in front of large groups all the time.  It gives you a huge advantage.  When you go to pitch for investments you need every inch of those skills.  We had one presentation of five minutes in front of 25 “dragons” followed by five minutes of questions, but were told we were unusually good at presenting and made an excellent impression (and gained two investors and an offer of more from the experience).

Interested to hear more? Come back on Wednesday for the continuation of Tom Weaver’s guest post, as well as his final thoughts on AIESEC and entrepreneurship.

Are you ready to start improving the skills you need to become an entrepreneur? Sign up to become a member of AIESEC now!

Being in Egypt through the Crisis: A Lesson in Leadership for a Youth Organisation

Why a youth-led organisation brought 800 young people to Egypt in the midst of its worst political turmoil since the Revolution of 2011.

It started with a dream. The global team of AIESEC had spent weeks discussing the issues the world is facing today, and the type of leadership that the world needs to overcome them. We wanted to make sure our organisation was contributing to changing the world through changing its leadership. The best way to do this was to have the world in one room – young leaders from 124 countries in one place to engage, discuss, connect and create the movement they would lead together.

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Over our 65 years of existence, the mission of our organisation had been tried and tested. But we were not prepared for it to be challenged to its core while we were leading it.

The location for AIESEC’s 65th International Congress had been chosen in early 2012, by our 100,000 members of students and recent graduates from across the world. Our different member countries are able to put forward bids to host the conference, and the bids are then voted upon – very similar to the Olympic Games process. The Congress was to take place in Egypt – the cradle of civilisations – and this was decided months after the Revolution of 2011 that changed the face of the country, the Middle East, and the way the rest of the World would approach change. This would be the first time that AIESEC would hold a conference of this size in the Middle East region, a concept that both inspired and excited the entire network.

The 1400 students managing AIESEC in Egypt saw this as an incredible opportunity to showcase their beautiful country and culture but more importantly to host this important conversation about young people’s role in creating a better world. They immediately got to work on organising the biggest AIESEC conference ever in the best place they could think of, Sharm el-Sheikh – the city of Peace.

Youth Leadership Provider

The demonstrations on the 30th of June in Cairo and the events that followed afterwards changed everything. The country was again in the midst of massive social and political change. Our conversation on the role of youth leadership was more relevant than ever, but our event was on the brink of cancellation. Surrounded by multi-national corporations and countless governments’ advice to enlist a travel ban on Egypt, AIESEC needed to make a decision.

Our organisation was build upon a platform of change. AIESEC came to be after the Second World War, when a group of students decided that the only way to stop history from repeating itself was to ensure cultural understanding in future generations. An internship programme was created so that young people could gain personal and professional experience while discovering a new country and culture. Fast-forward 65 years, and AIESEC is providing over 26,000 young people life changing internship experiences in 124 countries that contribute to their ability to understand the world, their own values and how to take leadership in making change.

The paradox that the crisis in Egypt caused within the organisation was simple – we could either decide to cancel the event due to the leadership crisis the country was facing and the uncertainty it brought managing a large event there or we could to commit to supporting the conversation of how to develop better leaders for Egypt and the World to avoid these situations in the future.

This decision was not an easy one. The entire leadership team of AIESEC International struggled with fully understanding the risks we were undertaking, the true nature of what was happening in Egypt, and the full effects of canceling this conference on the organisation and quite possibly the world. Our first and most important priority was the safety of every single delegate, volunteer and partner that attended our conference. While we may be the executive body of the largest youth-led organisation in the world, we were not experienced enough to make this decision alone.

We invested as much time, energy and money as it took to have the full understanding of the situation. Our President, Rolf Schmachtenberg, even flew to Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh to gain more perspective on the security issues the country was facing. We soon realised that many of the security concerns of the media and different governments were very specific to certain areas within the country, and not affecting Egypt as a whole. In particular, the location of our conference was unaffected by the situation. After gaining insight, reports and perspectives from our own trips and hired professional risk assessment specialists, we decided that with some diligent to our original plans and some extra security measures, the location of our conference was as safe for our delegates.

With all of this information and support, we decided to take a bold stand and move forward with the congress in Egypt.

While we made this decision, it did not necessarily make going to Egypt much easier for the team or our delegates. With every new event in the media came a phone call from our family and friends, worried about our safety and asking us why risk going to Egypt. Some delegates were even asked to not attend by their parents. Every concern expressed to us made us re-evaluate our decision over again in our minds.

But there is a strong reason why 800 young people made the active decision to continue on this journey to Egypt. For some of them, doubt may never have entered their mind at all and they were looking forward to the trip to Egypt all year. For others, they questioned themselves until the moment they made it home safe and sound. But for one moment, in the closing hours of the conference, every delegate knew exactly why he or she were there.

Closing Plenary 1

It was a moment where 100 Egyptian delegates and organisers were asked to stand in the center of the room with 700 of the international delegates circled around them. I was part of the international group, staring inwards at this group of Egyptians who looked exhausted after not sleeping for 10 days because they were working endlessly to organise the conference. This group did not disappoint all week, even when some of the worst events in their country’s history were taking place just a few hours away. Their commitment and purpose in hosting us in their country during this time was unwavering. We all stood in appreciation and support of this inspiring group of Egyptian youth in front of us while joining together as a global community of young people, regardless of which country we were from, political party we support or religion we practice.

As I stood on the outside looking in, I couldn’t help but feel the power that was around me.

Everyone had their own reason for being in that room, but all of our reasons were connected to our belief in AIESEC creating the leaders the world needs for a stronger future together.

Some were there because they had the courage to be bold; often mistaken in young people for naivety. The bold choice to attend International Congress came from the trust in AIESEC in Egypt and an enhanced sense of adventure that is common in AIESEC members.

Some were there because they were informed and engaged in what was happening in Egypt. If you looked beyond what the media was constantly distributing, there were a lack of travel warnings against the Red Sea Resort areas where tourism is a way of life for the citizens who live there.

Some were there because they felt a responsibility to the organisation and to represent their country in the congress.

But all of us were there because of the values we hold and the purpose we carry in bringing young people together from across the world to challenge their mindsets, make meaningful connections across cultural barriers and create smart strategies to develop many more young leaders when we return home.

The power of AIESEC as an organisation is in its ability to provide youth the opportunity to see and experience the world. Because when they are able to experience the world, they can start to understand it; and when they start to understand it, they are able to start changing it.

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Now that all 800 delegates have returned home safely, we want to be able to share our experience in Egypt with the world. International Congress 2013 in Egypt was about more than just the location it was held in. It was and has always been the place where young leaders were born, shaped and influenced. It was the place where AIESEC recommitted to delivering leadership development experiences to one million young people by 2015. International Congress was exactly where it needed to be.

We believe the solution is always better leadership and we will continue to do all we can to make sure the next generation of leaders are ready, across the world, to commit to a better future together. This is why we do what we do. This is how we will change the world. What will your impact be?