A temporary sink in Boyacá, Colombia. one awardee of the COVID-19 Young Leaders Fund is carrying out similar water, sanitation and hygiene work for colombia’s marginalized communities. Laura Olejua/shutterstock
A temporary sink in Boyacá, Colombia. one awardee of the COVID-19 Young Leaders Fund is carrying out similar water, sanitation and hygiene work for colombia’s marginalized communities. Laura Olejua/shutterstock

One clear lesson the pandemic has taught the world is the importance of strong leadership. Places that have it can point to flattened curves and doors that have slowly but safely reopened.

One organization isn’t leaving leadership during the next global crisis to chance, building a pipeline of the best and the brightest now.

One Young World, a registered charity in England and Wales, is a global forum for young leaders whose signature events attract boldface names and big-name funders. The organization holds two beliefs concurrently: A failure of leadership sits at the heart of today’s global threats, and the next generation is among the most “educated, connected and informed in human history.”

The organization’s mission is connecting those two truths by identifying and championing young standouts, and helping them become empowered, effective leaders.

As the pandemic spread around the globe, One Young World created a first-of-its-kind fund to put young leaders on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight, backed by funding from Z Zurich Foundation—the Zurich Insurance Group’s primary global community investment vehicle—along with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Way. Its first cohort was announced in May. The second was announced this month.

One Young World

One Young World is best known for convening annual Davos-esque forums of young people in major international cities, from Zurich to Bangkok. Roughly 2,000 delegates from more than 190 countries spend several days exploring global issues and connecting to dozens of leaders from all walks of life that it calls “counselors.”

Previous summits drew main-stage speakers like famed primatologist Jane Goodall, Nobel peace laureate and micro-financing pioneer Muhammad Yunus, Meghan Markle and J.K. Rowling.

Scholarship slots are extremely competitive. Last year, One Young World received more than 50,000 applications for just 440 places. The who’s who of companies that have sponsored delegates include Accenture, BMW, BNP Paribas, Chanel, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, Facebook, GE, Google, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal, McKinsey, Unilever and Verizon.

At the end of the proceedings, delegates become One Young World Ambassadors, joining a force of more than 12,000 other alumni working to create change locally.

Backing Young Leaders in a Pandemic

The organization’s pandemic response acted on internal research showing that two out of three young people felt government wasn’t adequately addressing their coronavirus concerns, and that nearly three-quarters were willing to lead solutions. This resulted in the launch of a COVID-19 Young Leaders Fund to help its ambassadors activate locally.

Over time, the fund expects to provide “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in immediate financing for young leaders’ projects across countries and sectors, and to support an advocacy platform for young people. Recipients receive between $5,000 and $10,000.

Jenifer Colpas, part of the second cohort of projects and leaders announced in July, discovered One Young World in 2017, when its summit was held in Colombia and a call went out for young leaders. Impressed that an event “of such magnitude” was being held in her country, she applied, and was rewarded by scholarships that allowed her to attend the last three summits.

Four years ago, Colpas co-founded Tierra Grata to help people marginalized by Colombia’s civil war gain access to clean energy, safe water and sanitation. The pandemic prompted a restructuring of its safe water and sanitation work to establish a “WASH for all, WASH for life” program that includes water access and workshops promoting good hygiene.

Also in the cohort are Farhad Wajdi, who founded the NGO Ebtakar Inspiring Entrepreneurs of Afghanistan to keep women employed by converting the solar-powered food carts they used before lockdown to disinfectant and sanitation carts. Selin Benjamin Bocio Richardson and his organization FUMEBO received funding to provide PPE to frontline healthcare workers in the Dominican Republic. And Obinna Victor Eze’s organization, 360degreeHealth NETwork, also got the nod to provide essential resources to healthcare workers in Nigeria.

Measuring Success

One Young World measures its ROI in terms of societal value, using a social return on investment (SROI) methodology that attaches monetary value to the positive societal value that ambassador-led projects have in their communities. Each dollar invested is projected to deliver the equivalent of $15 of positive social impact in terms of social, environmental and economic change.

More immediately, Colpas credits being on the front lines with becoming a more resilient and caring leader, saying, “It has put me in a situation where I have learned to adapt quickly to changes,” and that above all, it increased her empathy for the situations the pandemic has created for people in her country.

Share with cohorts