Teen Activist Malala Wows at the Social Good Summit
there are people out there trying to change the world and i have the opportunity to join them.
By Ashley Mungiguerra, Hofstra University
As world leaders and dignitaries descended upon New York City for the United Nations General Assembly in late September, farther uptown at the 92nd street Y people gathered for the Social Good Summit, presented by the UN and Mashable. The three-day summit brought together nearly one-hundred activists, journalists, and movers-and-shakers to discuss new ways of thinking and solving global issues. The summit’s hashtag, #2030NOW, emphasizes the goal of changing the world within our lifetimes.
The summit featured speakers from every profession, including writer and activist Marianne Pearl (wife of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl), former Vice President Al Gore, Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, actor Ian Somerhalder, and entrepreneur and space-enthusiast Sir Richard Branson. Every panel featured a cast of incredible thinkers, all with a fierce desire to change the world we live in.
One panel focused on the role of millennials (aka my generation). “Young, Global, and Connected,” featuring speakers such as Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, reminded me how much influence we have. I can send out a tweet and it has the potential to reach every single person with a Twitter account- though I usually only manage a few retweets. However, I’m not a big fan of the name- a friend of mine also attending the summit tweeted, “Not sure I like being called a millennial.” Maybe part of our social change can be to change the name?
What struck me the most about the speakers was not their professions, but their ages. So many of them were millennials! Parker Liautaud, a nineteen-year old (that’s my age!) polar explorer spoke with Al Gore about his passion for the arctic and getting kids educated about climate change. Fifteen-year old Jack Andraka found a new way to detect pancreatic cancer. Sixteen-year old Emma Axelrod petitioned the Commission on Presidential Debates to have a female moderator- Candy Crowley was eventually chosen to moderate the second debate, held at my school, Hofstra University. Fifteen-year old Naomi Kodama campaigned for Nothing But Nets, which helps developing countries gain access to inexpensive mosquito nets.
All of these, well, kids had done so many incredible things that it made me feel a little inadequate. But mostly, it made me realize how much suffering exists in the world, and how much I can do to change it. However, one speaker had the biggest impact on the entire audience: Malala.
Sixteen-year old Malala Yousafzai has been speaking out for girls’ education for nearly her entire life. Growing up in the Taliban-stronghold of Swat Valley in Pakistan, Malala was often barred from going to school for her gender. After appearing on major networks, blogging for the BBC since age 11, and making people aware of what was happening to girls in Swat, Malala was shot by the Taliban on October 9, 2012. Flown to England for treatment, Malala recovered, and has now become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee in history. And I got to see her speak.
There was not a major advertising campaign to promote Malala’s appearance at the Social Good Summit, for obvious security reasons and to prevent a media circus. She was quietly tucked into the agenda for Day 2. I wasn’t even aware that she was speaking until I was already at the summit. Needless to say I was excited.
I positioned myself in the third row of the 92Y auditorium, wanting to be as close as possible. Malala came on stage, to a standing ovation, accompanied by her father and Shiza Shahid, Executive Director of The Malala Fund, with Elizabeth Gore, Resident Entrepreneur at the UN Foundation, moderating the conversation.
Malala was, as always, eloquent and inspiring. Her passion for girls’ education- and education for children everywhere- was clearly visible. When asked who is her biggest inspiration, Malala talked about the prophet Mohammed and Martin Luther King Jr., but then turned to the audience and said, “I think you all are my inspiration.” This elicited roaring applause from the crowd, who stood up to honor this young girl who stood up for her rights and the rights of girls around the world.
There is a lot that can be learned from Malala. Even at such a young age she has inspired so many people and is pioneering a cause that is often overlooked. Here in the United States, education is seen as a requirement, something that everyone can and will receive. But in places like Pakistan, many children, especially girls, are prevented from going to school, or don’t even have a schoolhouse to go to. But even this little girl, who has faced everything from prejudice to surviving an attempt on her life by terrorists, can still stand up and fight for her right to an education.
Seeing Malala and other millennials speak about their incredible achievements made me want to do more. While I’m trying to change the world through journalism and through my writing, there is always more to be done. There are people out there trying to change the world and making incredible progress, and I have the opportunity to join them. For now, I can only wait for next year’s Social Good Summit, and see how close we are to reaching that goal of #2030NOW.