From 2-5 October 2013, ANU economics and law undergraduate student Jeeven Nadanakumar represented Australia at the One Young World Summit in South Africa.
On the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, 1,300 young people from across the globe, strangers to each other and to an ancient land, descended from their buses and frantically searched for a symbol of familiarity amongst 190 national flags waiting on display. In the distance, the FNB Soccer City Stadium stood tall and majestic, its terracotta panels reflecting the vibrant African sunset.
As we made our way into the vast and imposing arena, 8,000 school children from Soweto danced to the resounding beat of drums, bringing the stadium to life as they waved and blew their vuvuzelas. Our hearts were pounding, our eyes wide in awe at their welcome to Africa. The whole world was here.
This was the opening ceremony of the 4thOne Young World Summit. It was an immensely proud moment to be representing Australia and ANU internationally alongside the brightest young leaders from almost every nation.
One by one, the crowd cheered and applauded each of the keynote speakers as they took their place on stage: Kofi Annan, Richard Branson, Bob Geldof - just to name a few. The highlight of the night was feeling Muhammad Yunus' voice echo through the stadium, "Each one of you has the power to change the world. Feel that power inside of you!"
And power is exactly what I felt over the next three days as we rubbed shoulders with some of the world's most prominent thinkers and leaders to discuss and debate the major issues facing our world and generation today. Education, women's equality, poverty and sustainable development, the food revolution, politics and governance, sport and society, climate change, the rise of Africa, business and social entrepreneurship, combatting HIV/AIDS and malaria, the role of the media, global collaboration, the power of protest and the promises of a digital economy.
From CEOs of global corporations to rock stars and even an astronaut, it was a privilege to hear directly from speakers including Arianna Huffington, Jamie Oliver, Boris Becker, Ron Garran, Ahmed Kathrada, Blake Mycoskie, Lily Cole, Sheryl Sandberg and others.
The most inspiring experience of all was hearing from fellow delegates who spoke about the initiatives they've begun in their home countries to help create positive change. We were reduced to tears as a young lady spoke candidly about how she recovered from being raped and while a girl from Syria pleaded with us to welcome refugees in our countries. We stood for ovations as the youngest Indian politician explained how he has started to fight corruption and as Professor Yunus introduced four delegates whose lives changed after their families were given microcredit loans from his bank as children. The greatest motivation however came from former delegates who became young social entrepreneurs, fuelling their small idea with passion to see their work making a difference in countries across the world.
Over four days, we broadened our horizons and networks. We were inspired by each other and by all the possibilities that started to seem more achievable. And in between, we got a real taste of Africa as we rose to the top of the highest building on the continent and (rather courageously) patted sleeping lion cubs at a game reserve.
At the closing ceremony, Winnie Mandela bellowed the apartheid war cry "Amandla!" (power) to which the crowd shouted "Ngawethu!" (to the people). It was incredibly uplifting to be standing amongst 1,300 others, declaring, with such force and conviction, our commitment to use the power we possess for social good - not just as youth, but as future leaders of the world.
I'm excited about the journey I will soon begin as a One Young World Ambassador and as a voice for young Australians. To quote the words of advice we received from Bob Geldof, its time to "just f****** get on with it!"
View the Summit highlights at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9Kq8-0GWf4#t=50