There is just something about being in a foreign environment that sends your senses into overdrive; makes you hyper-aware of even the smallest details. Perhaps more importantly, I started to become aware of the little things I took for granted at home – the sun on my back, the spice in my food, even the color of my fellow countrymen.
That day, Oslo had its first snow day of winter. I had my first snow day ever
Indeed, it was at the Telenor Youth Summit that I truly learned to appreciate Malaysia’s multi-ethnic culture. There is simply no other country – Asian or otherwise – that can boast of such a layered melting pot of beliefs, traditions and lifestyles. Most countries’ populations are homogenous, and as a result, are only accustomed to a certain way of life. Malaysians should be proud of the hodgepodge upbringing that led to the formation of our present-day skill-sets. Our ability to intuitively understand each other’s customs, adapt to almost any kind of palate, and switch between languages at the drop of a hat was invaluable throughout our journey as Telenor Youth Summit participants.
The Telenor Youth Summit was a gathering like no other. Due to the small number of participants, we had the opportunity to truly understand and empathize with each other’s causes.What impressed me the most was each delegate’s inherent comprehension of their chosen domain. Be it technology, agriculture, or women empowerment, the delegates had all the necessary data to back their claims.
This truly gave me an insight into the relevance of having country-specific expertise. In our quest for globalization, we tend to overlook how every country has its own version of a problem. The overarching issue may be one and the same, but the cultural, demographical and geographical context will most definitely vary – something we should all be aware of.
Let’s take the issue of healthcare, for instance. In Norway, their great, sprawling lands make healthcare inaccessible for the elderly, as it is difficult for them to travel long distances. In Sweden, the usage of a single language in administrative healthcare makes it inaccessible for the hundreds of minority races who converse solely in their mother tongue. Both Scandinavian countries face the issue of inaccessible healthcare, but in vastly different ways. To generalize and say, “I want to improve Scandinavian healthcare” would entail plugging a cookie-cutter solution – one that ultimately solves nothing. Thus, if we were to make a change in any society, we must go down to the grassroots level, where we can tackle the problem from the ground up.
The Telenor Youth Summit participants exemplified that spirit, most of them having validated their mobile applications with the marginalized communities they were representing. It coincided with the celebration of 2013’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, an unsung hero for many years. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been engaging in the destruction of chemical weapons since 1997. They have gone about their duties silently and efficiently, destroying over 50,000 tonnes of chemical stockpile before finally being recognized for their efforts.
Being a social entrepreneur is similar to that: years of tireless work serving a cause, with little to no acknowledgement. However, it is this kind of ‘unsexy’ work that makes the greatest difference in the long run – which is why we choose to do it.
The most powerful moment for me came right in the middle of the programme. It was during the World Café exercise, in which we had to cluster together in small groups and brainstorm on different topics. My group’s topic was ‘Envisioning a Perfect Future’; and really, with a topic as broad as this, what were the odds of us coming to a consensus? But we did – not only did we have similar input, but our agreement on the final outcome was unanimous.
Just imagine. Young leaders – from Bulgaria and Montenegro, all the way to Bangladesh and Thailand – sharing the exact same vision for the future. That was when I knew we had hope.