Students and young adults have an indispensable role in shaping tomorrow. Moreover, young people have an increasingly strong voice in shaping the world of today. Youth today are more engaged in local and global communities than ever before. National Entrepreneurship Month Research has shown that 13% of entrepreneurs start their first business at age 18 or younger. As well, Youth.gov reports that more and more youth are becoming involved in community engagement projects and political activities. Even on social media, youth are taking a stance for issues they believe in, and calling upon their networks to make a difference. We believe that local community leaders have the obligation to provide young people with the tools they need to be empowered where they are now, and grow into who they will one day become. It was from this knowledge that the Global Ties KC Youth Diplomats program was born.
The Youth Diplomats program aims to activate the next generation of global citizens right here in Kansas City, specifically by working with local high school students that have a vested interest in international affairs and diplomacy. This nine-month experiential learning program equips teens in Kansas and Missouri with the tools necessary for success in a global society. Once a month, the students meet to explore important topics together such as global affairs, diplomacy, cross-cultural communication, networking skills, and more. These discussions challenge students to think beyond their own conceptions of the world and to consider the stories and perspectives of their (youth) diplomatic counterparts. In addition to this dialogue, students gain hands-on experience as they participate in projects alongside international visitors in Kansas City. Each element of this program aims to empower youth in the Midwest to be active members of their communities and to be leading global citizens.
During the 2019-2020 inaugural year, 26 students from 16 schools across the greater KC metro came together to learn. Activities throughout the year included 6 in-person and 2 formal online events, connecting student participants to students and leaders from across the US and across the country. As well, students were able to participate in our Global Spokes series, online Global Trivia, and even mock interviews to help career readiness. From these experiences, a few key program successes include resume building, cultural training, workshops with the Truman Presidential Library, volunteering with students from France, and – most notably – a reception with International Organization and NATO leaders working in nuclear deterrence and disarmament policies.
Each element of the curriculum was designed to provide students with meaningful experiences that contribute to their capabilities as strong leaders. We value hearing that across the board, these diplomats expressed how participating in this program helped provide them important skills, introduced them to new career paths, and taught them the real value of curiosity and cross-cultural engagement. Youth Diplomat Navaeh Scott said it best – the program helps young people become better citizen diplomats by letting students meet examples of great citizen diplomats in their hometowns.
As well, participant Jada Hall also noted how the program helped her realize the importance of getting in contact with her community, whether that community is local or global. She says that it taught her “things as simple as learning to approach someone from a different culture in a respectful way or even doing community service helps to make someone a good citizen.” She’s right – being a good citizen is often about the little things we do at home to connect with our neighbors. As well, when asking students for their biggest takeaways from the program, Aidan Joyce writes that “I think the biggest takeaways from the program are awareness, research, and vulnerability. Having awareness of culture is of the utmost importance when working in the international field, as well as being able to research. However, out of all of those, the most important was vulnerability. No one person can know everything about everyone, so one must be vulnerable to learn in new environments.”
Being well-researched and informed is important, but it is equally essential to be vulnerable when we are in unfamiliar territory. It is good to admit when we don’t know something and that our knowledge is imperfect – and to then grow and learn, particularly about new cultures and places. Time and time again, our Youth Diplomats remind us of what really matters as citizen diplomats, and as global citizens: getting involved in our communities and being willing to learn more about the world around us. Their messages remind us that we cannot wait to begin giving youth the tools they need to amplify these messages, and to connect them to opportunities – the time is now.
Now more than ever before, it is important that we develop as a society filled with active citizens. This means providing future leaders with the tools, resources, connections, training, and emotional support to empower them to lead. Let us know your thoughts and what you are doing. We’d love to have you join us in our project, but also let us know how we can help you with yours. We can’t wait to see how students from the first class of Kansas City Youth Diplomats go on to change the globe. These young leaders are destined to be lawyers, doctors, politicians, and business and community leaders. We are inspired to think that they’ll be going into whatever fields of influence they choose with a deeper understanding of their role as global citizens, and with new tools and a passion for serving humanity.
If you are interested in meeting with Global Ties KC’s Youth Diplomats cohort, or you have suggestions for programming or contacts, we hope to hear from you. Additionally, we are looking for enthusiastic student participants for the 2020-2021 cohort! Find more information and apply at www.globaltieskc.org/youthdiplomats