I strongly believe that change starts with individual actions, which start the ripples that leads to major impact.
A great example is my own story. When I was in seventh grade, my teacher took me by the hand and transferred me to an advanced class. She believed that I could achieve more. Thanks to her action, I am here today, participating alongside some of the most impressive nonprofit leaders from across the world and serving in one the oldest international exchange organizations, Youth For Understanding.
Coming from a small coal-mining town in Siberia, it is difficult for kids to dream big. Yet, this teacher taught me to think bigger and to challenge myself to do more.
Right before embarking onto my journey as an Atlas Corps Fellow, I returned to that very same classroom with that same inspirational teacher to talk to the current seventh graders about dreaming big and working hard for their dreams. When I was their age, I could not have even imagined that one day I would in the United States and speaking at the State Department. Now, look, here I am. I plan on returning to that school after my Fellowship to share more with these young students and to inspire them to dream even bigger.
It is important that we never quit dreaming because we can always achieve more. It is the same with civil society—civil society starts with educated youth that are not afraid to dream big. Just looking around this room, I see 80+ individuals who continue to have big visions and inspire one another to also believe in their abilities to forward positive change. It may seem overwhelming to try to solve all the major social issues of the world—we may seem insignificant as individuals. It is as a network that we are going to achieve results.
Russia is a great example. Russia is a country with more than 200 nationalities spread across a vast geographic region. While it is difficult to target the entire country, we can start with youth from small towns like Belovo. They can be a positive force in their own communities, which when united with efforts in the towns of other Fellow countries, will create the ripple effect that leads to major impact.
Dr. Rachel Andresen, who was the founder of Youth for Understanding, visited Amsterdam in 1948. There, she saw the streetlights illuminating the city for the first time after World War II. She was very touched and vowed to do everything she could with her life “so that the lights would never go out again.”
I also vow to light up the kids in my home town with the energy I get during this professional exchange, so that the lights will never go out again.