On 25th – 28th August 2014, Executive Director Talyn Rahman-Figueroa was invited as a special guest speaker to the Future Leaders Congress in Vlore, Albania.

The Congress was not only an occasion for young people to socialise with far-reaching neighbours, but also an opportunity for participants as young as 16 years old to present practical ideas on issues using science, social media, diplomacy, and education.

A small country in Southeast Europe, Albania is currently undergoing a transition. Having successfully been accepted as an official candidate to the European Union, Albania has much work to do in re-branding its nation as one that is open and available for trade and dialogue. During the three-hour drive from Tirana to Vlore, it was clear that vast investment was necessary to improve Albania’s infrastructure and public roads. On several occasions, local Albanians would lament over their government’s decision to cut spending on building projects. The results of these choices by the government have left projects unfinished, and many able-bodied workers unemployed.

However, should any politician have participated in this congress, they could have witnessed for themselves how eager, motivated, and surprisingly active young Balkans are in wanting to improve their environment and social image to their international neighbours.

The objective of the Future Leaders Congress was clear: to encourage young people to seriously improve upon their projects and take their ideas to a bigger platform – a platform that Grassroot Diplomat very much wants to create for civil society.

As a young leader of diplomacy, Talyn provided nuggets of wisdom in the opening ceremony about how every individual has the potential to become a great leader once tools of self-criticism are implemented.

On a humorous note, Talyn started off by saying, “I am not a natural born leader. In fact, I am impatient, impulsive, easily frustrated, and am very hard to please – but what seems like negative qualities are actually reasons why I push myself so hard and have high expectations.”

She went on to conclude, “Too often, many of us unknowingly do things without really knowing why, but being able to articulate reasons behind your reaction, your decisions, your actions, is a trait of a good leader... Engage, react, then act.”

While Albania, through no fault of its own, remains somewhat closed off to the international society, it was encouraging to see all of the participants sharing the same enthusiasm in wanting to deliver practical solutions to social issues. Participation was not just limited to those living in the Balkans, but also included young leaders from Russia, Tanzania, Ukraine, India, Egypt, Brazil, Romania, and Turkey.

On a peer-to-peer level, presenters from various countries were provided a platform to showcase their projects and ideas to each other. At the end of the conference, the most plausible project would be presented with a prize of up to 1,000 Euros. The three winning presentations provided outstanding, as well as very marketable, solutions that could be implemented in any country of the world.

It was amazing to listen to the achievements of Tenith Adithyaa, a 16-year-old Indian entrepreneur who created and patented Banana Leaf Technology. From the age of nine, young Tenith was inspired to make use of biodegradable banana leafs by creating a technology that preserved the leafs for up to a year whilst also increasing its durability, flexibility, and “crushability”. His technology now enables banana leafs to be turned into cheap household goods, such as cups and plates, without harming the environment.

Eniselda Tusku from Albania presented a charmingly innovative idea of planting nectar, cornflower, and flowering trees around highly-polluted factories. According to her experiments, the selected flowers absorb the highest rate of CO2 emissions in highly polluted areas, providing a cheap and short-term solution to an ongoing global problem.

Zainab Elkheshen from Egypt was the final winner. She presented a well-received project of starting up Peace Camps for children in the Middle East, promoting peace, justice, and compassion through recreation, education, and leadership development.

As echoed by guest speaker Murat Daudov of the Middle East Development Network, behavioural traits and habits start at a young age, and the more one exposes oneself to learning and understanding, the better and wiser one becomes in adulthood.

Projects presented by each young leader sparked a great interest for Grassroot Diplomat to facilitate better communication with governments around the world. The Congress not only demonstrated how gifted and talented young people are in creating plausible solutions, but also left concerns on how difficult it was for young social innovators to be taken seriously by their government counterparts.

Grassroot Diplomat intends to create a platform whereby the best social innovators have the opportunity to present their solutions to willing government officials and will be contacting these young people, and many others, to ensure that the best ideas are provided with adequate space for growth. 

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