Why Multiculturalism Matters for Local and Global Youth Leadership
How can multiculturalism empower people of many races, ethnicities and cultures to live and work in harmony not only in the US but also around the world? Our efforts started with the Youth Leadership Initiative (YLI), a multicultural, community leadership program for local youth in Minnesota that has expanded globally to Asia, Africa, South America and Europe over the last ten years. Through high school exchange programs and workshops with professional visitors from youth organizations, we have fostered a positive, cross-cultural, global community dedicated to developing and empowering youth using YLI’s program model. At the core of this program, specifically designed for diverse 14-18 year olds, is the exploration of their own culture and traditions and how it impacts their future as a community leader while living in a multicultural society.
Multiculturalism can exist everywhere, not just in the US
Through our formal training, workshops and consultations with adults and youth from around the world, we have shown what a multicultural community means by debunking the myth of America as a single narrative. And we do this with the following guiding principles of youth leadership development:
- Accept each other for who we are
- Work across cultures
- Respect one another
- Speak out for one another
- Be allies for each other
Furthermore, while working with our exchange students and international visitors, it is a good reminder that what the Youth Leadership Initiative program is doing is incredibly important not just for Minnesota or the U.S., but globally. The U.S. is not the only country where diverse communities coexist. As of 2017, an estimated 258 million people live in a country other than the country of birth, a 49% increase since 2000, according to an international migration report by the UN.
Capacity-building for youth organizations spans the globe
Most recently, YLI visitors from Kenya, Trinidad and Tobago were inspired and excited to bring lessons learned from our Youth Leadership Initiative model back to their youths, but their final question to us was: “When can you come to our country to meet our young people and help us implement some of these strategies?
While we have no immediate plans to visit these countries, we are busy sharing our best practices to help other youth organizations meet their goals around the world. Since 2007, YLI youth and staff have shared our approach with more than 3,000 individuals in Minnesota alone. And internationally, our capacity-building efforts span the globe for partner organizations from Hungary, Germany, Russia, France, South Africa, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Palestine, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, China, Japan, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Colombia, India, Bolivia, Kenya, Trinidad, and Tobago.
Local and global youth leadership partners help us learn their perspective
Not only has the Youth Leadership Initiative helped us multiply our impact and extend our reach far and wide, but we have also learned from our local, national and international partners. Every year our exchange students educate us about their culture, perspective and the realities of their country, especially the opportunities for young people. For example, every year that a participant from an Arab country joins YLI, many of our youth participants ask “What’s an Arab and how is that different from a Muslim?”
At the end of the day, the YLI program is about inspiring individuals, whether youth or adults, to dream more, live more, have courage to speak up, and to keep investing in our increasingly diverse communities of tomorrow. I have a core belief that it is possible to have a better, more caring and just world, where we all matter. YLI is where this begins for me!
Nou Yang is the Program Director of the Youth Leadership Initiative, a Wilder community leadership program. Her work spans leading youth leadership development programs, providing training and technical support to organizations, crisis intervention services to families and vulnerable adults, and gender equity work. A Hmong refugee woman, Nou believes deeply that all people have value and growth happens through reflection, listening and dialogue.