If You Lead With Love and Purpose, Anything is Possible


In November 2023, over 20 young adult and community leaders from Opportunity Youth Forum (OYF) collaboratives in Los Angeles, New Orleans and leaders from Fresh Tracks and Opportunity Youth United joined the Global Opportunity Youth Network (GOYN)’s 4th Annual Global Convening in Mombasa, Kenya, hosted by Swahilipot Hub. Over 4 days and among more than 350 attendees, nearly two-thirds of whom were young leaders, they participated in learning from and with the rapidly growing GOYN network which includes place-based collaborations from 9 communities on four continents.

The contours of local economies are very different comparing, say, rural India to Southern California. But across demographic and cultural differences, the design principles of place-based, cross-sector collaboration, and authentic youth leadership are common approaches to changing the systems that support or constrain young people to achieve their potential, grounded in values of love and community. Through deep dialogue (supported by simultaneous translation!) site visits, and breaking bread, participants gained inspiration to fuel and sustain their leadership back home.

Three intersecting themes emerged: healing, storytelling and resilience. 

1. Healing catalyzes growth – both personal, and economic

Being in Kenya was special for the New Orleans delegation for multiple reasons. The group developed meaningful relationships, learned from global communities, enjoyed a lot of tasty meals, and celebrated the power of young people. They also connected deeply on the dimension of healing. As Michele Seymour, Director of the New Orleans Youth Alliance  Reengagement Center put it when discussing local context in a panel with leaders from Pune, India and Sao Paolo, Brazil and Mombasa :

“We center our work around place based approaches to healing justice: so deeper than just talking about individual healing. Because, unfortunately, we live in a world that has been impacted by imperialism, colonialism, and white supremacy, we can’t just focus on economic mobility: ‘just get the money and you’ll solve the problems’, It’s deeper. It’s about collective healing and transforming institutions and systems that our young people live in.”

Just as striking as were differences between career pathways in the U.S. labor market and the informal economy-dominated Mombasa and GOYN communities were the similarities in the importance of healing to young people who face structural barriers to thriving in life and livelihoods. This includes clinical support and wraparound services – which we heard about in site visits to community organizations working with young people who had experienced substance use disorders and experienced complex trauma.  It also means agency. We heard from young entrepreneurs about how launching business ventures to solve problems in their communities was a way of productively responding to the challenges they faced, from an absence of affordable, durable furniture for classrooms in local schools to eliminating stigma around mental health challenges.  

In pitch competitions and throughout the event, young leaders displayed pride, vision and a fierce sense of ownership for their collective future. In their post-convening reflections, the U.S. delegates shared a sense of gratitude, humility and consistent inspiration to fuel and sustain their leadership upon returning home.

2. Stories can be power

Young people were front and center at the convening! From the young adult MCs to the fact that young people had designed all pieces of the mainstage programming event and made of the majority of participants to the intentional structuring of each workshop, the GOYN convening was rich with the expertise of young leaders serving their communities as researchers, creatives, entrepreneurs, organizers, communications professionals and technologists. When sharing personal experiences, they were invited to share on their own terms, from a place of pride and power. 

Susana Rodriguez, a young leader from Los Angeles was moved by how successfully the event created a shared container for vulnerability with intention:

“This was an experience of no other kind to me, the safe space and environment put forth was so welcoming and empowering, especially meeting other youth who were leaders for this convening. How they organized and put together such a wonderful conference was inspiring.”

GOYN’s 2023 Learning Brief on Authentic Youth Engagement explains how critical it is for adult-led organizations and institutions to engage young people in storytelling with great intention to avoid exploitation or tokenization. This resonates with NOYA’s Youth Engagement Checklist

As Susana put it:

“The fact that [the other young leaders I’ve met here] were able to be resilient no matter how hard an obstacle came to them and fight to be brave and do better for those around them or future generations just shows how youth are not alone. We all experience hardship and we all have a story to share. Sharing your story is important because you never know who it may inspire to just keep going and make a better future for all.”

3. Cultivating resilience requires a systems lens

The convening had the overall theme “Accelerating Inclusive Pathways to Economic Resilience.” Yet participants, especially those from the United States, had a range of associations with the term “resilience” especially when considering individual versus structural contexts (i.e. a resilient labor market or resilient hospitality sector). Opportunity Youth United’s Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America states that “it should not take heroic resilience…for individuals to triumph over systemic barriers.” NOYA’s Michele Seymour referenced New Orleans’ unique history “rooted in African tradition and cultural retention, our ability to thrive is not just resilience, but resistance” to slavery and racism.

Authentic partnerships between young people and adults to determine and advance local priorities and build collaborative infrastructure require leaning into these dynamics, as discussed in this plenary which included leaders from both the GOYN and OYF networks. Fresh Tracks Leader and Wellbeing Project Youth Researcher Zenetta Zepeda further explored the topic through a Re-Centering Youth Resilience panel in dialogue with young leaders from GOYN Barranquilla, GOYN Mombasa, and GOYN Pune, summarized in this Fresh Tracks report.

The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions Team is excited to bring more young leaders and adult allies from New Orleans, Los Angeles and other OYF communities to the next GOYN Convening to be held November 17-22, 2024 in Pune, Maharashtra, India hosted by Lighthouse Communities.

Learn more about the 2023 GOYN Global Convening overall here.