Key Takeaways from Plan International Canada's Youth Summit
Amir Said | Calgary, Canada
In today’s times of political uncertainty, lots of young people are left to wonder what their place is in society. After all, aren’t we supposed to be the changemakers of the future? Plan International Canada’s 2023 Youth Summit made me realize that that’s not true: youth are the changemakers of today.
I had the opportunity to attend the 2023 Youth Summit in Toronto and Brampton from May 25th to 28th. As a youth advocate from the Prairies, I accepted my invitation to attend the event alongside 29 fellow advocates from across Canada. Out of over 200 applicants, I had been selected. I pride myself on my work and experiences, but when I actually got to the summit and met my fellow delegates, my outlook on youth advocacy, and even life itself, was changed forever.
It’s an understatement to say that I felt like a small fish in a big pond. Before moving to Calgary, I had lived, studied, and worked in Regina, Saskatchewan, where, as you can probably imagine, there’s not too much opportunity for an extremely ambitious young changemaker and global citizen like myself. I always felt like a big fish in a small pond. I had moved to Calgary looking for new opportunities, and felt content with that atmosphere. After getting to Toronto, that feeling did a complete 360, and I realized how much more there is for me to do as a youth advocate.
I met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met: published authors, award-winning nonprofit founders, influencers with hundreds of thousands of followers, the list goes on. What really inspired me was the fact that they were all around my age or younger.
The event started in Toronto with the Storytellers Symposium, which was attended by leaders from across Canada including executive directors of prominent non-profits and even Members of Parliament. I got to meet some extremely influential people and watched some truly impactful performances from young leaders.
Right after, we went to Brampton, where we would stay for the weekend as participants of the youth summit. Through a series of speakers and workshops, 30 changemakers, including myself, got to share their expertise and learn.
Everyone there was at a different stage of their advocacy journey: some were high-schoolers away from home for the first time ever, while others were medical school students with nonprofits impacting tens of thousands of people.
One thing I noticed was that over half of the attendees lived in Ontario; I realized through networking with everybody that people living in Ontario have countless opportunities for professional development and advocacy experience, while us out in the prairies don’t have nearly as much of that. Having the opportunity to attend the summit was truly a special opportunity for the handful of delegates from Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, but to truly reach new heights in youth advocacy and get on the same level as the highly-accomplished advocates and leaders from Ontario, we need to see changes out in the prairies.
What’s holding us back? Political climate, a lack of funding for youth-focused organizations, and a lack of communication or support from bigger provinces and organizations all came up in our lengthy conversations on the subject, but we’ll have to do much more research and work to narrow down what the causes and potential solutions of this issue are.
Lots of people talked about “imposter syndrome” and I can't deny not feeling it myself, but I think the actual outcome of meeting everyone and taking part in the summit was genuinely feeling inspired to do more. I had always been an ambitious person, but after the summit I found myself feeling a way I never had before. It was almost as though a spark had been ignited inside me, pushing me to do more.
I can confidently say that what I learned and the connections I made at the summit will stay with me forever as I continue to embark on my advocacy journey. Now that I’m back in Calgary, I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and apply it to bettering my community.