Some of our Change Makers attempting a traditional Moroccan Dance last week. I cut quite a dashing figure doing the waltz!!
Last week an incredible event took place in Morocco. It was the first ever meeting of Presidents and officers of world Merit National Councils. We met with people from 23 different countries plus a large contingent from the local ‘councils’ of Morocco.
So, what is World Merit and why is it important?
World Merit is recognised by the United Nations as the pre-eminent global body involving young people in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals which are the global targets for improvement established by the UN with the support of every Country to take us up to 2030. These targets cover almost every aspect of life; from tackling illiteracy to dealing with the gender gap; from looking at problems of land pollution to looking at problems of water pollution; from dealing with gross inequality of resources and opportunities to fighting for better health provision.
Some people think that these targets are just for the ‘third world’. I prefer to think that they are for the developing world and that we all need to develop no matter how wealthy our Countries or cities might be in relative or practical terms. We can all do things better.
World Merit was established by Chris Arnold and its very small HQ is Liverpool based with 4 full time staff and 3 interns (soon to be made staff members). We also have staff in Holland, India and Ireland. I have recently become the Chair of one of the three operating companies within our informal group structure. This is the UK charity through which most of our work is done. We will never be a big charity with a lot of expensive staff. Our job is not to direct or control people but to help them find their own solutions in their own country and community.
How does it work? Well you can have a look at it in detail at our website www.worldmerit.org. Some of our big events which we call Merit 360 can be found at www.merit360.org. This year we will be having three big events which will take young people to the Philippines; the UK and the USA. Here they will talk to local; national and global politicians; NGO leaders and other opinion formers.
We call our active members ‘Change Makers’ because that is what they do. Using the SDGs as a guide they engage with activities in their own communities to improve some of the local conditions. Some of them go on to use local experience in their own nations and to talk to their own legislators, charities and regional and local governments. Some go on to talk at events at the UN or the HQs of major corporate businesses like Cap-Gemini or Apple or take part if programmes at leading education centres such as Harvard.
I love being involved because it helps me recharge my own batteries., Whilst in Morocco (and I could not stay for the whole conference) I was able to talk to them about how young people could get involved in politics and start to influence the political programme in their communities by dialogue with their Mayors, MPs and Ministers. There was a real thirst for democracy in the meeting.
I spent an hour with some young women from Saudi Arabia who are in the vanguard of change in their Country. They are pleased that the Government of their Country is moving that Country in a more ‘liberal’ directions. They believe that by being involved in an organisation like World Merit they can learn more from other young people and can then adapt that knowledge to their own circumstances.
Similarly, I spoke with young people from the Philippines, Pakistan, the USA, the UK; Brazil; Belize and Holland about what they are doing and what they want to do. The circumstances between the Countries mentioned are very, very different but the desire from the young men and women in all those countries to change systems for the better was both shared and vibrant.
I think vibrant is the key word that I use to describe World Merit. To go and spend time with 200+ change makers is fantastic. Too many people say that young people aren’t interested in politics or the World. They are materialistic and wish only to spend their time in the shops or on their IT equipment. That is true for too many young people but World Merit shows that it is not true for all young people and does not have to be true for the majority. If you could bottle the energy of our change makers and release it community by community across the World you can make huge changes in every community and by doing that make huge changes in the World as a whole.
That, in essence, is what World Merit does. We don’t tell people what do but we do help them both by sharing our own experiences and letting them share their own experiences with each other. I heard story after story whilst in Morocco about how being involved in World Merit had both helped with the personal development of our change makers and through them the changes they had made in their community.
If you want to be a change maker just go onto the website; register and take it from there. If you are from an organisation which would like to develop change makers in your own community please let me know at email@example.com.
It’s a truism that young people are the future. As I reach the end of my political life (not quite yet I hope!) I believe it is my responsibility and the responsibility of my generation to bring new people and new ideas forward. World Merit and the development of a young councillor’s programme within the Lib Dems are my two ways of doing this.
What are you doing to engage young people in the development of actions and programmes so that they, in time, can take your place?