Inside the Global Citizens Summit for Youth | Aga Khan Academies

Inside the Global Citizens Summit for Youth

It all started with an email sent to the entire Diploma Programme (DP) 1 class, which led to Karishma Bhagani, currently a DP2 student at the Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa, signing up for the opportunity of a lifetime. “I applied, waited for a response, got in, and applied for the financial aid.…It was like going through a university application, so it was good practice for me!” she jokes. Her modest answer, however, glosses over her achievement.

Karishma was one of 24 students selected to attend the 2014 Global Citizens Summit for Youth in Boston, USA, hosted at the Harvard University Faculty Club. She was the only Kenyan to be selected and was one of four students from Africa. What’s more, she was awarded one of only five international scholarships to attend the programme. 

Organised by the founder of the Global Citizens Initiative, Yumi M. Kuwana, the summit is aimed at engaging young global leaders to make an impact in their communities, and eventually broaden their horizons to the rest of the world. The 2014 summit brought together students of different nationalities, faculty members from Phillips Exeter Academy, multiple teaching assistants, and keynote speakers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The summit was structured in a week-long classroom/seminar environment. “It was formal and informal at the same time,” reflects Karishma. “We would find ourselves walking out of class talking about things you wouldn’t typically talk about during break time, so in that way I think I was well prepared because this is the kind of stuff we do at the Academy all the time!”

A Day at the Summit

Each day of the conference revolved around a particular idea. The seminars, which were held in the mornings, focused on four topics – ethics, leadership, engagement and identity. “Each of them was geared toward looking at us,” she explains. “Our personal, local, and global contexts and how we could impact the world through each of these four main areas.”

The afternoon sessions were devoted to "glocal" projects, which are local projects that have global significance. “This is where I got to showcase my Personal Project, which was the creation of a cost-effective water purifier,” Karishma says proudly. “This opportunity allowed me to carry my Personal Project from MYP [Middle Years Programme] to DP and then all the way to Harvard! I just have to keep in touch now and find out if we can take it all the way.”

Karishma’s selection for the summit was due in part to her innovative MYP Personal Project. Two years ago, she recognised the need for clean water in urban slum areas as a way of reducing illness and disease in children. She developed a low-cost purifier to address the issue, and since then she has gone on to forge partnerships with the local county government and the Aga Khan Foundation to mass-produce and distribute the purifier. This project led Karishma to win a gold medal at the Golden Climate International Environmental Project Olympiad. A model of her water purifier has also been accepted by, and she hopes to work with them to launch her project on a wider scale.

In the evenings at the summit, a culturally varied dinner was followed by keynote speeches from several highly respected individuals, such as Dr. Howard Gardner, Bruno della Chiesa and Linda Hill. “They spoke about a wide range of topics, such as collective genius and leadership, that I could really trace back to what we learn at the Academy,” says Karishma. 

She notes that the summit experience was a lot like what she might expect as a university student. “The evenings were mostly free, and we would socializse and get to know each other at Irving House where we were staying,” she says. She appreciates the closeness she felt with the other participants, and the interaction she was able to have with students like herself, as well as respected academics from such diverse cultures and backgrounds.

Taking the Learning Forward

Karishma and the rest of her peers are now ambassadors for the summit, and keep in touch through social media. In particular, she recalls one participant from Iran who was raising awareness about water in her community who took particular interest in Karishma’s water purifier. The two hope to collaborate to extend their local projects to yield "glocal" solutions.

When asked how this experience has prepared her for life after school, Karishma emphatically underlines its importance: “This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home. Now, not only do I have the experience of expressing myself in this comfortable, homely environment that I’ve been brought up in, but I can venture beyond it and say the same things in the same way without being afraid.”

You can read Karishma’s detailed account of the conference here.

By Sarra Sheikh

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