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One Young World – four days that changed my life


Paul Polman, Unilever CEO with Shalini Seneviratne

With the CEO of Unilever himself

As clichéd as it may sound, returning from One Young World Summit 2012, I feel different, my life has definitely changed. One Young World (OYW) is an annual summit that brings together young people from around the world to discuss, debate, and work towards finding solutions to global issues. This year the summit for the third consecutive year was held in Pittsburgh, USA and saw an attendance of over 1300 delegates from 183 countries. OYW is the largest youth gathering outside of the Olympics. As a Sri Lankan representing my country and Unilever, the esteemed organization I work for, this prestigious occasion was an honour beyond belief. The premise of OYW is simple, yet colossal – give young leaders of tomorrow a platform to gather together and change the world for the better. The summit focused on 5 key topics: education, sustainable development, leadership & governance, global health, and human rights.

Bill Clinton at One Young World

President Clinton with his keynote address at One Young World 2012

After spending four days in the company of world leaders, past presidents, international business people, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and nominees, and a gathering of young inspirational leaders, it is hard to express in words how profound the experience was for me, l will, nevertheless try. The summit opened with a keynote speech by President Bill Clinton, who not only inspired every individual in the audience, but also tailor-made his speech to touch each and everyone individually. He spoke of the 3 greatest challenges the world is facing: inequality of access to resources, global instability and unsustainable consumption. The theme of his speech was making change sustainable, so that change can have a real impact on people’s lives. He was followed by Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank and the Father of Micro Financing. He inspired the audience by firstly talking of his approach to eradicating poverty in Bangladesh, an initiative that took not only the developing world, but also the developed world by storm! He called on the audience to redesign the system and make the word “unemployment” non-existent. Was he wrong to dream such a daring dream, he questioned.

Muhammad Yunus at OYW Gramin Bank

Muhammad Yunus presenting at One Young World 2012

There really was an element of surrealism as I sat there over the span of 4 days listening to some of the greatest leaders of the world speaking to an audience of inspired youth who were charged up to change the world. I realized that there was no magic skill needed to make a change. One of the most encouraging ideas from OYW was that the skill you hone, no matter how ordinary in nature it may seem, is enough to make a difference. I was touched and amazed by the people who so selflessly give their time and energy to better someone else’s, and most often a stranger’s life. It made me reflect on my own life and what I had done to better the world. To me, this was (and still is) a continuous struggle in my mind, how can I, with a full time job (that I absolutely adore) and with so many other commitments, make a difference? The summit gave me the answer! In the business world, as a networker and as a woman looking to make a difference, it is sometimes too easy to shy away and to let opportunities pass, said Carole Stone, author and BBC broadcaster. She advised that it is always better to make an attempt and be snubbed instead of not trying at all. This really struck a chord with me. After interacting with these inspiring individuals I realized that taking action is what mattered most, in whatever scale. If it’s sustained, it can cause a snowball effect in making lasting change.

Kofi Annan at One Young World

Kofi Annan at One Young World 2012

Kofi Anan who ended the session said that he had more belief in the OYW gathering than he did at the UN in finding solutions to world issues. He even predicted that a future UN Secretary General, in his eyes a female, maybe sitting in this very room. That says a lot about what youth can do, and as the CEO of Unilever Paul Polman said, as young people we get it! This world is not going to last forever unless we do something about it. Finally, as President Clinton put it, none of us are doing social good here; we are making sure we all have a world to live in down the road. Other distinguished speakers at the summit:

Jack Dorsey at One Young World

Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, addressing the gathering at One Young World 2012

Pete Cashmore at OYW

Pete Cashmore, CEO & founder of Mashable speaking at One Young World 2012

Paul Polman at One Young World 2012

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever addressing the gathering at One Young World 2012


Shalini Seneviratne

The three Sri Lankan delegates


Jamie Oliver at One Young World 2012

Jamie Oliver at One Young World 2012


Shalini Seneviratne at One Young World with Rafael Neves

With Rafael at OYW 2012

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Author: Shalini Seneviratne

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  • Assunthaseneviratne

    Shalini we are very proud of you.

  • Kaushiingram

    Very inspiring Shalini.. You are indeed very fortunate! 

  • Iqbal Farah

    Shalini Akki, suuuuper proud to have met you, to spend time with you, and also being able to be a part of your life now.
    You are an amazing person! :)

  • Shalini Seneviratne

    hi all, glad you enjoyed the write up :)