Obliged to Leave, Obligated to Lead

The world is filled with leaders of all ages. United Way’s CEO’s recent international travel reminded him how important it is that they work together.

“David,” I said.  “What do you mean you were ‘obliged’ to leave your home?”

David is a 20-year-old from Chad whom I recently met in Bogotá, Colombia at One Young World – an annual conference where young leaders from around the world gather to learn and share ideas to create positive change.

“They came and told us to leave,” he replied.  “There was no choice.  But I was lucky.  I was able to find a school in Cameroon.  Others weren’t so fortunate.”

Most young leaders’ lives don’t start out this way.  But thanks to David’s education, today he is training Chadian children how to protect their increasingly dry environment.  Chad, a landlocked country in Central Africa, is suffering from desertification.  It is harder to find water, grow crops, or make a living.

David is the definition of an inspiring young leader, one of many I met in Colombia.  He has published a book about peace and discrimination and has trained more than 2,500 children how to use renewable resources to adapt to desertification.  He has also joined Chad’s Presidential delegation at multiple climate change conferences worldwide.

My trip to Bogotá was part of a longer set of journeys.  Before traveling to Colombia – where I also had the pleasure of meeting with our local United Way, Dividendo por Colombia, and the Colombian Minister of Education – I visited Romania for United Way’s annual Roundtable on Philanthropy. 


The Roundtable on Philanthropy brings together business and philanthropic leaders from all over the world to build momentum behind efforts to strengthen communities.  These leaders, successful in business and life, have the means and desire to improve our society.  As a group, we discussed ways to create greater economic opportunity for all and the importance of overcoming traditional divisions and labels.

Labels remained on my mind the following week at One Young World when I spoke to David and other young delegates.  Admittedly, I wasn’t sure how to address them.  On one hand, some were still in their teenage years.  On the other hand, they were incredibly accomplished, and it didn’t seem right to refer to them as “boys and girls.”

I decided to call them “fellow humans,” and told them that our society would be better off if we drop the labels and biases that shape how we perceive each other. 

I said that we need the most accomplished business, government and philanthropic leaders to work with the Davids of the world.  That we need Roundtable participants to hear the same energetic passion and ideas that I was hearing at One Young World.  And that all of our futures will be better if individuals and institutions work together, instead of apart.

There are no limits.  Our stronger, more prosperous future can stretch around the world, from Chad to Colombia to Romania.  During my travels, I met people of all ages and backgrounds committed to making that vision a reality.