2023–2024 Young Aurora Winner

2023–2024 Young Aurora Winner

“Young Aurora is a reminder of the importance of positive action and the small steps that we can take to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges,” said Faith Abiodun, Executive Director of UWC International, as he kicked off the Aurora Dialogues Online event titled “Facing Reality: Acknowledging Community Challenges” that was held on March 18, 2024. During the event, UWC Changshu China’s Enlightenment project was proclaimed the winner of the 2023–2024 Young Aurora competition. This year’s winning team will receive an impressive $10,000 prize to help grow their project aimed at empowering rural youth from underprivileged backgrounds.

Earlier this year, the pre-selection panel has chosen Pearson College UWC, UWC Changshu China and UWC Mahindra College as the finalists for the 2023–2024 Young Aurora competition. For the three teams’ final online presentation, Mr. Abiodun introduced the Jury that included Anna Afeyan, Co-Founder of Afeyan Foundation; Dalia Atallah, UWCD Alumna; Mirza Dinnayi, 2019 Aurora Prize Laureate and Co-Founder of Air Bridge Iraq; Dele Olojede, Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member and Chairman of the Board, Kashim Ibrahim Fellowship; and Bonita Sharma, Aurora Prize Expert Panel Member and Co-founder and CEO of Social Changemakers and Innovators (SOCHAI).

He then ceded the floor to Veronika Zonabend, Founding Partner and Chair of the Board of Governors of the UWC Dilijan College in Armenia. “As we gather here today, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for seven remarkable years of dedication, innovation, and compassion. <…> I’m glad to say that Young Aurora, a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change, was born in 2017 with a noble purpose – to spur creativity and empathy within young minds, empowering them to confront the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges with courage. And today, it is clear that this mission continues to thrive,” said Mrs. Zonabend before wishing good luck to all the finalists. 

After watching the short videos explaining the essence of each project, the Jury members had a chance to ask the teams for more detailed explanations. Then, it was time for the judges to retire for deliberations, while the moderator introduced the Aurora Dialogues speakers, ready for a discussion on identifying collaborative approaches to addressing humanitarian issues. The panelists included Jamila Afghani, 2022 Aurora Prize Laureate and President of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Afghanistan; Sunitha Krishnan, 2018 Aurora Humanitarian and Co-Founder of Prajwala; Luis Moreno Ocampo, Founding ICC Prosecutor and CEO of Moreno Ocampo; and Paul Polman, Aurora Prize Selection Committee member and business leader. 

When asked about her take on the harsh reality of modern humanitarian crises, including access to education, Jamila Afghani talked about creating and managing a network of underground schools in Afghanistan, which had banned education for girls aged over 11 – the only country in the world to explicitly do that – and about hope that her work gives her. “Hope and struggle are the two wheels of the engine that makes you move ahead. And when I meet the youth getting education in our underground schools, when I talk to them, I see that they have so much talent and energy. If they become the leaders of the future, maybe our society will be a different one,” noted Mrs. Afghani.

Sunitha Krishnan, whose activism was sparked by a personal traumatic experience, talked about harnessing her pain into something useful. “What helped me in my journey was the understanding of two things. [First,] there is an opportunity in every adversity in life. It’s just that we need to open our eyes and see it. The second thing that I’ve realized was not to look out for support, not to look out for power. You need to understand that it’s all within you. It’s right inside you, and you need to awaken that power,” explained Mrs. Krishnan.

Talking about effective strategies to empower communities to advocate for their rights, Luis Moreno Ocampo stated that more innovative solutions should also be used in the humanitarian context, especially whenever and wherever the young people are involved. “We have to find ways to be involved in global problems. Stopping genocide, stopping wars – those are two global issues that we need to address. And because we are working with young people, my suggestion is – can we do TikTok campaigns? <…> I’m engaging different schools, starting a program calling on TikTokers to help stop genocide, to stop wars. And I believe Aurora could help a lot, offering those interested to join this campaign,” said Mr. Moreno Ocampo.

Climate and equalities campaigner Paul Polman further elaborated on this by pointing out that, at this stage of global humanitarian crises, it really should be all hands on deck, and that includes the private sector. “I have always thought that business has an important role to play in society, finding solutions to challenges, bringing new technologies. It has people and resources. The issues that we face are now of such a complex nature that we need everybody. I always focus on the sustainable development goals with an objective to irreversibly eradicate poverty and do it in a more sustainable and equitable way, and it calls out very clearly to not leave anybody behind,” emphasized Mr. Polman.

The moment has come then to name the winners, but before the big announcement, Young Aurora Jury member Dele Olojede addressed all teams. “This is one of those mornings when I feel a lot more optimistic about where things are, because your energy, and your invention, and your innovation, commitment, and enthusiasm for life is proof that we need to reassure us that the future is going to be a lot better than the world that we have handed you this very minute,” said Mr. Olojede.

With all eyes on Anna Afeyan, she thanked the participants and praised them for their optimistic outlook on the issues. “This was a wonderful experience to be able to look at these proposals. It gives us hope in a world that has less hope than usual to offer. We can see with these projects how one person and how young people are convinced that they will change the world, whatever the adults are up to,” noted Anna before naming UWC Changshu China’s Enlightenment project as the winner of the 2023–2024 Young Aurora competition. She also mentioned that the jury was so impressed with all the projects that two runners-up would still receive a small grant to start their crowdfunding. 

The winning team project, Enlightenment, aims to empower rural youth from underprivileged backgrounds, providing them with resources and support to pursue their interests and aspirations. Through discussion-based learning, students identify and address personal and communal challenges, culminating in community-focused initiatives that promote positive change.

Summarizing the event, moderator Faith Abiodun congratulated not only the winners, but also all the teams that participated this year. He went on to thank the Jury members and the panelists for their time and insights by saying: “I am personally reminded of a very powerful truth: the strength of a community is found in the strength of its members. Today, we have delved really deep into the essence of what it means to be part of the community, and the lessons we have learned are truly invaluable.” 

Photo: UWC Changshu China team whose project, Enlightenment, was declared the winner of the 2023–2024 Young Aurora competition.