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EF Academy students feel empowered to change the world after the Global Student Leaders Summit

EF Academy students feel empowered to change the world after the Global Student Leaders Summit

Last weekend, 23 EF Academy students representing 16 different countries traveled to The Hague for an empowering and inspiring experience at EF’s Global Student Leaders Summit, a three-day leadership conference for high school students. The summit was centered on the theme of human rights and the students and teachers in attendance had the opportunity to hear from human rights advocates such as Arun Gandhi and Ndaba Mandela, the grandsons of Gandhi and Nelson Mandela respectively, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and alumni from the African Leadership Academy.

As part of the conference, students could attend human rights and leadership workshops. They could pick from a range of seminars that included hearing the stories of two refugees who fled Syria and found a home in the Netherlands, to learning how they could take local action on global human rights issues.

“The summit itself was challenging yet rewarding,” Nigeria’s Oluwatosin Onaolapo said. “We didn’t just listen to the speakers talk about their perspectives and their passion for human rights; we students also talked amongst each other and worked in our various groups to design solutions to real problems pertaining to human rights.”

Oluwatosin and Gianluigi Zito from Italy were selected from more than 1000 students to be interns at the summit. They each had an important role at the conference: Gianluigi gave the welcome speech and closing remarks and Oluwatosin introduced Mr. Mandela, one of the keynote speakers.

“The best part of the summit for me was definitely serving in the role of leader speaker,” Gianluigi said. “Despite my confidence and personality, standing in front of more than 1000 students and trying to make a connection with them on stage was really hard, though not impossible. It requires motivation and courage to believe that your words will possibly influence or change someone in a positive way.”

Oluwatosin described her experience as “truly amazing,” saying: “As an intern, I had the honor of introducing Ndaba Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, and attending the intern press conference. My entire intern experience was centered around learning from everyone around me and being bigger than some of the limits that are imposed on young people.”

The pinnacle of the summit was the Innovation Sessions that saw small groups of students come together to solve a current human rights issue using the design thinking methodology. The groups had to choose from four different case studies that focused on individuals who had overcome situations in which their human rights were drastically diminished or completely disregarded. These four individuals’ stories were featured on the renowned blog “Humans of New York” and the students were asked to come up with solutions to the issues that the individuals faced in each scenario.

“My group and I tried to solve the problem faced by women like Bhavini, who after losing her husband had to take on the responsibilities of a full-time job while taking care of her children even though Indian traditions and her religion did not allow her to,” Gianluigi said. “Since Bhavini succeeded in this situation, we planned to create a global network of women who would support each other in similar situations where they do not have support from their families or because their social position makes it more difficult for them.”

On the final day of the conference, the groups presented their solutions in the “Innovation Village” where their peers and a jury voted on the best ideas. Three EF Academy students – Anne Staff (Norway), Renato Zimmerman (Brazil) and Shuo-En Tsai (Taiwan) – were recognized together with their teams and received awards for their creative and inventive projects.

The participants’ youth was an element that brought them together and also one that played a role in how they viewed, reflected on and reacted to the stories they heard. Though they might not have realized it at the beginning, being able to engage in such a stimulating event at this early stage in their lives gives them a springboard from which they can launch into not only human rights activism, but also virtually any activity or field that involves having practiced leadership skills and an open-mind.

“We are very young and we will change the future,” South Korea’s Collin Jeongwon Park said. “If we want to make a difference, then we need to be aware of human rights issues and we also need to know people and have friends around the world. If we learn about these things when we’re young, we’ll never forget them.”

Oluwatosin believes that attending a conference like the Global Student Leaders Summit is important for people her age because “we have opinions and we need a voice that will be respected. This summit allows us that opportunity and gives us the confidence to raise our voice higher when we leave until we get the respect that we deserve because our ideas and our opinions are useful.”

Gianluigi was able to sum up this idea in the closing speech he gave to his peers at the end of the Global Student Leaders Summit on Sunday.

“There is an Italian saying: ‘You are never too old to change the world.’ After this summit, I would like to change it slightly: ‘You are never too young to change the world.”


Gianluigi is a former IB student who graduated from EF Academy Oxford this year and will attend the University of British Columbia in the fall; Oluwatosin will begin her second year of the IB program at EF Academy Torbay in September; and Collin will also start his second year of the IB program at EF Academy New York in September.

For more information about EF’s Global Student Leaders Summit, click here.