We live in changing and uncertain times, and I believe that the role of the student is evolving along with the fierce competitiveness of an interconnected global job market. Growing rates of global inequality, persistent levels of poverty and the climate change conundrum are among the seismic challenges that our world faces, as well as the current coronavirus outbreak.
I am of the opinion that, whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level, students can make a difference.
My home country of Lesotho is among the most impoverished nations in Africa, and this means that there are many opportunities to contribute to the betterment of society. I am the founder of a youth-led non-profit organisation focusing on health, education and poverty alleviation. The work of the organisation includes a high school mentorship program, and the development of free-range chicken farms aimed at combating food and income insecurity at orphanages in Lesotho.
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In 2017, I was invited to participate in the Hansen Summer Institute hosted at the University of San Diego in California. Later that year I was also invited to attend the One Young World Summit in Bogota, Colombia. Described by CNN as the “Junior Davos”, One Young World is an annual event where participants interact and share ideas with high-level leaders about the world’s most pressing problems. That year we were joined by the late former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize winner and the incumbent President of Colombia (in 2017), Juan Manuel Santos, and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.
Students who seek to make meaningful contributions to society are uniquely placed for fulfilling career prospects after graduating. Here’s my three-point plan for how to make a difference as a student, and what’s in it for you.
First, venture out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you’re a mathematics major, how about joining the salsa dance society and enrolling to learn Mandarin or Spanish? If you’re a politics and economy postgraduate, how about sharpening your powers of persuasion in the debating club or joining the university’s team of volunteers at the local hospice. This can help broaden your horizons and your openness to new ideas and perspectives, and build your leadership skills.
Second, invest your spare time in worthy causes and you will reap the personal and professional pay-offs. This could be volunteering for special events at your local place of worship, working weekends at a home for the elderly or helping run a soup kitchen for the homeless.
The personal incentive here is the sense of renewed perspective and gratitude that comes with appreciating the little privileges we may enjoy and others may lack. The professional incentive is the demonstrated ability and commitment to using your skills to transform society.
Third, remember to make it fun! Committing your time and effort to actively shaping a better future can and should prove rewarding. Student-run non-profit and charity organisations such as Rotaract, Enactus and AIESEC put the “social” into social impact. They bring together eager students with big ideas and big hearts, and rally them around being the change they want to see in the world, through creative projects with a tangible impact on people’s lives. Explore your local campus societies programme and give these a try.