Four years ago, I was just a 15 year-old sophomore at Lincoln High School who happened to be skipping class to protest a racially tinged bill at the Nebraska State Capitol. Because I apparently look like a college student, a woman who sat next to me in the hearing chamber offered me a summer internship at Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law. Of course, after the misunderstanding was cleared, the offer still stood, so I took it. I had nothing going on that summer, so why not? I would never have expected that this opportunity would have paved the way to where I am today.
Fast forward to today, I am currently an Executive Board Member of the International Youth Council and have had the opportunity to influence the Post-2015 Development Agenda -- the next global vision for the world -- within the United Nations system.
When I first started interning for Nebraska Appleseed, I had a different vision for myself than today, which may or may not have been the result of my parent's influence. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to graduate high school, go on to college, get into medical school and become a doctor. It was all very hallow and superficial because I did not have a clear sense of identity. I was naïve. However, through Nebraska Appleseed, I was introduced to the field of public policy, and this opportunity led me to become aware of various issues that are important to my community, issues that range from foster care and healthcare to environmental stewardship.
This was the first time my life had really been "humanized."
Despite being an immigrant and growing up in a socioeconomically disadvantaged background, I eventually was able to recognize a privilege that many others do not have: the privilege of having a voice.
During these past for years, I have had many opportunity to become both broadly and deeply engaged in the services of others through various organizations. These experiences have not only allowed me to develop as a human being along multiple dimensions, it also led me to the discovery of my passion -- a passion for a sustainable urban planning framework.
I have long felt that while driven by theory, urban planning is rooted in action. It is a multi-faceted and critical field that could have profound contributions to a world challenged by social injustice, inequity and more recently, climate change. A well-planned city can proactively and holistically respond to these challenges, and better use its resources to mitigate future dilemmas.
While I was in Sri Lanka as an International Facilitator for the World Conference on Youth, I was able to see first-hand what a visionary and people-focused development plan can do to improve living conditions for the poor, especially for the most marginalized. I am convinced that well-planned communities that do not disenfranchise the poor will be a preliminary step to eradicate poverty.
My passion lies in bringing together the best of urban planning and sustainable development to make human lives the center of cities once again. For far too long we have been designing urban spaces for the convenience of transportation, rather than for the quotidian life of communities and within the scale of the everyman. My dream will be to make cities an institution that enriches the human experience using the framework of sustainable development.
The shift from being a volunteer in my community to being an activist and youth leader on the international stage has taught me many things. Most notably, my experiences have taught me that I had to work hard to be successful. I have a vision of what I want to see changed in this world, and I had to convince others to share this same vision. These visions ranged from local efforts when I was president of YouthInspire Foundation in Lincoln, Nebraska, to being a Facilitator at the World Conference on Youth in Sri Lanka.
Success, both personally and professionally, is a competition. It is a competition for resources, and these resources are often people's attention, time and investment (money). Entrepreneurs and activists have this same thing in common: we all fight for the same limited amount of resources.
If anyone else have noticed, people's attention are very limited. The year 2011 seemed to be for the environment, 2012 for marriage equality, 2013 for gun restrictions and 2014 for black justice. Success is not often about how smart you are, but how clever you can be to get the most resources. For me, success is when I am able to convince others that my ideas are the best ideas.
For other young people, I offer you this advice: capitalize on your passion and energy. Success is about having an idea and putting in everything you have, and more, to make it happen. Be ambitious, because ambition is the gateway to innovation and success. But be warned: ambition is simply an idea, and this idea has to be grounded in reality. Furthermore, aim for perfection because perfection is not a lofty goal.