Generation Y has been getting a bad rap lately. Commonly referred to as the “entitlement generation” those born in the 1980s and ’90s are recognized more for their narcissism than self-sacrifice.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA—African delegates cheer as the location for next year’s One Young World Summit is announced. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

However, One Young World Summit 2012 in Pittsburgh last week, change makers from Generation Y took on the task of solving some of the world’s most challenging problems. The third annual four-day summit for international delegates aged 18-30 focused on finding solutions to global problems in the areas of education, health, human rights and more.

“My goal is to get involved in public service, anything I can do to help serve others,” said Larry Halisham, a local delegate studying political science at Allegheny College. “This is a different generation. It’s going to take this generation to undo the damage that past generations did. Everything is just motivation and fuel. I’m going to take the experience and use it to motivate others. It’s our responsibility to take the information and disperse it.”

Halisham was part of an African-American cohort sponsored by the Heinz Endowments, a private Southwestern Pennsylvania foundation. These delegates joined approximately 1,300 delegates from 182 countries in Pittsburgh from Oct. 18 to Oct. 21.

“I do a lot of volunteering and networking throughout the city and I noticed that there is a lack of young African-Americans. I looked online and I saw that of the delegates, there weren’t many who looked like me,” Sharnay Hearn, membership chair of the Association of Black Social Workers Pittsburgh chapter. “This experience has taught me to take initiative and that African-Americans need to take more initiative.”

Through a series of sessions each day the delegates examined problems in the areas of education, global business, health, human rights, sustainable development, leadership and governance, and transparency and integrity. However, beyond simply discussing the issues, they related their own experiences working to solve these issues in their perspective countries and the success they’ve had.

“What attracted me initially was the chance to meet people from around the world. There’s a great peer support network,” said Kevin Carter, CEO of the Adonai Center for Black Males, who also attended the summit last year in Switzerland. “I’m learning about programs that were done in Australia that could be brought back here. It negates the idea that you have to be a certain age to be successful.”

Many of the delegates from the Heinz Endowments were most interested in the summit’s focus on education and the question “why can’t every child read.” Together the many delegates from around the globe pledged to “to take personal responsibility for improving literacy in our communities.”

“I work in the education department and the idea that there are still people who are illiterate concerns me,” said Ryan Scott, program manager of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh’s Black Male Leadership Development Institute. “In the United States specifically, the achievement gap concerns me.”

Over the course of the summit, the delegates heard from internationally noted figures such as President Bill Clinton, former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan, Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey, Huffington Post Founder and CEO Arianna Huffington, and Wikipedia Founder and CEO Jimmy Wales.

“I like the idea of the world coming together just to discuss issues. It’s not something you see in Pittsburgh on a daily basis,” Scott said. “I plan to be an advocate for One Young World on the pertinent issues.”

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