The Gates Foundation Visitor Center: Where youth and social change intersect
“ILLIMI.” A PAUSE. “Illimi,” she said with more force. “My great grandmother explained it to me as a harmonious combination of knowledge, humility, and purpose.” So began just one of six moving TEDxChange talks this spring on the theme of “Positive Disruption.”
Speakers included Cathleen Kaveny, discussing the new face of religion and believers as positive disrupters; Halimatou Hima, on investing in girls as a key to the future; Roger Thurow, on issues in agriculture and the future of farming; Julie Dixon, on social media as a voice for social change; David Fasanya, a Nigerian-American performance artist and youth poet; Salim Shekh and Sikha Patra, two 15-year-olds from India who started a vaccine program in the slums of Calcutta; and of course, Melinda Gates, of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, where the talks were held.
When the Visitor Center invited media to tour the facility and attend the TEDxChange talks, I jumped at the chance. I was not disappointed on either count. The highlight of my day, though, was getting to view the talks alongside 60 or so youth from in and around Seattle, all of whom are involved in various social change groups — mini-activists in the making. As a former youth worker, my little heart quivers in my chest when I see young people setting aside the more common sense of entitlement and picking up a sense of purpose, humility, and awareness. Or, should I say, to see them begin their journeys towards illimi.
When I say these kids were incredible, I’m not being facetious. They were spouting facts, stats, and demographics like it was their ABCs. I’m talking about teenagers asking questions like, “Mrs. Gates, as a Catholic, in what ways have you seen the Church rise up to become a source of positive disruption?” and, “What factors are contributing to the lack of access to education and healthcare for girls in Africa?”
When I was in high school, I was more concerned about what factors were contributing to my lack of access to beer.
Back then, there was Amnesty International, end of story. Now I see full-fledged college degrees in areas like International Development, Global Awareness, and Cross-Cultural Studies. Degrees are offered when there’s a demand, so this tells me the future is changing right in front of us, and it begins with positioning young people to launch into the world educated, empowered, and impassioned.
All the youth who came were somehow involved with the Visitor Center, and to me therein lies the key: Engagement is fuel for change. Initiatives like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center need to be funded in every developed city, to empower those “with” to reach out to those “without.” Said speaker Roger Thurlow, “There is a way. We just don’t have the will.” The answer to creating a society willing to do something is to educate that society on the issues at hand — but how do we get people to listen? Places like the Foundation Visitor Center offer a space to learn that is accessible, interactive, and inspiring — as evidenced by the crowds of tourists and locals alike coming through its doors — and that is where new advocates for social justice and change will be born.
As youth poet David Fasanya said during his performance: “One may not have a solution / but that should never be a leeway to ignore the fact / that there is a problem / Awareness is a dirt-glossed gem that you must discover / before you can do anything with its value.”
Press play to hear David recite this quote, live from the TEDxChange: