Global Citizen Year Pioneered A New Educational Pathway, Launching Next Generation Of Global Leaders
by Cheryl Robinson | Contributor
Societies are no longer just locally interconnected. What happens thousands of miles away affects people worldwide. Global issues cannot be resolved by one community or country.
People must begin leadership development at a young age to ensure continued growth within their communities. The fate of humanity rests on our ability to collaborate across lines of diversity.
Erin Lewellen stepped into the CEO role at Global Citizen Year to continue the company’s mission of addressing the current global challenges. The organization pioneered a new educational pathway to launch the next generation of global changemakers. Students learn from social activists through different programs providing a different perspective on global issues. Since its inception in 2010, the company has raised $57 million and has helped over 1,500 young people find their purpose and power to change the world.
“Gen Z is absolutely focused on how they are going to help us overcome some of these seemingly intractable challenges that we have right now,” Lewellen shares. “Global Citizen Year is focused on how we harness that energy but then equip this generation with the skills to act on that energy, including such things as collaborating across differences and solving problems together in a collective fashion.”
While in college, Lewellen had an opportunity to live in Cape Town, Africa, interning at a center for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She lived with five South African women activists, which changed her view of the world; it was here that she developed a drive to work in the social impact realm.
After she graduated, she worked for a nonprofit that administered recess coaches on playgrounds throughout Oakland, California. Lewellen was eventually offered a high school basketball coaching job, where she coached for 20 years.
During this time, she became a director for the nonprofit, and then joined a social impact for profit focusing on what food options schools provide for the students. Lewellen decided after seven years there to transition to Global Citizen Year, where she would make a more significant impact globally.
“It was an opportunity to line up all the pieces,” Lewellen states. “I had always pointed to the year after college when I had that opportunity to go live in a place other than the one I had grown up in and learn in a fundamentally new way. I have attributed everything that has come after that to that moment. It opened my perspective for what I wanted to focus on in the world and what was even possible for myself. That combination is very powerful. The idea of being able to work on that every day and give other young people that opportunity from across the globe, I couldn’t pass it up.”
Recently, Lewellen and her team launched the Take Action Lab. They’ve formed relationships with other nonprofits and advocates around the world to offer students a unique experience. During an immersive semester in South Africa, students gain lifelong skills while apprenticing with experienced human rights advocates working to advance social justice. With a diverse cohort of like-minded peers from around the world, students collaborate and contribute to local solutions for global challenges.
“So many people are inspired by Gen Z like we are,” she smiles. “To be able to be a part of a young person’s growth in that moment of adolescence on the cusp of adulthood is inspiring for many different people across the world… Building a global team is first and foremost so that we have a real global approach to operating. And then we build a local team with local partnerships to bring it to life, to make sure that the young people have an opportunity to truly immerse in the communities they’re in and learn from folks on the ground.”
As Lewellen continues to evolve in her career, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- If you have the opportunity to impact a community positively, don’t hesitate to do so. Even if the gesture seems small, it can be significant for that group of people.
- Take the adventure. Experience as much as you can when you’re young to gain a worldly perspective; it’ll help you find your purpose.
- Develop relationships on a large scale. The more people that know your mission, the greater your success.
“I’ve learned to stay curious,” Lewellen concludes. “That’s one of our values over here is to focus on curiosity. We teach that to our young people. It’s the fundamental principle to stay curious… I have been able to stay curious and recognize if I was chasing the wrong problem. Curiosity helps you expand your point of view and develop innovative ways to solve problems.”