On May 4, 2015, Meridian welcomed the inaugural cohort of the Meridian Social Innovation Fellowship to Washington, D.C. The eight Fellows – who hail from Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Spain – are global problem-solvers who bring together networks and resources to solve critical challenges facing their organizations, communities, and countries. Meridian has brought together this distinguished group to drive ground-breaking advancements in the fields of youth and women empowerment, cultural integration, entrepreneurship, science, technology, and education.
“Dream yourself along another day. Never miss opportunity” (Pete Murray, Opportunity)
I am Tamara Steen from the Netherlands, I grew up in a place called ‘Ommen’ and had the opportunity to study Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology at the University of Utrecht. Nowadays, I work at IMC Weekend School as a fundraiser as well as program coordinator of the alumni network of our organization. In December last year I got the amazing opportunity to apply for the Meridian Social Innovation Fellowship, to work on my own project. During this Fellowship, I will launch the establishment of a virtual community to further support professional development (job-readiness and networking) for alumni of IMC Weekend School.
At IMC Weekend School we tend to improve the future perspectives for students from marginalized neighborhoods in the Netherlands and contribute to all-around character education by offering students an inspiring glimpse into the worlds of science, arts, and cultural studies, providing them with the skills, knowledge and audacity that are needed to find a place in society that matches their capacities. All around the world, schools encourage students to obtain their diplomas. But school alone is not enough for students to find their place in society. Especially in underprivileged neighborhoods, a lack of knowledge about society and a lack of audacity to engage may hinder students in pursuing their motivation, and becoming responsible citizens. Motivated, responsible citizens are of key value to both individual lives and society at large. In all professions – from taxi driver, to manager or scientist – motivation and responsibility mark the difference between those who can and cannot positively contribute to society. Those are not automatically learned in regular schools, they require real-life education.
When I wake up in the morning and watch the beautiful skyline of downtown Boston, I realize what a great opportunity it is to be a fellow of the Meridian Social Innovation Fellowship. During our stay in Washington, DC the first week, working on our project management curriculum, we got the chance to meet new people, connect with our cohorts, experience diverse cultural differences, and work as a team with very diverse backgrounds. It is amazing how different all of our projects are, but yet so overlapping and interconnected, tackling issues regarding economic recovery, integration of immigrants, and youth engagement.
A part of our fellowship is a one-week mentorship at another organization or company. I got the chance to work for a week at Year Up. Year Up empowers low-income young adults to go from poverty to professional careers in a single year, to close the opportunity divide. On my first day at Year Up I attended students’ motivation presentations to participate in the Year Up program. With different ethnicities and backgrounds, every student is really driven by the motivation to make something of his or her life. Heart breaking stories about growing up in marginalized places touched me and made me realize again how the world is divided in such an unfair way. That the place you grow up, and the people around you are so important for the way your life will be formed. Millions of young adults in the US have talent and motivation, but lack this opportunity. At the same time, companies have opportunities available, but lack the talent they need to succeed.
I attended a call of the alumni board of Year Up one evening. The call opened with a reflection on the riots in Baltimore, where African Americans protest against discrimination and exclusion. These riots are tough reality for so many young people and often result in violent protest. But as S. from Baltimore said on the call: violence is the voice of the unheard. It is so true. The brief reflection on Baltimore opened the call, as well as my eyes. It’s paradoxical. I’m watching over the skyline of Boston, while staying in an incredible hotel. I will receive ongoing training and deepen connection with my growing network and peers while working on my project, the establishment of an online platform to broaden future perspectives for youth in marginalized neighborhoods in the Netherlands. For many youth, perspectives are so different then mine.
Watching over this beautiful skyline of Boston, I think about how glad I am to be part of this exchange program, to create sustainable solutions for critical social and economic challenges facing our communities. That I have the opportunity to meet people, who will encourage me to keep doing the things I love to do and to make a difference for those who are lacking the opportunity I had in my life.