Posted by President Ian Ada

Heritage Cluster Clubs, Carlton, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond liaised with secondary schools in their area to select 20 students to attend the Nelson Mandela Youth Leadership Summit.  The Summit provided a positive environment to empower the youth present to believe that change was possible.  This was borne out in the comments of Princes Hill Secondary College students: “Great opportunity to meet like-minded people to discuss some generational type plans and share hope and optimism.”  (Thomas, Year 10).  “So many different speakers leading the way on leadership, hope and optimism. Thanks so much. Awesome.”  (Celeste, Year 8)  

Nelson Mandela Day, celebrated on 18th July, is a global call to action celebrating the idea that individuals have the power to transform the world, and the ability to make an impact. Since 2020 the Centre for Optimism in Melbourne has organised a Nelson Mandela Youth Leadership Summit to bring together a diverse group of youth to create a group of connected future leaders.   

This year 88 students from Melbourne and Shepparton schools came together in the Legislative Assembly Chamber of the Victorian Parliament to listen to international leaders and to experience speaking in the Chamber. Students had the chance to sit in the Speaker’s Chair, and to chair individual speaker’s sessions. Heritage Cluster identified students from Collingwood Secondary College, Fitzroy High School, Melbourne Girls College, Princes Hill Secondary College and Richmond High School, 

Keynote speakers included Dr Steve Rametse, President, Nelson Mandela Day Australia; Ambassador for Ukraine Vasyl Myroshnychenko; and Consul General for the USA, Kathleen Lively.  Dr Rametse, was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa before escaping to Botswana and eventually being accepted as a refugee in Australia. He provided many examples from Mandela’s speeches about the role of leadership, optimism and resilience. He noted that everyone can make a difference if they are dedicated to, and passionate about, what they do; and when people are determined they can achieve anything.  One of Mandela’s well-known quotes was “resentment was like drinking a poison and expecting it to kill your enemies”. 

Ambassador Myroshnychenko, a member of the Rotary Club of Kyiv, gave a short history of his own leadership journey. He was an exchange student for a year in the USA at age 15; he studied at a range of universities in Kyiv, the US and UK; and joined the European Youth Parliament at 19. He has helped 800 young people get scholarships at the best European and North American universities.  The Ambassador co-founded the youth public organization "European Youth Parliament - Ukraine" .   He also spoke about resilience and the role of young people in changing the world.   

Consul-General Lively focussed her talk on the role of women in leadership and foreign policy, particularly in the U.S.  She noted the first female Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and new Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy were trailblazers; and spoke of resilience coming from youth believing in themselves, and staying vigilant and informed about issues. 

Other speakers included Rotary District 9800 Governor Amanda Wendt, Mt Everest summiteer Daniel Bull, and South East Water CEO, Lara Olsen. The key message from these speakers was that optimism, resilience and persistence help make a great leader. 

The youth were then invited to share their views on optimism and leadership. Those who spoke expressed optimism for the future, although from different viewpoints.