Closing speech by Rachel Gerrol and Jonah Wittkamper "We got your backs!"

Closing speech at the United Nations Headquarters by Rachel Gerrol and Jonah Wittkamper – “We got your backs!”


How dumb is your smartphone? Really, on a scale of 1 – 10?

Picture this: you’ve been tasked, as an Atlas Corps Fellow, to post, at least, 1-3 updates on social media at a 3-day global summit. But your smartphone doesn’t respond; can’t send, post, or upload. And your laptop is not available. Enter catch-22s.

To think that the expensive, flat rectangles we spend hours on daily is called a smart phone, yet it is sometimes of little to no help in dire situations is injustice. But life is what you make it. And if there is anything I got off the Nexus Global Youth Summit 2016 (I know it has been almost two weeks now) it is that we ought to SURRENDER (you can’t control everything), focus on the PRESENT (focus on now, anticipate the future), and remain GRATEFUL (appreciate your unique path) in our individual journeys.

My super awkward #Nexus4Justice selfie

Finally got the ‘smartphone’ working for a super awkward #Nexus4Justice selfie

So I surrender – technology is not always reliable. I’m also conscious of how important tackling the present is, and the need to remain grateful, despite what life throws at me. Those three thoughts also resonated with the messages delivered by speakers at the Summit.

From solving the world dumbest problem (hunger) to generating power from a soccer ball, food innovation, exploring the effects of climate change on national security and development, building windmills instead of walls when the wind of change blows, jabs from an accomplished 14-year old scientist and a teenage serial entrepreneur, etc. The Summit, held at the Parsons New School and the United Nations Headquarters, stayed true to its promise – connecting big ideas for a better world. it was, indeed, a nexus of passionate young people, determined to overcome the challenges of this world. So, in no respective order, here are 7 things I relearned from the Nexus Global Youth Summit:


1. Discomfort breeds innovation. Just ask Nigerian-American Jessica O. Matthews and the Uncharted Play team. They build soccer balls that generate energy! And according to Jessica, “it all started from a place of discomfort.”

Think: when was the last time you felt uncomfortable about a situation? How did you wriggle out? What new idea did you apply? There’s nothing new under the sun; necessity is still the mother of invention. We just don’t pay much attention to little ideas, I guess.

2. If you rule out failure, you rule out success.  In Nigeria, we have a saying: “nobody wan die but they wan go heaven”. Roughly translated: No one wants to die but we all want to go to heaven. You can’t succeed if you’re too scared to fail. Never rule out failure. It is a big part of success. In the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate beautiful mistakes and excellent failures for the treasures that they are. I lock them up in a big Thank You! box in my heart, and look to them for lessons every now and then. But you don’t have to be like me. You can try something else –  do the very thing you’re afraid of!

3. What does shareholder value mean to you? In approximately 9 days from now (August 12th), the world will celebrate International Youth Day. This year’s theme? Something along the lines of Youth Leading Sustainability….” The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production”. I’m sure you know all about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now, the grown ups are saying we have a role to play. But how does this relate to shareholder value?

Well, when businesses start to put People and Planet before Profit, then, they’ll be creating real value…one that puts people first while sustaining our environmental resources and the global economy. If you own a business, ask yourself these questions: what is the impact of my operations on people and the environment? What’s more important to my shareholders – sustainability or profit? What is more important to me?

(Want to know what young people can do about poverty and sustainable production? Watch this space. I’ll be interviewing two innovative companies, Copia and Uncharted Play, run by fantastically smart young women).

4. Almost everything is recycled in space. Even urine! I don’t know much about space exploration, but I’ve been to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Back to my point. In a discussion on climate change and its effect on national security and development, one of the points I noted from expert Gueta Mezzetti is that almost nothing wastes when living in space, even urine is recycled. Now, think of all the things we waste on earth, even while others lack those very things.

Some perspective: The speaker juxtaposed how much water is used to make the integrated circuits that power our beloved smartphones to the water needs of people in some parts of the world. ( I think she mentioned 2000 gallons of water per circuit or so?).  This article says a large semiconductor production facility uses up to 4.8 million gallons of water per day. Meanwhile, the UN says 85% of the world population live in the driest half of the planet. 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. And 6 to 8 million people die annually from the consequences of disasters and water-related diseases. How wasteful!

The elegant madam Mezzetti also illustrated the link between climate change and national security and development –  an area I’m very interested in, considering the perennial conflict we face in Nigeria between herdsmen and farmers.

I hope the video made you tingle.

5. Don’t be in a hurry to be great – let the process lead you; let the world teach you. Instant gratification. One phrase used to describe a generation of likes and follows and snaps and a £100 million footballer.  The race is not for the swift is a simple way to put it, but what we miss when we hurry up the ladder is, more often than not, weightier than our gains. Life is a series of processes. And there are consequences for skipping just one process. So, stay true to your journey. Let life teach you. But, again, it’s your life. And you can ruin it without noticing.

6. The opposite of poverty is dignity.  Not wealth. You can be wealthy, yet poor.  However, dignity – a sense of pride every human ought to be entitled to –  is, almost always, what ought to be but isn’t. So, until security and development is guanrateed for citizens of all countries, there just might be that vacuum: a lack of respect for human rights and dignity drawing from a cocktail of bias and prejudice based on race, culture, religion, sex, color, social status, age, passport etc.

7. Who am I? Who do I know? What do I know? Before, during, and after starting a business you can track progress by continuously asking these questions, a speaker said in one of the breakout sessions. Truth is: they also help in self-evaluation.

In every phase of life and business, knowing who you are helps determine what you’re capable of. Your social capital goes a long way in terms of the leverage you can access while how much you understand the information you have arguably determines your growth trajectory. In application to business, if you got brand equity, network, and data/market insight/sector analysis/innovation on point, you’re pretty much set for success. Think it’s too simple? I’m open to debate.

Overall, I left the Nexus Summit with 7 good lessons (my reason for not labeling it another boring-all-talk-no-action summit) and an overwhelming feeling that young people – 1.8 billion strong – can make a difference. We can change the world, if we just stop waiting for a chance. Let’s seize the moment!


P.S. There was also a yacht party to close off the summit. And as we say in Nigeria, “the party make sense die!”

*CAVEAT: The views above doesn’t represent that of Atlas Corps. They are the tastefully subjective view of a fellow.

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