In September 2018, our two Future Leaders Connect participants, Nicholas Schiavo and Shreya Nayak, joined participants from the United States and Mexico in Mexico city for a Future Leaders Connect training. 

The British Council offices in North America (Canada, United States and Mexico) have joined efforts in this programme and have increased opportunities for young people to develop the skills, resilience and networks to find pathways to better lives. The regional training programme was the first opportunity for the Future Leaders from three countries to meet and begin to work alongside each other, and our objective was to ensure they receive and added value and collaborate as a cluster. 

Here is a reflection from Nicholas  on his experience at the Future Leaders Connect Training in Mexico! Scroll down for photos and reflections from Shreya!

As I boarded the plane from Ottawa to Mexico City for the first session of the Future Leaders Connect Program I wasn’t sure what to expect. But after 4 days, 9 incredible participants and 1 unforgettable experience, I am left inspired and invigorated for the road ahead.

Throughout the programing in Mexico City I had the opportunity to meet and engage with other young policy leaders from Canada, Mexico and the United States. These individuals come from diverse professional backgrounds but all share an innate passion for improving their communities. Individuals like Steven Pacheco, who is shedding light on criminal justice support in the Bronx, or Carla Márquez Muñoz who is working towards greater mental health awareness for children in Mexico. During my time with these Leaders, I had the opportunity to learn, share and engage in difficult – but important – conversations about leadership, context, communication, dialogues, identity and power. Led by our fearless leader Richard Hill, we had the chance to open up and share some powerful experiences from our lives. I’m glad to say I have come away from this experience with not only new professional contacts, but friends.

As we took in the long but fruitful programming each day, using our lunches and evenings we also had an opportunity explore a bit of this magnificent city. Cloaked in history, art and culture unseen in Canada, Mexico City is a vibrant and electric place. Led by my Mexican colleagues I had the opportunity to see the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio de Correos de México, the Interactive Museum of Economics and even a quick trip to local staple, Sanborns. As I shared, debated and discussed with my North American counterparts on everything from healthcare to NAFTA, the historical and cultural significance of where we stood was not lost on us.

It’s difficult to summarize this weekend and what it meant since it was packed full of self-reflection about my identity and my policy proposal. However, one memorable moment in this transformative experience stands out. On the Saturday night, my fellow Leaders and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with local stakeholders who work in and around our policy areas. I was so fortunate to meet so many amazing folks working on protecting and empowering the LGBTQ+ community in Mexico.

In particular the work of Alex Ouré from It Gets Better Mexico, hit home. It Gets Better supports LGBTQ+ youth by providing them with mental health and social support while connecting them with other individuals who may share similar experiences. Hearing about his reality and the reality for queer people in Mexico was striking. Our conversation ranged from holding hands in public, to conversion “therapy” to legal protections for trans+ folks. Much like Canada, there is a lot of work to do.

Overall my first, formal engagement with Future Leaders Connect was inspiring. Words fail to describe how grateful I am to the British Council and every person who has placed their trust in me. Using the tools provided to me, leaning on my fellow Leaders and focusing in on my impact, I am excited and humbled as we move towards Cambridge and London this fall. I can’t claim to know exactly where the path forward will lead, but armed with “why”, I know I’m headed in the right direction.

Below is a reflection from Shreya  on her experience at the training!

After spending the last few days in Mexico City with the North American Future leaders from Canada, United states and Mexico – I am certain about 2 things.

  1. Culture is the Best Curriculum
  2.  Leadership is in all of us

I was selected into the British Council Future Leaders 2018 Cohort because of my policy vision to increase gender inclusion in the digital economy through education. The topic is highly specialized, and for that reason I was skeptical that I would find other leaders who shared my passion. My doubts were completely cast aside when I met the nine other leaders from North America.

From Day 1 all leaders were immersed in the vibrant Mexican culture, and challenged to explore our leadership style, identity, and ultimately our policy visions. What I discovered, after multiple leadership workshops, metropolitan cultural tours, and late night Churros – is that cross cultural differences are only as big as we make them.

Despite being a first-time traveler to Mexico, I found a genuine connection with the Mexican people, art, and of course the incredible cuisine! One thing we often forget, as we pass through our lives, is that we are all global citizens. There are more things that we share, than set us apart. Although we may look different and come from different backgrounds, we are all connected by the fervent passion and hope for a better tomorrow.

My insatiable need to increase gender inclusion in the digital economy stemmed from my personal experiences working in the industry, and witnessing, first-hand, the importance of equipping girls and women with digital skills. In my interaction with the North American leaders, I met others who were equally passionate about topics ranging from mental health to LGBTQ2 rights. Leadership is within all of us, we just have to realize it, and act on it.

What, then, is more powerful than realizing our unity over our differences? That’s what British Council Future Leaders Connect is – a program that brings together passionate people around the world who have decided to embrace a vision of a better world. Armed with policy and a strong sense of responsibility to make the next generation, a better one.