Youth Unbound: A Story of Transformation and Leadership


By Angga Dwi Martha, Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity in Southeast Asia

August 11, 2023

Photo credit: The Equity Initiative

Growing up in the lush embrace of Kerinci, Indonesia, I experienced the world through the kaleidoscope of our village—a rich symphony of hardworking farming communities, each playing its part against a vivid backdrop of resplendent landscapes. This was a place where life danced to the rhythm of dedicated farmers, whose sun-kissed faces bore witness to stories of devotion and respect to nature. Here, the concept of community was not theoretical; it was the beating heart of our shared existence, breathing life into our collective dreams, joys, and sorrows with profound meaning.

Childhood Lessons

My daily trek to school was more than a routine walk; it was a journey filled with awe and exploration. Those time-worn trails became conduits of wisdom, revealing the stark beauty juxtaposed with stark disparities. The carefree laughter of friends, untouched by worldly burdens, merged with the somber expressions of bearing responsibilities far beyond their years. Their plight was not simply a call to sympathy; it became a personal challenge, a catalyst driving me toward creating opportunities for those who had been overlooked.

Growing up, poverty and inequality were not mere societal issues but integral parts of our daily fabric. Roughly half of my friends were married before completing high school, often driven by necessity rather than choice. Unable to blame them, I recognized the common threads: a dearth of information, resources, and support that made higher education see man unattainable luxury.

Passion for Youth Leadership

My early experiences ignited a curiosity that became the foundation of my commitment to ethical youth leadership. As I entered adolescence, this curiosity evolved into a fervent desire to question and challenge conventional norms and pathways. From the age of 18, my purpose became clear, to elevate the role of young people and ensure their voices were not just a faint murmur but resonant echoes in the halls of decision-making. My journey took me to the United Nations in Indonesia at just 21, where I found my place as a bridge between the UN, government, and youth on policymaking and decision-making processes. The work that blossomed there continues to grow and evolve to this day.

International Youth Day is not merely a date on the calendar; it's a worldwide call to action, pulsating with urgency. Real progress calls for young people to be seen as equal partners, deserving investment in their innovations, aspirations, and potential. They are not mere additions but crucial architects of our shared future. Yet, shadows of lagging progress remain.

We are confronted with a plethora of challenges that impede sustainable development, including the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19, the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, the urgent threat of climate change, and a lack of transformation in education and health sectors, among others. Unfortunately, it is often overlooked that these issues represent not only obstacles to global development but also significant challenges in the development of youth.

A Continuing Journey: Finding Connection and Growth

The ongoing quest for personal and professional evolution has fueled my desire to forge meaningful connections and nurture an environment conducive to growth. In search of a community that shares these values – my "tribe" – I joined the Equity Initiative/Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in Southeast Asia, which made me a proud member of the Atlantic Fellows family.

As a member of the Atlantic Fellow global community, I have had access to opportunities that are both enlightening and transformational. One such experience was the Thematic Convening on Collective Leadership for Impact, held in Oxford in December 2022. This gathering provided invaluable insights that emphasized the importance of key principles such as active listening, open dialogue, adaptability, transparency, accountability, and an acute awareness of power dynamics, privileges, and biases.

Through these experiences, I have come to understand that true collaboration within a group requires the creation of a safe, inclusive environment where every voice is acknowledged and valued. This means actively seeking diverse perspectives, remaining open to change and compromise, and fostering trust and understanding among all participants. By cultivating a culture of active listening and open communication, we are better equipped to understand the unique needs and concerns of each group member. This, in turn, enables us to develop solutions that authentically reflect the collective's desires and goals, thereby contributing to a more equitable and harmonious community.

Echoes of Home: A Call to Nurture the Next Generation

As the horizon unfolds with new opportunities, the resonant echoes of Kerinci continue to stir within me. This valley, rich with wisdom and imbued with resilience, has been the crucible that has molded my character and perspective. These qualities have driven me to bridge the often-wide gap between policy and action.

As we celebrate International Youth Day, I extend a personal challenge to each one reading this. Pause and contemplate the young individuals in your life, whether it be your child, a student, or a colleague. Reflect on their struggles and dreams, their potential that awaits encouragement and opportunity. Starting tomorrow, take up the mantle of being their advocate and mentor. Provide them with the space to flourish and the platform to showcase their talents. Reassure them that no matter where they come from—even if they hail from the overlooked corners of Kerinci—their dreams are not merely fantasies. They are powerful, real, and possess the capacity to reshape our future.

Happy International Youth Day!

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency that Angga Dwi Martha represents.

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