Last week, I was one of six lucky 17-year-olds who embarked on a trip to Geneva, which included a visit to the UN office, as a prize for winning the Young Social Enterprise (YSE) competition.
This annual competition involves participants devising a social enterprise scheme in response to challenges faced in marginalised communities. We pitched our idea to the Chief Rabbi and a panel of industry experts who selected us for this once-in-a-life-time opportunity.
The Swiss city is often known as “international Geneva” owing to its abundance of inter-governmental organisations, NGOs and permanent missions. This was a focus of the trip, with a visit to the Red Cross Museum and a private tour of the UN. While the work of both institutions is inspirational, we remained critical of their flaws, particularly regarding our own community.
The Red Cross Museum featured information about what it deems its “moral failure” — not stepping up to our need during the Holocaust, despite their sworn mission being to help anyone in crisis. While it was reassuring that the organisation had learnt from its error, proven by their work connecting missing children to their parents during the Rwandan genocide, it was still a reminder that the Jewish community ultimately can only depend on itself in times of need.
Similarly, we discussed the UN’s relentless badgering of Israel, the structure of the organisation that enables it to do this and the platform it gives to anti-Israel countries. The double standards to which the UN holds Israel, the only Jewish state, in terms of human rights, mirrors what can be seen on social media, showing it is not only a problem among youth, but also among the world’s most influential people.
However, visiting the World Jewish Congress put a more optimistic perspective on Jewish people’s position in international politics.
The close contact the WJC has with ambassadors across the world, and its role representing and advocating for the worldwide Jewish community, was reassuring for us, as young Jewish students, to hear.
While volunteering at the food-packing charity Partage, it was rewarding to help people actively. This food-packing charity was reminiscent of GIFT in our community’s and was a reminder of the importance of sharing (the meaning of the charity’s name), motivating us to continue this at home within the Jewish community.
Part of YSE’s mission is to inspire young people to drive social change, irrespective of their future career path. It was therefore exciting to hear global law firm, Sidley Austin, discuss their multinational pro bono project, which provides legal expertise to NGOs.
We learnt about the nuances of development and the difficulties developing countries have climbing up the ladder because of the well-established global trade and economic infrastructure hindering their attempts to do so. The size, generosity, and criteria of the scheme instilled hope within us, as we discovered the immense impact of this and similar firms.
A bonus, unplanned but incredible aspect of the trip was bumping into Rudy Rochman in Geneva’s kosher restaurant, a well-known activist for Jewish and Israeli rights. Asking him questions and hearing about his experiences as a victim of antisemitism and bouncing back stronger, to what he has created today (an Instagram following of 103,000), was awe-inspiring.
Overall, we had a hugely eye-opening three days which we were privileged to experience. Always keeping our Jewish identity at the core of what we learnt was an aspect of what made it so powerful. We all hope to continue our interest in the field of social entrepreneurship and sustainable development by participating in the YSE alumni programme launching this year.
Avital Cohen is a pupil at Haberdashers’ School for Girls and social media of YSE
YOUNG SOCIAL ENTERPRISE
YSE was founded by Dan Amroussi and Asher Levy, graduates of the Chief Rabbi’s Ben Azzai programme to encourage social responsibility. This year’s competition attracted 80 students from 15 schools in groups of two to five from years 10 to13.
Five teams went through to the final with the top two winning the trip to Geneva.
For more details see yse-comp.com