An official website of the United States government

Defending Democracy and Advancing Human Rights
Ruby Sands, guest blogger
April 6, 2023

Defending Democracy and Advancing Human Rights

Ruby attended the Alumni Ties- Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was a week-long conference with 60 global youth participants to discuss “Defending Democracy and Advancing Human Rights”. All the participants were exchange alumni who are active in strengthening democracy initiatives in their communities around the world.

This seminar built on the momentum from the Summit for Democracy, hosted by President Biden in December 2021, to support democratic renewal, counter authoritarianism, promote respect for human rights, and combat corruption. Take it away Ruby…


My name is Ruby Sands and I had the honour of being selected to attend the Alumni-ties “Defending Democracy and Advancing Human Rights”. I am an alumnus of the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP held in 2021 on Sustainable Housing and Smart Cities in Aotearoa New Zealand and the US Embassy Youth Council.

The conference was packed from beginning to end with panel discussions, workshops, visits to community groups and cultural activities. I did however manage to find time to chow down on a Philly Cheesesteak!

My working and volunteering background is grounded in women’s and children’s rights. I am particularly interested in how we can ensure that political and policy decisions are informed by the communities that will be affected by those decisions. This was a shared value at the conference, with most participants working/volunteering in different fields to ensure that people can be heard in decision making processes and have their rights upheld.

The panel discussions were phenomenal, and each held insights into the common challenges that each of us face in our communities. The panels were made up of participants from the conference itself so there were lots of opportunities to have follow up discussions over coffee breaks and dinner. I heard about the challenges and opportunities of new technology, engaging in the international system and promoting youth political participation and representation.

My favourite panel discussion was on Strengthening Women’s Rights and Political Capital. I had the opportunity to hear from activists working on similar issues relating to the representation of young women in decision making in the contexts of Pakistan, Haiti, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

We visited the “Committee of Seventy” which is an organization that runs programs in Pennsylvania on fighting corruption, developing good governance, and improving the voting process. We had the opportunity to speak with Lauren Cristella, the Chief Program Officer, and we discussed how to ensure that voting rights are retained and how to create environments that enable and encourage voting.

We also had the opportunity to get out and do a tour of Philadelphia which historically was a key location for the founding activities of the USA. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were discussed, drafted and signed in Philly. US independence Hall was the capital of the US until 1900. It is also where the first ‘continental congress’ was held. The tour Beyond the Bell Walking Tour highlighted the marginalized communities, peoples, and histories of Philadelphia including those who were enslaved by George Washington while he resided in the Presidents House in Philadelphia.

I am very grateful to the amazing team at World Learning for this opportunity and for putting together an engaging programme. I am still in touch with my project group from the conference and I am confident that we will provide support to each other and collaborate on different projects and issues in the future.


Views of guest bloggers may or may not represent the views of the U.S. government. The links contained herein are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Department of State.