Guest blog post by U.S. Embassy Youth Councilor, Lit Wei Chin.
In late September, the US Embassy of New Zealand held the Connecting Young Leaders conference in Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington). This brought together the US-NZ Youth Council across the country from Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington. It was an opportunity for us to engage with like-minded people and deepen our knowledge about how Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the United States can continue to build a stronger relationship.
On the day of arrival, we met at the US Embassy. We were welcomed by the Deputy Chief of Mission Kevin Convert, where he said he could feel the “mana” in the room. You could truly feel the excitement and eagerness for the chance to network and meet with other youth councillors and what we had scheduled for us the next day.
The conference kicked-off with a warm welcome from Ambassador Scott Brown, following a discussion and Q + A about his experience as an Ambassador in New Zealand, a Senator from Massachusetts, and his upcoming new role as Dean of New England Law | Boston in December.
It would not be 2020, without having speakers ‘Zoom’ing in from the United States. Professional campaigners Gary Nordlinger (Democrat) and Sarah Morgan (Republican) shared their personal experiences, and thoughts on strategies and campaign methods. With great passion, they both shared how the importance of strong messaging, evidence, and advertising on various communication channels is key to running a successful campaign. Happening at the same time, another workshop with Tyler Bevans from the US Consulate in Auckland spoke about peace and security during his Foreign Service experience in Sub-Saharan Africa.
At the next session, a panel discussion saw three different organisations, Zealandia, Forest & Bird, and Sea Cleaners advocating on different levels of scale from community initiatives to international cooperation being the kaitiaki (guardian) of our planet’s taonga (treasure); our natural environment. In a concurrent panel, creativity was flowing through the room with speakers from Weta Digital, A44, and Pikpok sharing their experiences working in the creative sector industries and how this has contributed to the trade and enterprise links between New Zealand and the U.S.
The third session for the day were both panel discussions comprised entirely of inspiring wāhine (women). Louise Atkins shared stories of her early career being part of the kick-start breakfast in schools to being CEO of social enterprise Ākina Foundation. Tayyaba Khan, founder of Khadija Leadership Network and advocate for the Muslim women community touched on how she used her passion to empower and drive change about perceptions and stereotypes about Muslim women. in the other panel, we heard from wāhine who have thrived in the STEM, Sports, and National Security fields. They spoke about how they successfully broke into traditionally male-dominated professions and encouraged more women to do the same.
In the final panels of the day, representatives from the New Zealand Ministry of Defence highlighted the shared similarity in our history, values, and strategic thinking that are key factors contributing to the strong bi-lateral security relationship between the U.S. and New Zealand. In the other panel, past NZ students talked about their once-in-a-lifetime work experience interning in congressional offices in Washington D.C. They discussed the great insight they gained into the U.S political system as part of an annual programme supported by the NZUS Council.
The closing session of the conference was a plenary session in which all the participants were invited to discuss the highlights of the day and reflected on what they had learnt. Not surprisingly, the hour was easily filled! On behalf of the Youth Councillors from across New Zealand, I would like to thank the US Embassy of New Zealand for this incredible opportunity.
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