UWC Congress 2016: Connect, Challenge, Celebrate!

On 28-29 October 2016, over 650 people from across the UWC community - including alumni, current students, staff and leadership of all 17 UWC schools and colleges, representatives from most of the 155 UWC national committees, former staff members, donors, parents, volunteers, and members of other organisations supporting the UWC mission - got together in Trieste, Italy, for the biggest UWC Congress ever held.

The energy was palpable. The leitmotiv of the event was “Connect, Challenge, Celebrate”, and the members of the UWC community did not miss the chance to live up to the aspiration! Participants had the unique opportunity to bring their ideas together, discuss the future of UWC, provide their input on the new draft UWC strategy, start working on new projects to make UWC’s mission to make education a force for peace in today’s world and - as per the UWC mission - unite across nations and cultures.

Throughout the two days, many speakers, including members of the UWC community and thought leaders in education, peace and sustainability, shared their experiences and thoughts, and challenged participants to be courageous when thinking and planning the future of the UWC movement. Speakers repeatedly put an emphasis on the importance of empowering young people to become change makers for a better future - among them Sven Mollekleiv, President of the Norwegian Red Cross, reminding participants that “Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the resources of today". As keynote speaker during the Opening Session of the UWC Congress, Mr. Mollekleiv further went on to say: “Why does the world needs UWC? The answer is maybe this: all that it stands for - international cooperation and understanding - is becoming increasingly important in our time. More than ever the world needs to stand united to respond to people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. To people who have fled their homes. To people who suffer. Hungry people. Frightened people. Poor and destitute people. One world. One world consisting of people. I believe that the core values and the concept of UWC is part of giving people faith in a tomorrow. A better tomorrow”.

UWC International Executive Director, Jens Waltermann, shared with the participants the draft of the new UWC Strategy, underlining the threefold nature of the UWC movement as a professional education, volunteer and advocacy organisation. While feedback on the draft strategy was collected during the UWC Congress from all participants both in plenary sessions and during more thematically focused break-out sessions, Jens invited all members of the UWC community to provide feedback. The draft strategy is can be accessed here. Feedback can be provided through this online form until 31 December 2016. There is also a specific group on the UWC Hub which serves as a space for UWC community members to discuss and debate the strategy - see here.

Another inspiring speaker was Wendy Kopp, CEO and Co-Founder of Teach for All and Founder of Teach for America, one of the leading NGOs in the education sector worldwide. Wendy shared her learnings from overseeing and growing a global network which aims to expand educational opportunity by supporting social enterprises that are cultivating the leadership necessary for change. It is in this context, she also expressed her enthusiasm about  the recently signed partnership between UWC and Teach For All in which both organisations have formalised their agreement to join forces for making excellent education available independent of socio-economic factors.

The closing keynote speech was given by Peter Dalglish, former Senior Advisor/Deputy Chief of Party for UN-HABITAT in Afghanistan and a leading authority on young people who live on the margins of society. The keynote’s title - “Finding courage” - was not accidental: it summarized a powerful call to action that, at the end of two days, reminded everyone of their individual responsibility to act for a better future. “Youth is not about leisure, it's about courage”, he said. “Today we face crucial challenges: climate change, a refugee crisis, just to name a few. You are needed. We are not talking about charity or CAS, we are talking about the survival of our planet. That's what's at stake”.

Inspiring contributions came also from far away. Sir Ken Robinson - professor, advisor, speaker, and author of the most watched TED Talk of all times “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” - sent the UWC community a video message: “Education has a big job to do in refining children’s talents, in discovering in the first place, and in enabling people to understand each other’s cultures and to look across them and through them to a sense of common humanity. And it is rather urgent that we should do this”. And speaking of the specific role of a UWC education, he added: “The most effective forms of education are collaborative in character, and that is what UWC promotes. Too often in our groups we educate children as groups, but not in groups. But learning is a collective enterprise, we compose a common fabric of learning when we work together, and learning and understanding are very much the product of jointed ventures among human populations, it is not just a solo performance. So collaborative learning is to me the very heart of the transformation we need to be promoting”. You can watch Sir Robinson’s message to UWC here.

A powerful message came also from Marguerite Barankitse, a Burundian humanitarian, founder of Maison Shalom, as well as the recipient of the Aurora Humanitarian Prize and the Voices of Courage Award of the Women’s Commission for Women and Refugee Children. She quoted Nelson Mandela, UWC Honorary President, who stated that the only weapon to change the world is education. “If we put the emphasis on education for peace, education on human values, on the value of integrity and solidarity, this is what will make your college - all of your colleges - become symbols of hope for a more human world”, she said. Watch the full message here.

Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, President of UWC, deeply thanked all volunteers, staff, students and other members of the UWC community for the world they all do. “Our world needs future leaders who know, understand and can collaborate with one another, and that are inspired to make a positive difference. As long as we work with a common purpose, I am convinced that we can give even more young people the opportunity of a UWC education. We are going to extend our reach to new communities to further increase our diversity and continue to enhance our impact on education worldwide”. Watch the full message by HM here.

The UWC Congress also provided UWC members from all over the world the opportunity to show support and compassion to Paola Deffendi and Claudio Regeni, the parents of UWC-USA alumnus Giulio Regeni, who was brutally murdered while carrying on research studies in Egypt early this year. Giulio’s parents talked about how the UWC education allowed their son to learn to think critically and be free, and invited all members of the community to join them once again in keeping Giulio’s memory alive and demanding to find out the truth about his disappearance and murder. Activists from Amnesty International were also present at the UWC Congress to provide information of their current campaigns and encourage participants to sign their petitions.

Many more passionate and engaging people took part to the UWC Congress, either as speakers or participants (for the full list of speakers and moderators click here). Alongside the main sessions, more than 40 workshops and break-out sessions took place simultaneously throughout the two days to cover a variety of topics along four thematic streams - Education, National Committees, Community Engagement and Growth & Financial Sustainability. From the “Impact Talks”, where alumni from different countries, backgrounds, colleges, generations and professional fields talked about what matters to them, to the five “National Committees: Challenges & Priorities” workshops, all the way to the panel “The UWC of Our Dreams”, where student representatives from all UWC schools and colleges shared their thoughts on what a UWC education should look like.

The breath of ideas and inspirations that originated from the two days is extraordinary and it is only the beginning! Here are just a few comments from some of the participants.

Such a wonderful opportunity to connect with the movement and feel energized. It helped me to rethink and reshape my role and involvement with UWC, and I can say I am very happy with the ideas and projects that emerged as a result. Thank you very much for this!", said Nadine Souto (member of UWC Venezuela and UWC Mahindra College alumna, 2006-2008).

This UWC Congress has been truly transformational. I could feel the force of our movement as we gathered from all around the world, all of us working together for one cause. I could comprehend the urgent call to help decrease so many pressing global issues: climate change, migration, the spread of diseases. But most importantly, this Congress has opened my eyes to the fact that we need to live the mission, and we need to take action: this Congress has helped me understand the significance of education. For education means empowerment”, said Aparajitha Anantharaman (current student at UWC South East Asia).

I loved the celebration of UWC movement in the Congress, we tend to focus on challenging our ideas so it was great to see us enjoy the hard work of thousands of people over 50 years!”, said Lorena Silvestri (member of UWC Spain).

On the first day of UWC Congress, participants also enjoyed a powerful and moving performance by the students from UWC Adriatic, presented on the stage of the beautiful Verdi Theater in Trieste. Through dances, music and words, they staged the real story of one of them: the difficult but hopeful journey a young man, who flew from Egypt to Italy as unaccompanied minor, and finally had a chance to apply to UWC and got a place at UWC Adriatic.

UWC International is very grateful to the numerous supporters and sponsors that made the  the UWC Congress possible. Special thanks go to UWC Adriatic who supported the organisation of the UWC Congress “from the ground” in Italy, as well as to all Congress sponsors including Assicurazioni Generali, Cantina produttori Cormòns, Illy, Cinzia Vitale Associazione Culturale Onlus, Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia, TBS Group.

And now, it is time to act. 

To see the pictures of the UWC Congress, click here.

You can watch the sessions that were livestreamed at the UWC Congress here.

Click here to watch the UWC Congress Welcome video with footage from all UWC schools and colleges.