Globally-inspired art, innovations, and local initiatives were at the heart of the 2021 Youth Festival.

Hosted by Youth Ambassadors, the virtual showcase invited youth to explore how they can make a difference while adapting to a changing world.

Part of the 2021 Annual Report:
Locally Rooted Leadership

Globally-inspired art, innovations, and local initiatives were at the heart of the 2021 Youth Festival.

Hosted by Youth Ambassadors, the virtual showcase invited youth to explore how they can make a difference while adapting to a changing world.

Lean In, Claire Song
Unity in Diversity, Ananya Subramaniam
Noise, Sannidhi Udayagiri

The winning art entries in the 2021 Youth Festival focused on embracing diversity for a more equitable future. Pictured are winners “Lean In” by Claire Song, “Unity in Diversity” by Ananya Subramaniam, and “Noise” by Sannidhi Udayagiri.

Youth Ambassadors are high school students who volunteer with AKF in the Dallas area. Since 2011, the volunteer-run Youth Ambassador program has worked to cultivate future leaders who will drive global development.

Ambassadors raise awareness of AKF’s work and encourage youth to engage with issues of local and global importance through artistic expression, innovative solutions, and partnering with local communities.

For years, Youth Ambassadors have organized an arts and innovation competition to inspire student participants to express their passion for making a difference. In March 2021, the festival moved online to exhibit arts and culture projects, local outreach initiatives, and innovative solutions.

The art and spoken word competitions asked youth participants to create awareness and promote AKF’s mission—a better quality of life for all. Entries to the festival examined the social, environmental, and political challenges of the past few years and challenged youth to action.

“We are the help, we are the future, we all are the solution,”

wrote Shruthi Dandamudi in her poem Hold on to More Hands, which won first-place in the spoken word competition.

The Local Project component of the Youth Festival highlighted community outreach led by Youth Ambassadors working with Dallas-area schools, with a significant percentage of students from low-income families. Several of the Local Project initiatives were inspired by current AKF USA partnerships in Central Asia and East Africa, from encouraging student skills through designing a rock garden, drawn from Thrive Tajikistan’s work with student councils, to creating leveled libraries, inspired by the Yetu Initiative’s “Start a Library” work.

The Youth Festival also included an Innovative Solutions challenge competition, which brought together teams of high-school students to address local and global problems through research, exchanging ideas, and creating sustainable solutions. The 2021 Innovative Solutions Challenge winners presented ideas that speak to the challenges heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, from technology for disinfection to resources for women facing increased rates of domestic violence.

First place: Team TechnoGreen (Aarian Dhanani, Pranav Mukund, and Kaden Nathani) for CubeUV, a product that disinfects and provides light to combat the lack of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Second place: Team NexTech (Christopher Dycus, Azal Amer, Pranav Joshi, Daniel Walker) for the Port Stove, a solar-powered cooking surface.

Third place: Team Jamila (Nandita Kumar, Sarosh Ismail) for Jamila, an app that provides a domestic violence help hotline, local services, and other resources for South Asian women.

Through the Youth Ambassador program, young people are gaining confidence and skills that prepare them to be global changemakers. Co-presidents Sarah Khoja and Eunbi Chung spoke at the festival, reflecting on their experiences with the program.

“When I joined as a volunteer, I initially wasn’t very confident,”

Eunbi said.

“But as the years passed, and as I saw more and more students my age make a difference in our local community, my passion only grew.”

portrait of Eunbi Chung
portrait of Sarah Khoja

Sarah added,

“Throughout the six years that I have been with the Youth Ambassador program, I have been able to grow as not only a leader, but an experimenter and a problem solver.”

As Youth Ambassadors graduate, pursue further education, and enter the workforce, what they learn about leadership and finding solutions to global challenges sticks with them. After seeing the impact of the program as a participant from 2013 to 2016, alum Inaara Shakur Jamal has stayed involved by serving as a mentor. Now a consultant at Deloitte, Inaara created the virtual platform used for the 2021 Youth Festival and supported the Youth Ambassadors with planning, marketing, and logistics.

“To me, the Youth Festival is a celebration of young talent and their passion for social change,” she said. “It’s incredible to see how brilliant artists depict societal challenges to inspire change, and the creativity of our challenge competition participants is just a glimpse into the potential these students have to solve global challenges.”