Young leaders have their eyes on the future

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Midtown Manhattan recently became a mecca for future leaders – men and women who have accomplished the difficult and the unlikely by age 20.

Fifty college students were chosen from 22 countries to participate in the second annual Global Leaders Program, sponsored by the Goldman Sachs Foundation and the Institute of International Education. They and 50 other students received regional scholarships worth $2,000 each.

The weeklong New York program offers leadership training, academic sessions, and opportunities for the young people to network.

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The three participants profiled here give a glimpse of the optimism and dedication that this well-traveled group represents.

Caring for outcasts

Arjun Goyal wanted his last summer before enrolling in college to be unforgettable. So he ventured to his father's native India to volunteer in a leper colony.

Despite his initial fears of interacting with the lepers – who are considered social pariahs – he describes his experience helping to feed and care for people as "very fulfilling."

"Although I was doing something so simple, they were very appreciative," says the second-year student at the University of Melbourne School of Medicine. "Their sense of appreciation and gratitude for being able to do something that most of us take for granted was inspiring," he says; it allayed his fears.

Although Mr. Goyal had at one point considered becoming a diplomat, this experience solidified his longstanding interest in medicine.

His desire to keep an international focus comes as no surprise considering his mosaic of multicultural experiences since childhood. Born of Indian heritage in Libya, he grew up in Australia and has traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Switzerland, and France.

Goyal hopes to work with international health organizations such as UNAIDS. "AIDS is not purely a health problem but also an economic and social problem," he says. "It is an incredible hindrance to development in many developing nations beyond Africa as well, in Southeast Asia, Russia.... There are many incredible challenges."

On a mission to stop forced labor

Heidi Boutros has a passion for human-rights advocacy. It was sparked during a trip to Russia in her first year at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ms. Boutros says she was shocked to discover the prevalence of arbitrary civilian arrests in the streets. She learned that Russian police are commonly expected to fill an annual quota of arrests. The phenomenon impelled her to investigate the Russian prison system and work closely with prisoners' rights groups.

Since her return to the United States, Boutros has been volunteering with various nongovernmental organizations that address human rights problems such as forced prostitution.

With a grant from her university, she is currently working in India with a nonprofit group that aims to curtail bonded labor.

A comparison of East and West

Lau Kwok Kei (aka "Flag") is fascinated by the differences he sees in Eastern and Western students' perception of leadership.

A senior at Chinese University in Hong Kong, Mr. Lau believes that cultural influences and schooling practices are the reason Asian students seem generally quiet and loath to express their ideas publicly. Students in the West, by contrast, he says, are more outspoken and enthusiastic about sharing their thoughts because of their particular educational experiences.

Now Lau hopes to establish a forum at his university where students can discuss social and political issues.

"I don't think there should be a complete change, but it's important for both East and West to understand the styles [of leadership] so that we can have more-effective communication," Lau says.

"Sometimes it's good to be active because students in Hong Kong don't speak up, so we don't know what they are thinking. But at the same time, we need leaders who will listen to others, or otherwise the discussion will not be too effective."

As an information-technology major, Lau has other ways in mind to foster better communication. His current project – a central Web-based network system to help Hong Kong restaurants operate more efficiently during rush hour – has already caught the eyes of several Hong Kong venture-capital firms.

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