By Fatima Bhutto, Photographs by Jason Schmidt, March 31, 2017, published in Vanity Fair

The Museum of Natural History, which stands on the intersection betw­een Ottawa and Quebec, typ­ifies the beauty of Canada’s uninterr­upted land­scape. Beside the river, in a rolling park of thick, young grass under a bright blue sky, Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and a former UN high commissioner for Human Rights, stands in the shadow of the museum and chats amiably to Loujain al-Hathloul. Loujain is 27 years old and spent 73 days in prison in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for her role in the campaign to allow women to drive.

This scene—former president and young activist standing shoulder-to-shoulder—is not unusual at One Young World, a UK-based charity founded in 2009 by Kate Robertson and David Jones that invites young people under the age of 30 from across the globe to attend an annual summit at which they mingle with older Counsellors—people who have led in the fields of business, politics, media and civil society. More than that: it offers them a kind of home—a place to speak, to connect, and to build alliances with activists and mentors who are working in their fields.

Jones and Robertson created One Young World because they believed there was a leadership vacuum in the world, and that young leaders could take us to a better place. The two partners wanted to create a platform that those young people could use to make their voices heard, and a catalyst for the development of both themselves and their projects. Despite all of the things that One Young World has achieved since 2009, both Jones and Robertson argue that we need exceptional young leaders even more today than then.

And this year, on the eve of the 149th anniversary of Canada’s foundation, Ottawa played host to 1,300 delegates, gathered from across the globe, and Counsellors from Bob Geldof and Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson to war reporter John Simpson. It was day one, and Mary, who was to speak passionately on climate change and the Paris Agr­eement at the opening ceremony in a few hours, chatted to us warmly. “Do you still drive?” I asked Loujain, who continues to live in Saudi Arabia and is now working on a campaign to abolish the stifling guardianship system in the kingdom. “I try not to,” she answered casually, noting that it was in Canada, as an 18-year-old student, that she first got behind the wheel of a car.

Meghan Markle, actress and UN Women Advocate, is in Ottawa as a One Young World Counsellor for the second time, though Canada is an adopted home of sorts as she spends much of the year filming in nearby Toronto. Meghan spends her time off doing humanitarian work. This coming year, she’ll travel to India as a global ambassador for World Vision, and she’s been in Rwanda over the past two years, working on gender equality. It’s about women knowing their worth, she says, and setting examples. “The energy is palpable and to be able to be part of that is an honour.”

That evening, Canada’s young prime minister Justin Trudeau welcomed all the Counsellors into the Library of Parli­ament, home to six hundred thousand volumes, as delegates gathered on the lawns outside the Gothic Revivalist parliament buildings. On the stage at Parliament Hill, Trudeau launched the Prime Minister’s Youth Council, calling its inaugural members up to join him. Among the 15 youngsters selected to meet several times a year and to advise their prime minister on issues ranging from employment to climate change was Hany al Moulia, a Syrian refugee recently resettled in Canada. Hany began to photograph life in a refugee camp in Lebanon, dis­covering a love of photo­graphy. Though he is a student and an actor, once Hany has finished studying, he ultimately hopes to become a journ­alist. “Art was a saving boat for me,” said Hany, who is legally blind, at the summit. “It was a place for my heart to feel good.”

Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, microfinance pion­eer and longtime supporter of One Young World, spoke to the 1,300 delegates to call upon them to influence the world they wished to create. Poverty wasn’t created by the poor, Yunus reminded the audience, but by unfair systems. So he decided to fight the systems. You are never too young to lead, echoed Kofi Annan, ex-UN Secretary-General, chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation and another Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

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