Some of you may remember Jonny White from the post we wrote recently on his documentary film project called Welcome to Type 1. Jonny lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, and works as a lecturer in Media Psychology at Fielding Graduate University and at UCLA Extension. He's also an all-around diabetes advocate, diagnosed himself with type 1 at age 15. Most recently, he's been instrumental in launching a sweeping new international diabetes advocacy "task force" of sorts for young community leaders from all around the world. This group convened for the first time in early December at the World Diabetes Congress in Dubai (which I unfortunately was unable to attend - boo!). Jonny joins us today to introduce the new Young Leaders program, and share his impressions of this dynamite first meet-up:
A Guest Post by Jonny White
It seemed like a simple idea and a good one: Invite Young Leaders from all over the world who are passionate about helping people with diabetes. Have them meet in Dubai during the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Conference. Bring in a faculty of experts to lead them. The objective was to have the Young Leaders go home inspired, connected, and with tricks up their sleeves to help lead their own (IDF member) diabetes organizations (like the Maltese Diabetes Association) in their home countries.
It seemed like a simple idea, but this is where the easy part ended. I was on faculty and flew in the day before the Young Leaders arrived to go over the schedule. The scheduled events—presentations, networking, sailing, group work, conference talks, and a night in the desert—went from 7:00am to midnight for 9 days. The topics ranged from cultural differences to the artificial pancreas to leadership to how media can help, with faculty from Brazil, Bermuda, Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, UK, and USA. I remember thinking that these long days were stuffed with heavy content but that it might still be manageable, so long as there were no further complications.
Then 69 participants of different languages, colors, cultures, dress, levels of sociability, and ages (20-30) materialized. It was terribly exciting, but as I introduced myself to the Young Leaders I found that, one after another, either they didn't understand my accent or I didn't understand theirs and we stumbled through small-talk. I feared I had signed up for 9 days of those awful moments where I pretend to understand someone and smile. I cringed as Paul Madden (a veteran of the diabetes industry and former director of Camp Joslin) made the formal introductions in his rich Boston English. We pushed forward with the curriculum.
I spent the first two 15-hour days in tense anticipation of what would happen when the Young Leaders had to apply what they had learned in group-work. The energy was high and presentations ran overtime. The moment of truth came soon enough, though, and as I visited each of the multi-cultural roundtables, I was shocked. I learned that some of our participants came from countries where the health professionals didn't know how to use insulin properly, or where employers discriminate against people with diabetes, or where they had insufficient diabetes supplies to test their blood sugar more than once a week, or where people couldn't afford insulin. The language barriers were no match for the Young Leaders' desire to share issues relevant to generating adequate diabetes care in their home countries. My moment of relief came, then passed quickly as I kept listening and processing the magnitude of the global issues these Young Leaders were inheriting.
And yet, there was hope. Paul Madden's two favorite descriptions of the group ("Awesome!" and "Even More Awesome!") became catchphrases as the Young Leaders worked tirelessly with laser-focus. The Young Leaders (and their faculty) often continued getting to know each other after sessions wrapped up at midnight, and I couldn't believe how well we kept on the next day. It was on the fourth day, when the Young Leadersasked if they could skip the lunch buffet to keep working, that I realized I was witnessing something amazing.
In their home countries these Young Leaders have enough to do. They are medical students, dentists, architects, college students, athletes, or other types of working professionals with student loans. Yet they had taken time off, bought tickets to Dubai, paid their hotel, and were here working themselves to the bone in a hot conference room. They were laying it all on the line for something they believed in. Around this time, the faculty realized that they had given what they could and it was time to get out of the way. The Young Leaders created their own political structure, created a long-term plan, and elected leadership. We helped when asked.
But when the IDF conference started on the fifth day of the Young Leaders program I began to worry again. The diabetes epidemic statistics and the international discrepancies in health care are bad enough. In addition, like every multi-national organization that spans industries, the IDF deals with thorny political issues that would affect the Young Leaders. First, there's apathy or discord: Some of the IDF's national delegates (not Young Leaders) who were flown to Dubai and put up in the Ritz Carlton but chose not to attend IDF congress elections. Second, there's funding: In one of the big-room sessions Sir Michael Hirst, President Elect of IDF, debated Medical Professor John Yudkin's claim that allowing insulin companies to sponsor IDF hinders IDF's ability to provide cheap insulin in third world countries. Yet presenters are often sponsored by corporations and without these corporations the IDF might not exist. Would similar issues snag and tear the Young Leaders apart at the conference? More threatening still—would they tear them apart when Dubai is just a memory?
To the first question, I can tell you that during the conference the Young Leaders held strong, continued working together, and took an interest in the conference events to the extent that they were pulled into the spotlight repeatedly. The press and other conference-goers had heard the buzz about the Young Leaders and wanted more. On stage, the Young Leaders spoke with the natural clarity, precision, and passion that those of us over 30 try to fake. Their hope and dedication to the cause were electric and contagious. Faculty, sponsors, media, and even Sir Michael Hirst drank in the group's enthusiasm and gave it back in kind at the conference, in their workroom, and on a dance floor in the desert.
To the second question—whether the Young Leaders will disintegrate after Dubai—I can't tell you the future. I can, however, tell you that there is a new closed forum somewhere on the Internet that received hundreds of posts in the week following the IDF conference. I can tell you that some of it is IDF-related, some of it is diabetes-related, and some of it is the social glue that holds people together. I can tell you that it all builds on a good idea, and I can tell you that I'm not worried.
How IDF Young Leaders are chosen:
Young Leaders must be nominated by their IDF Member Association (e.g. the Diabetic Association of Pakistan, Azerbaijan Diabetes Society, etc.). Each Member Association should have heard about the program from their Regional Chair, however interested individuals can also let their IDF Member Associations know they are interested in the program. There is then a short application process.
The group's self-selected Mission Statement:
The Young Leaders will raise awareness of diabetes by being a powerful voice for prevention, education, access to quality care, improved quality of life, and the end of discrimination worldwide.
Albania, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bermuda, Brazil, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Probably the best way to get the flavor of what went on is to hear it directly:
This gives us ALL KINDS OF HOPE — around diabetes advocacy and global cooperation, too. Thanks to Jonny for sharing this amazing program with us!