With the refugee crisis in such a dire state, it is hard to know where to begin, but young leader Laurie Findley knows that the first and most important step is just to begin. Laurie’s activism work began with something as simple as tuning in to where her candy bars came from and now has come as far as bridging global barriers to create a cross-cultural dialogue about tolerance. Laurie is now in her fourth year as a member of the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) while she attends the University of Virginia. With support from the Jane Goodall Institute, members of the NYLC receive leadership training and guidance from Roots & Shoots staff which they then share with hundreds of thousands of Roots & Shoots members around the world as the youth representatives of the Jane Goodall Institute. We caught up with Laurie to discuss how she has been using this network to create a more empathetic global community.
Name: Laura “Laurie” Findley
Exemplary Compassionate Leadership Skills/Traits:
Acts with Purpose
Collaborates and Communicates Openly
Roots & Shoots Projects:
Tasting Freedom: Human trafficking seminars and marches across the United States to raise awareness about modern slavery, to promote anti trafficking legislation, and to provide a platform for meaningful dialogue.
Refugee Outreach: A student group at the University of Virginia working to provide support for those seeking refuge locally and globally through tutoring, awareness events, and fundraisers.
MOSAIC Global: To provide students with a platform to share their ideas for a sustainable future while simultaneously promoting dialogue across borders.
Books Not Bombs: Working to secure scholarships for Syrian students at the University of Virginia in order to allow them to continue their post secondary education.
Favorite activity: My favorite thing to do is probably going out into nature, just exploring with my friends and family.
Q: What is your favorite Roots & Shoots project that you’ve done and why?
Laurie: Well, I have two favorites. The first is Tasting Freedom, which I explained a bit above. It was amazing to connect with so many passionate people across the country and to see the dialogue about trafficking open up on such a large scale. The other is still in the works, but I am very excited to see how it works out. Along with a friend from the NYLC and with a Nigerian nonprofit, I am launching MOSAIC Global. The focus is on cross cultural connection and sustainable change making. So far we have partners in 9 countries. The purpose is to initiate discussions across borders to develop tolerance and empathy while giving students a platform to express themselves and learn to be better global citizens. Students can be paired with others within their country and in different countries. They will also get the chance to make a video to tell their story, connect with mentors in their field, learn how to utilize permaculture, participate in sustainability and human rights projects, and possibly experiment with using virtual reality for activism.
Q: What has been one of your failures that has taught you something valuable?
Laurie: When I held my first human trafficking seminar I did all of the work myself and didn’t delegate anything. The event was successful, but I realized afterwards that, by bringing in more people to lead the event, more people would be invested in the project. This would help of course in terms of workload but also in terms of promotion and project sustainability. It wasn’t a failure per say, but there was definitely room for improvement. Since then, I have always formed committees for my projects, trying especially to involve younger people who could carry on the project in my absence.
Q: What inspires you to be an activist? How did you get started in this work?
Laurie: I began my work after seeing The Dark Side of Chocolate in ninth grade. It showed the atrocities of modern day slavery with a focus on child trafficking in the cocoa industry. I stopped eating non fair trade chocolate, and I began researching the issue. I held seminars and marches to combat human trafficking in all industries, and I launched a petition with a focus on the cocoa industry. I never really felt that I was making a huge impact, but I was just trying to do everything in my power to effect change.
Every time I hear the news of a tragedy that has happened in the world, I am initially crushed. It seems hopeless. It is hard to know where to turn, and it is painful to witness such hateful acts constantly. So the next question I ask myself is what can I do? I research further into the issue and find the experts. I try to narrow my project focus, then I search for individuals who are already making change on the ground. I learn from them and begin to collaborate. Even if I can’t do anything major, I have to do something. Dr. Jane inspires me daily with her passion and tenacity in conjunction with her ability to make a connection with every being that she meets. When developing my projects, I have always drawn inspiration from her holistic approach to address global problems.
Everything is connected, and it is essential that we do not look at issues in isolation.
Q: What advice do you have for other young people who want to get involved in their communities or make a difference for the world?
Laurie: Find out what you are passionate about, research that topic, and find others who are similarly passionate. Start small and never feel like what you are doing isn’t enough. Small changes add up and, with every small project you accomplish, you will boost your confidence and sooner than you think you will be having a major impact. Never be afraid to ask questions. Reach out to others even if they seem out of your league, you’ll be surprised by the number of people that respond. You have to remember that they are also passionate about this topic, so they will want to talk to you. When I was promoting my cocoa petition, I reached out to hundreds of people who connected me to other people who could help. I even reached out to famous people and organizations, and I got word back from Jimmy Carter, Made in a Free World, and Walk Free. You never know until you ask, so do not ever reject yourself, this applies to anything that you do. Don’t be afraid of failure.
Q: This past month we celebrated World Refugee Day, did you work on any projects in particular relating to this crisis?
Laurie: I co-founded a student organization at the University of Virginia called Refugee Outreach to provide support for those seeking refuge locally and globally. One of our focuses is on fundraising for small scale NGOs working to fill the gaps left behind by larger organizations. We currently have partner organizations in 6 countries and we are looking to expand. A major component of our work is addressing the needs of refugees in Charlottesville. We plan to provide ESL and SAT tutoring services, which is something I am already involved in with the International Rescue Committee. I will actually be in Greece this summer in order to connect with small scale NGOs supporting refugees, whether it be basic, legal, educational, medical, or psychological support. This should be a good learning experience for me to bring back to my own community to tackle the refugee crisis.
To learn more about the projects that influential young leaders like Laurie are doing, visit the Roots & Shoots website. Educators and Roots & Shoots groups, you can invite Laurie or another member of the NYLC to visit or Skype with your classroom/group to talk about their Roots & Shoots work and share tips for your next service campaign! Click here to learn more.
Laurie acts with purpose, collaborates and communicates openly, and is empathetic. In fact, she possess all of the skills and traits of a compassionate leader. Fostering these traits in young people is our way of working toward a better future — one where leaders from the playground to the boardroom make decisions that are good for people, other animals, and the environment. Read more about compassionate leadership skills and traits here.
Educators, we’ve designed a free, online course to support you as you grow compassionate leaders through service learning. Join the course.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.