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In flight on South African Airways

In flight on South African Airways


Although I am American, I was blessed to have an international upbringing. My parents were pioneers in cross-cultural communications and Learning through the Arts. I was born in Accra, Ghana; started school in Adelaide, Australia; and as a Stetcher Scholar, studied and lived in Rome, Italy. I have traveled to over 30 countries around the world and have been on all continents except for Antarctica. I am joyful when I board trains and planes (not necessarily automobiles).

In the late 1960s, my family lived in Africa, working at the University of Ghana and producing for the 1966 First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal, and the First Pan African Cultural Festival in Algiers, Algeria in 1969. My father put in the Masters program at the Institute of African Studies at the University. In the 1970s, they were invited as Fulbright scholars by the Prime Minister of Australia to live in Adelaide and introduce new concepts of African-American and African people to that continent. We were the first African-American family to live on the continent of Australia. My parents produced three plays for the Papau, New Guinea Independence Arts Festival in 1973. In the late 1980s, my mom was invited by the U.S. Housing & Urban Development and the Department of Commerce as one of 14 delegates to go to the People’s Republic of China on the first trade mission of American women. After that trip, she secured a contract from the China Building Technology Center and started a new company, China Today, Inc., which for five years, distributed Building in China. In the 1990s, my dad taught at the United States International University – Africa in Nairobi – where we all spent time. My aunt, Dr. Lillian Kennedy Beam, was the Vice Chancellor at USIU-A, and my uncle, Dr. Joseph C. Kennedy, was co-founder and International Director of Africare. My parents also worked in the United Kingdom and the Middle East, and my siblings and cousins are equally as traveled.

Now I am absolutely thrilled to have been selected as a Member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Founder by Professor Klaus Schwab, the WEF is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas. Each year it identifies 200-300 individuals age 40 or under, drawn from every region of the world. The Selection Committee is headed by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan. Together, the YGLs form a powerful international community that can dramatically impact the global future tapping into the resources of the main Forum. I’m now a part of that incredible network! Other YGLs include people like Chad Hurley, the Co-Founder and CEO of YouTube; Josh Silverman, CEO of Skype Technologies; Mark Zuckerburg, Founder & CEO of Facebook; and Kevin Rose, CEO of Digg. They are not all tech-heads. The group also has social entrepreneurs such as Mark Hanis, Founder and President of the Genocide Intervention Network; artists such as Jonathan Harris; and celebrities who are doing good such as Tiger Woods and Jessica Biel. Dr. Mehmet Oz, Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin were also Global Leaders for Tomorrow – the organization which preceded the current structure.

I did not get chosen for this honor on my own. I must first thank Van Jones for nominating me. We met at the Social Venture Network – a extraordinary network of socially-conscious businesses and investors. The group was focused on sustainable business long before it came into mass favor. I was invited to become a member of SVN and named an “Emerging Entrepreneur” in 2002. Van and I were two of only a few members of color – so I guess we stood out and we connected quickly. I was impressed with the work he was doing with the Ella Baker Foundation. He had such passion and conviction. Now, as Founder and CEO of GreenForAll and former Special Advisor on Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, he has channeled his passion into creating green jobs in underserved communities. If you don’t know about his work, certainly check it out.

I must also thank Congressman Charles B. Rangel - Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means and my representative in the 15th District in New York. He wrote a letter of support on my behalf to the World Economic Forum. Then, of course, I must thank my family. Although my brother-in-law, John Bryant, Founder and Chairman of Operation HOPE, is a Young Global Leader, he was not involved in the nomination process. However, my sister Sheila Kennedy-Bryant, who has been very active as a YGL spouse, was really a key supporter for me joining. Her friendship with Penny Low, who is in parliament in Singapore, was instrumental as an internal cheerleader. Now, last, but certainly not least, I must thank those in my overview video on the website. I feel incredibly grateful for the many voices that contributed to the video – my brother, James S. Kennedy, Jr., did the voice-over, and I received comments from Rachel Permuth-Levine at the National Institutes of Health, Joshua Rosenthal at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Grace Whi-Tze Ueng at Savvy Marketing Group, the First Lady of Abysinnian Baptist Church Patricia Butts, Yoga Master Srivatsa Ramaswami, and nine-time Grammy Award-winning jazz legend Wynton Marsalis – who taped that piece much earlier for something else and always humbles me with his brilliance and friendship. Since I left the corporate world in 1999, I’ve come in contact with so many bright lights from different sectors – yoga, health, business, arts, faith, government. Divine has allowed me gain a multifaceted view of life and have a small village supporting me.

As I embark on this five-year journey to improve the state of the world, I will share my impressions and insights along the way as well as stories, regional analysis, interviews, postcards and much more from around the globe. If I don’t immediately answer your call or email, please forgive me. I am probably traveling by train, plane, automobile or local animal, like a camel! You may catch me better by leaving a comment here. I will also enlist help from my family and friends from around the globe who are seeking to live on purpose. Together we really can change the world!

Contributed by Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, Ph.D., MBA. Part of the Power Living® Empowerment Series.