Freshman’s Activism Puts Her on the Road to Davos

Posted: December 11, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryann Doyle

Whitney Burton
Whitney Burton
Photo Courtesy of Whitney Burton

University Scholar Whitney Burton, freshman global affairs major, has been selected to participate in the British Council’s Greenwich Forum. She will travel to Greenwich, London, in January to meet with 60 young scholars from around the world to discuss global issues and challenge world leaders.

The British Council is a humanitarian aid organization founded 70 years ago. According to the council, it is currently involved in 109 countries and territories around the world and reaches more than 20 million people, enabling them to discuss issues that affect a shared global future.

The Greenwich Forum serves as an opportunity for a diverse group of young scholars, ages 16 to 19, to meet and discuss, investigate and question global issues. Forum members break off into smaller groups to formulate a strategy to alleviate these problems, which can range from environmental and health issues to discrimination. The group presenting the strongest proposal travels to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to present their plan to business, political and intellectual world leaders and challenge them to consider their proposal and make changes.

Entrance to the Greenwich Forum is a highly competitive process. After Burton was chosen from the first round of applicants, she was interviewed at the British Embassy about her future plans, past activism efforts and the issue she would challenge.

After being chosen from that round, Burton had to make a short YouTube-style video describing the global issue she would challenge and potential solutions to the problem. Burton and one other candidate were selected to represent the United States for the first time in Greenwich.

Burton began her activism while attending high school in Houston, Tex. She headed a group that held garage sales, car washes and other fund raisers to build a school in the West African country of Sierra Leone. They raised $16,000 over a year and a half, and the school is currently being built.

“I believe we are not just building a physical school, but we are building the futures of the children there as well by giving them the tools they need to make a better life for themselves, their families and essentially their communities and the world,” says Burton.

Burton now works with Save the Children, an organization that empowers youth to make a difference in the world. She believes the answer to eradicating poverty lies in education. Eventually, she would like to work in Africa and interact with charities to help children gain entrance into schools and provide them with primary education regardless of race, religion, culture or region.

But for now, Burton is looking forward to the Greenwich Forum to engage in dialogue and listen to people from other countries to see how different cultures can work together to improve all of their lives.

“It’s one thing for me to say, ‘O.K., this is what we should do.’ But a lot of times, my ideas are just from the culture I know, and they won’t necessarily fit into another culture,” says Burton. “I want to take what I can from other people’s ideas to be able to come up with solutions that will really work, not just in theory but in reality.”

Burton is considering plans for next summer that might include travel to Calcutta to volunteer with Mother Teresa’s orphanage or to South India to build a school. A year from now, she will go to Kenya to help build a school or a water system for a community.

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