The life you save might be your own

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Today, an ad article sponsored by Cadillac for GQ landed in my feed. The slogan for the ad feature is “Only those who dare, drive the world forward.” It features the “Daring 25” with slick photography of beautiful, successful people who dare to change the world. One has started a bespoke tie company. Another two are launching luxury brands. They have blasted through feng shui principles, betting on luminous loft space against misplaced corridors. They have bet on white, versus other color palettes, and they have proven the skeptics wrong.

To succeed is always a challenge. To succeed in NYC in its luxury markets indicates talent, grit and determination. But is it really the luxury good providers – these daring 25 successful in their lofts in NYC – that will drive the world forward?


World Youth Alliance will push a membership campaign this giving Tuesday. It has prompted additional self-reflection on my part as we think about what it is to be a WYA member, and why a young person might join our organization.

We do not follow – or even worry – about the laws of feng shui. In our first offices, in the basement of a disused convent at the tip of Manhattan, we were bemused to see the asbestos stuffing coming out from the pipes over our heads. We boarded up the windows to keep the nosy rats out of our below ground spot. We learned to stun cockroaches with bleach to have time to make sure to get them. Not GC and Cadillac, nor even conscientious corporations such as Patagonia are looking for wild, creative, champions such as these. But we persevered, and in the midst of the wildlife, we built our small organization.

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White, as a clothing conversation, is not a conversation that happens at WYA. Discussing fashion trends, let alone following them, is an activity for those in social classes high above us. It’s simply above our pay grade. Among other considerations, we wash our own dishes, sweep our own office space, and clean our own toilets. We also study big ideas and look to influence global policy, but along the way we clean up after ourselves, outfitted by necessity rather than luxury; a DIY mentality born from poverty rather than a privilege.

Our photos are not slick, though sometimes glamorous: looking at WYA photos from the beginning until today, one is struck by the un-studied happiness of these young people. They are seriously happy, focused on giving their best and their all to ideas that are bigger than they are, and a cause that can, perhaps, never succeed.

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WYA is a place where young people can come to study ideas, influence global policy, and give their creativity and energy to the world. WYA is also a place where we learn to live together – bringing our cultural and family traditions, our assumptions about life and living in the big city, and submitting them all to the grittiness and test that real life offers.

As a result of these efforts, WYA has not only generated successes at the UN, but elected officials, press and NGO leaders, PhD’s and mothers, nuns and priests.

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More than this, WYA is a place that generates joy. Flannery O’Connor once wrote, “[The] life you save might be your own”. I think this holds true for WYA. In being ready to save the world, we save ourselves. In offering everything we have, more is received than is given.

Cadillac has identified the daring 25. Will you help us identify the next wave of daring  leaders? Joining WYA – and giving it to your friends – might not save the world. But you just might save yourselves. This giving Tuesday, WYA dares you to drive dignity forward.

Written by Anna Halpine, WYA’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer.