By Nicol Perez
Celebrities, CEOs, and Global leaders are found roaming around the 92Y throughout the day while the Social Good Summit was taking place. I stood in shock as I saw Laverne Cox, Charlize Theron, and Freida Pinto stand just a few feet away, un-fazed by the blinding lights of the press’ cameras. However, it’s not just the people standing on stage or in front of cameras that have something important to say. When you look around the room you’ll also find impassioned faces, young and old, eagerly listening and sharing ideas with one another. The environment at the Social Good Summit is like no other. It brings people of all ages, backgrounds, and industries together to discuss how we can use technology to scale social good initiatives. Throughout the 2 days, young people were placed in the center of the discussion. After all, the youngest speaker at the summit was 11 year old Vivienne Harr, Chief Inspiration Officer at STAND, who spoke as she stood on top of a stool to reach the microphone.
As I wandered the press room at the Social Good Summit, I overheard a young guy thanking Naomi Gleit, the head of Social Good at Facebook, for the initiatives that Facebook had taken to help with relief efforts after the devastating earthquake in Nepal. He mentioned that Facebook had helped raise awareness of his organization that is helping people back home in Nepal. I went up to him soon after that to spark conversation and learn more about what his organization is all about.
Sharif Shrestha, 21, is a junior at Hamilton College majoring in Biochemistry and Economics. Originally from Nepal, Sharif is cofounder of Herbs for Change, an initiative that works to economically empower people from the Mude Village in eastern Nepal. In a brief conversation I learned about how Sharif and his team had helped local people from Mude tap into an abundance of natural resources, specifically medicinal herbs, found in the village to provide an income-generating platform that will help them lead better lives of dignity and independence. The Herbs for Change initiative also creates equal opportunities for both men and women to take control of their economic independence
Listening to Sharif really resonated with me because it brought home a lot of the points that were made at the Social Good Summit. Young people are not just expert selfie-takers and hilarious Snapchat directors. We can do more than just click “like” on a Facebook post, or retweet something that we believe in. We are tech-savvy in more ways than many will ever be able to keep up with. We are coders, entrepreneurs, content creators, content curators, artists, explorers, connectors, and so much more! Not just that, we are also more socially conscious than any other generation has ever been. We don’t just settle for leading ordinary lives. We are constantly seeking for the next way to challenge the status quo, the next groundbreaking technology, or the next disruptive idea that has the power to shake the world … and also trend on social media. Sharif is not just a student, he’s also a social entrepreneur that is helping the lives of people living thousands of miles away.
But, how does a 21 year old in college juggle school, a non-profit, a social life, and family life? I asked Sharif a couple of questions and here is what he had to say:
How did you start Herbs for Change? What inspired you?
My project partner was doing a separate project to open quality schools in the current project area in Nepal. I had been volunteering to help him out with that project in the village. During that time, I greatly immersed myself with the villagers and started to understand their condition and, most importantly, the village’s potential. Normal conversations turned into brainstorming sessions, and the next thing you know, we are already looking for land to implement the project. I came back to college at Hamilton, found a mentor and got to work immediately. The support from the villagers, my team and my mentors, coupled with my desire to impact the peoples’ lives through the resources I had access to here in the US, drove the project forward.
How did you get others involved in your cause?
On the ground level, it is really just outreach, going door-to-door to mobilize people or even conducting town halls to generate interests from the locals. Apart from that, I would give credit to social media for making communication and translation of our ideas and progress so much more efficient. Once the word is out effectively, I believe it is not hard to draw people into your cause.
How do you manage school, personal life, and your non-profit?
In the beginning, it was definitely a struggle. Attaining that balance between these three aspects wasn’t necessarily organic then. Especially, matching time-zones to communicate with my team back home for brainstorming and working on proposals—that naturally takes so much of time. But I have learned to manage and prioritize these three roles effectively. There are certainly trade-offs and there are personal sacrifices in the process but it is for a greater purpose and it is something I love doing. At the end of the day it is actually worth it.
How has technology helped your organization scale?
We have used technology primarily for outreach, through social networking and documenting the project over the summer.
What are you most excited about for the future of your organization?
I am excited to see how it grows within the village and how the increased income really helps the people. Since our model greatly emphasizes on cooperation and capitalizing of local resources, it is something that can be done without significant investment. I would love to see other villages adapting a similar model.
There are many young people like Sharif making tangible differences in their communities and around the world. Young people are passionate, energetic and willing to put in the work to create a better world for all. In the last 20 years we have seen the biggest progress towards ending extreme poverty. If we continue to spark the fire that keeps us at the forefront of innovation and technology, we might just be the generation that can once and for all put poverty in the history books.
To check out Sharif’s organization visit:
Email Sharif at: firstname.lastname@example.org