Defining the next generation of leaders

Address to Prime Ministers of PNG and Australia: 21 March 2014, Australian High Commissioner’s Residence by Serena Sumanop.

Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott; Prime Minister of PNG, Peter O’Neill; Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I address you all this afternoon. My name is Serena Sumanop and I am the Executive Director of The Voice Inc. With the time that I have I would like to share my own journey in The Voice and some thoughts on traits that will define our next generation of leaders in PNG.

Firstly, my journey as someone seeking to make a difference, began seven years ago when as a group of law students we met together and realised that the most powerful weapon we had to change the world around us, was our education. This simple realisation led to us doing legal rights education in communities. The initiative was strongly supported by the University of PNG, which led to them giving us an office space and support to run our programs. As students we raised our own funds to run our programs and recruit a full time staff member to mind the office. We then graduated from the University but there was still a lot of interest to continue to support the organisation. The leadership team had to make the big decision of whether to continue developing the programs and vision, knowing there would be a price to pay in terms of pursuing our own individual goals.

We made the bold decision to continue the journey knowing full well what it would require. In 2010 we registered The Voice as an Incorporated Association and turned the focus from community awareness to youth development. Our work is centred on helping young people discover a sense of purpose for their lives, build their confidence and contribute to their communities, knowing that we can’t empower others if we have not first been empowered. Five years later, that vision now contains within it, partnerships with three of the biggest Universities in the country, two Leadership Centres and programs that have impacted hundreds of young people, many of whom continue to break boundaries and go into challenging fields, and the exciting part is that we are only getting started! Working in an organisation that comes face to face with incredible young people that continue to persevere, despite the enormous challenges they have had to overcome, continues to give me hope that our country will be in good hands.

When I got the call from the Australian High Commission to share a few words at this gathering, I will admit that I was terrified because for starters, you all are not an easy crowd to address, and to top it off I have a pending assignment for my Master’s degree due on Sunday. Nonetheless a brilliant idea entered my mind on how I could do this without causing too much stress.

I went onto my laptop and phone and messaged 40 people about the traits they thought would define the next generation of leaders in our country. The people I messaged ranged from High School students, to teachers, working professionals, University students and people still trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Now this exercise proved to be extremely fruitful and I was amazed at how excited people were to share their thoughts on traits that would define the next generation of leaders in our country.

Thirty-eight people responded and with each message that I read, my heart swelled with joy and pride with what they had to share. The traits they listed included determination, passion, courage to act, a love for the sciences and the arts, perseverance, being proactive not reactive, having stamina, the ability to work side by side, being principle centred, patient, understanding, being service oriented, stewardship, innovation, humility, drive, ambition, compassion, self-belief, integrity, hard work, teach ability and love.

Ivy, a student in our programs stated and I quote, “I say love because it is the purest expression of giving oneself, and that is what I want to be able to do, to give of myself unconditionally because I love my people and I love my country.”

Stephanie the President of the Law Students Society said, “I see a future generation of leaders who have the courage to be different, to chart new courses and to build new dreams. In the words of the great Martin Luther, ‘Even if I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree.’ This is the sort of self-sacrificing courage and perseverance I hope for.”

Naomi summed it up beautifully by saying, “Young people and old people ought to work together as partners as ‘we are all a family on this great big canoe of the world, journeying together towards a better future.’ And as this canoe sails, it sails under the guidance of the elders while the young people paddle with their passions (SIDS Pacific, 2013).”

The statements show the cry of the next generation to see strong leadership based on personal integrity and the ability to explore new models of development that are able to provide more opportunities for our citizens. So the question therein lies, what will we as emerging leaders need to do to prepare ourselves for positions of leadership in all sectors of society? Esther summed it up beautifully and in concluding, I would like to share what she had written:

Serena, the next generation of leaders;

They are not IGNORANT of who they are and what their destiny should be;

They seek out to EDUCATE themselves adequately in their chosen professions but have a thirst for knowledge on a broader scale

They seek out MENTORS and learn by ASSOCIATION with the best both in PNG and on a global level

They read widely;

They are informed sufficiently to have a view point that is well researched and thoroughly thought through

I see people that are confident;

They are a generation driven by their inner belief they can be all they were created to be;

They believe in their God given ability to rise up and determine their own destinies;

They are not afraid to make strong and bold decisions;

Because they are not ruled by fear or intimidation, they do not see the need to fight each other

Each leader knows their sphere of influence. They shine where they are planted

I see a generation that are persistent;

They dream and persist to see their dreams come true;

They know every great leader has the spirit to fight for a cause and fight till the end;

They push beyond their own and other people’s expectations to see their dreams become a reality;

They are a generation of leaders that know that struggles bring out the best in them

They know “dreams” are earned and not given to them.

Ladies and gentlemen these are very bold statements but I’ve seen, talked about and touched the future through my work, and if a nation is defined by its people then PNG is destined for greatness.

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