On June 17, 2008, Ocean Robbins received the national Jefferson Award for outstanding public service by an individual 35 years or younger. This prestigious award, presented in partnership with dozens of US Senators at a black tie gala event sponsored by NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox, is considered a “Nobel Prize” for public service. This is the text prepared for his acceptance speech.
Thank you so much. I started YES! in 1990 for two reasons. The first was that I saw a world in a crisis. The second was that I saw a generation that seemed so cynical that many of my peers felt powerless to do anything about it. I believed then, as I believe today, that we have more than enough creativity and commitment to create a world free from the madness of war and starvation, a world of sustainability, a world where every child is loved and has its basic needs met. It could be that our greatest obstacle isn’t too little time, too little money, or too little natural resources. It might be apathy.
In the first half of the 1990’s, we spoke to more than 650,000 high school students, and as we traveled the country we would ask students to raise their hands if they believed the world would be a better place in a generation, with less violence and less pollution. In school after school, we would watch 1% of the hands go up in the room. Then we would ask, “raise your hands if you want the world to be a better place in a generation, with less violence and less pollution”, and we would see every hand go up. So we had to ask ourselves, why do so many people care, but so few people have hope?
I came to realize that we have to stop thinking of hope as a noun, and start seeing it as a verb. Because hope is not a spectator sport, something we can get from sitting passively on the sidelines imagining that things will magically get better out there. Hope must be expressed in the prayers, dreams and actions that move through our lives.
Ten years ago we decided to see what would happen if we worked with some of the most hopeful people in the world. So, seeking to leverage our impact, YES! shifted its focus towards connecting, inspiring and collaborating with outstanding young leaders. Since that time we have helped young social entrepreneurs from more than 65 nations to become more strategic and effective in their vital work. Our alumni have gone on to start more than 400 organizations, businesses, philanthropic institutions and networks designed to achieve positive social impact. What we’re seeing gives us incredible hope. Around the world, young people of all nations, religions, class backgrounds, and political perspectives are rising up with courage and creativity to make a difference with their lives.
We work with young visionaries who are committed to transformation on three levels: The internal, which is how we relate to our own spiritual and personal development. The interpersonal, which is the cultures we create in our families, organizations and communities. And the collective, which is our impact on the social, political, economic and ecological systems of our world.
If you are moved by our work and want to support it, then please join us. You can check us out at www.yesworld.org, and please find me later if you would like some information on our activities.
In closing, I want to say that I hope you will not be deceived by my presence alone on this stage. For this award truly belongs to all of our staff and partners past and present, to our thousands of generous donors, to the visionary young leaders who have been touched by our work as they have also guided our evolution, and to the hopes and dreams of future generations, whose infinite trust is now placed in all of our care.
Thank you very much.