Student shares NYT democracy forum experience

By Alameina White, Transcript Reporter

Ohio Wesleyan sophomore Raissa Kanku was one of four college students worldwide selected to participate in a New York Times global democracy forum held in Athens, Greece.

From Sept. 10-15, Kanku was exposed to many influential leaders around the world, including the prime minister of Kenya, Amina Mohammed and Annika Savill, the executive head of the United Nations Democracy Fund.   

Though only four hours were spent at the forum a day, Kanku said she was networking 24 hours a day with the people she was being exposed to.

Kanku was given the opportunity to sit on a panel with Kerry Kennedy, the president of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Irina Bokova, the director of General UNESCO; and Brian Smith, the president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa Group and the Coca-Cola Company.

On the panel, they were given the topic of “bridging the generation gap” (elders against the youth).  On another panel where Kanku sat with European journalists, they discussed climate change.

Kanku said she did not believe that the way the organization leaders answered the question were representative of people from different regions. Instead, she said they based their answers on what they had personally done.

But Kanku said she enjoyed the opportunity to network with people who understand her passion for helping child soldiers within the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo integrate back into their community.

“It was a platform for me to express how I felt about organizations and for me to network with people who could help me further my ideas,” Kanku said.

In the process of networking, Kanku and other students from around the world observed that the representation of minorities was less. Kanku noted that while there were students from Pakistan, there were no leaders from Pakistan at the forum.

“You have this forum that’s supposed to represent the whole world, but it didn’t really,” Kanku said.

The students discussed topics like these and their perspectives of what they’d heard when they returned to where they were staying, the American College of Greece, in discussions led by Richard Detweiler, president of the Global Liberal Arts Alliance.

The Global Liberal Arts Alliance sent a general call to politics and government professors across campus.

Ashley Biser, associate professor of politics and government, was familiar with Kanku’s Theory-to-Practice Grants and nominated Kanku to apply.

Biser nominated Kanku because of her spirit and energy, unique background and desire to make democracy stronger.

“I think that she is someone who cares a lot about the world and trying to make it a better place,” said Biser.

In the evenings, Kanku had the chance to explore Greece and toured the Acropolis Museum where she learned about how much Greece developed in terms of government.  Kanku also said she  enjoyed the architecture and the gyros.

“You could walk downtown and still see how everything was styled in Ancient Greece,” said Kanku. “There was so much history.”


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