ONE year later: Ajay’s journey as a Campus Leader

This post is written by ONE at the University of Texas at Dallas’ Campus Leader Ajay Dave. Catch up on the latest campus activities by following the chapter on Twitter. Catch up on Ajay’s advocacy from last summer by reading his blog post here.

I started my time with ONE last summer as a first-year student at the University of Texas at Dallas. I was both optimistic and a bit naive. I hoped to be a change-maker, but I was clueless as to how that change would occur. I’m no longer as naïve as I was a year ago, but I’m positive that extreme poverty will be eradicated within my lifetime. I’m optimistic because I’ve witnessed firsthand how this movement has raised awareness of global poverty and how it has granted me and my ONE Campus peers the opportunity to improve the lives of millions.

I can’t believe how much I’ve grown in my first year of school. I knew that I’d learn in the classroom, but I didn’t know how much I would learn as a Campus Leader. A lesson I learned during this year is that being an organizer requires strong communication at all levels. It’s like building a pillar out of different-shaped blocks. You have to mold them and glue them together well so that they create a structure that can stand and support other ones.

As a Campus Leader, I was responsible for leading that process on campus. I had no idea how. If you asked me to envision a leader, I’d think of Gandhi, Mandela, or King. I’d imagine sheer charisma. A lot of my work as a Campus Leader would be plain and simple networking.

“Networking” is a buzzword that means zilch until you find yourself doing it. Naturally, college has been a great place to network. One of my main goals last year was to build coalitions and relationships across campus that can continue to raise awareness and create opportunities for meaningful action. Two things came to me quickly as I networked on campus:

  1. Don’t be a jerk. Be genuinely nice to people.
  2. Look for opportunities to meet those who might share similar passions but have different views, and learn from them.

Then I had to turn those relationships into a series of coordinated actions. I learned you have to make “The Ask.” It really comes down to saying, “Hey, I’m really passionate about fighting global poverty. For x, y, and z reasons, I think you’d find it meaningful to help me out. You interested?” “The Ask” is an ongoing expression of your passion to others; a constant striking of the match and hoping something will light.

“The Ask” intimidated me at first. How could I cram all of my passion, the importance I saw in ONE’s mission, into one short conversation and inspire someone else to act? How can I do so without coming off as disingenuous? Then I realized that people want to act. You just have to give them the opportunity. Therein lies the personal connection. And as everyone says, the worst they can say is “no.” (They’re usually nice enough to give a reason though.)

My short time as a Campus Leader has given me clarity, and more importantly, confidence. In a world that sometimes feels like it’s spinning in an over-zealous washing machine, I’ve learned that I’m capable of taking grounded steps towards positive change. And I think that’s the first step to being a leader. While a letter to the dean or a text to my friend reminding him to call Congress may seem insignificant in the moment, I’ve learned that small coordinated actions can yield results. In hindsight, those letters, phone calls, meetings, emails, and presentations add up.

That’s why I’m optimistic. I’ve got a lot of luxuries that many young people around the world don’t have. The next three years are going to be chock-full of opportunities. And as a Campus Leader, I’m confident I can take advantage of them.

Here’s to another great year with ONE.

Are you a change agent like Ajay? Join him and the nearly 100 ONE Campus Leaders and sign the latest petition here.