Nicaragua to Azerbaijan

Global UGRAD participant Maria Lourdes Zapata Miranda of Nicaragua (2013-2014, Murray State University) has been an active program alumnus. Most recently, she traveled to Azerbaijan to attend a global conference. Below is a story of her experience.


Coincidentally, one of the many friends I met during my Global UGRAD experience at Murray State University told me about a fully-funded opportunity to attend the 7th Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) from April 25 to the 27 in Baku, Azerbaijan. The first thing I did was check all of the requirements, and one night, while I was abroad volunteering in Brazil, I applied for this great opportunity. The next day I saw on the UNAOC fan page that 6,000 people applied and just 150 young leaders would be selected… challenge accepted! Surprisingly, on February 16th I received an email confirmation listing me one of those 150!

The UNAOC Global Forum, held annually since 2008 in Madrid, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, Doha, Vienna, and Bali has become the premier forum in the world for governmental and non-state actors to converge. At this forum, they engage in a global conversation on intercultural understanding, exchange innovative experiences, develop joint actions. This 7th edition explored the topic “Living Together in Inclusive Societies: A Challenge and a Goal”. By stressing the “inclusive” aspect of “living together,” the UNAOC 7th Global Forum harnessed multiple perspectives of various sectors to meet the challenge of, and progress towards, inclusive living in today’s increasingly diverse societies. The conference alone succeeded in bringing together more than 4,300 participants, including Heads of State and Government, political officials, civil society representatives, religious figures, and youth leaders from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.

Before arriving to Baku, during March-April 2016, all the youth delegates were asked to join an online platform to engage and discuss in groups one of the forum sub-themes and start brainstorming on the elements of the “Narratives of Tomorrow“, the main outcome of the Youth Event. This online platform allowed us to introduce ourselves, learn more about others’ backgrounds, interests, and our organization’s activities.

I just loved the forum! I think after my UGRAD experience this is one of the most life-changing experiences I’ve ever had. I met people from every corner of the world, and I marveled as I listened to the amazing initiatives many of these young leaders were undertaking for a better society. Most importantly, I returned home more motivated, empowered, and committed to making this world, our world, a better place to live in.


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