Up to 5,000 global citizens to convene in Tallinn to tackle sustainability challenges

In November, a team of 250 volunteers will organise the largest congress ever hosted in Estonia – the Junior Chamber International’s (JCI) World Congress.

In early November, a huge group of international speakers and leaders fly to Estonia to share at the Junior Chamber International’s (JCI) World Congress the best case studies on how to support the circular economy model globally. The JCI is partnering with Estonian-founded Let’s Do It Foundation – an NGO with global reach that aims to unite the international community to achieve a clean and healthy planet.

Changemakers from over 100 countries at your doorstep in Estonia

The World Congress, organised by JCI members in respective countries, takes place annually, and in a new location every year. It is the first time for Estonia to host such a large-scale event.

Helena Heidemann, the programme director, described the week-long conference as a meeting place for a community of changemakers with a passion for technology, environment and personal as well as professional development. “Attendees will be encouraged to think outside the box and leave magical Estonia with innovative ideas, full of hope to be implemented in their local communities,” Heidemann said.

Established in 1915 in the United States, the JCI unites young active leaders aged 18-40 across five continents. “The beauty of the World Congress is that possible solutions and new ideas will be carried to over 100 countries around the world,” Anni Oja, a linguist by profession and the president of JCI Estonia, said.

JCI Estonia members at JCI World Congress in Goa in 2018.

Oja pointed out that, in Tallinn, one of the highlights will be the topic of a clean and sustainable world – and Estonians set an example already back in 2008 by organising the first nationwide clean-up day, called Let’s Do It! During the first clean-up day on 3 May in 2008, over 50,000 people came together and cleaned up the entire country in five hours. The movement has since grown into a global operation and engaged over 20 million environmentally-savvy volunteers around the world.

Oja stressed that now it seemed proper to talk about the campaign’s results and future steps in Tallinn, from where the action took off to become a global movement.

Think global, act local

Gafar Odubote, a young Nigerian man with a burning desire for a change, will travel 8,600 miles (13,800 kilometres) to attend the congress in Estonia in the first week of November. “I decided to add my voice to those advocating for a waste-free environment because I am tired of seeing trash all around our public places,” Gafar, a member of JCI Nigeria since 2005, said.

Gafar Odubote, a leader of Let’s Do it! Nigeria, participating at a beach cleanup in partnership with an environmental advocacy, NGO Ecowarrior, in 2018.

Gafar’s dream is to create a society where there is peace, love and environmental sustainability. As a father, he is determined to push forward in advocating for a cleaner environment for his children.

As an accountant by education, Gafar never thought he possessed the leadership skills required to lead a campaign that would mobilise 7,000 volunteers in 90 locations across Nigeria – yet, exactly this is what happened on 15 September 2018, as part of the World Cleanup Day, co-ordinated by the Let’s Do It Foundation. “In Africa, we don’t believe in volunteering,” he said.

Gafar Odubote with local volunteers after cleanup in Nigeria in 2018.

Gafar developed his belief in leadership, in advocacy; he even spoke to his wife why she needed to have a social responsibility and align with sustainability. It all came together at the World Cleanup Day campaign.

This November he will return to Estonia for the fourth time. “It is like a second home already. There are so many lovely people,” Gafar said. He compared Estonia to Silicon Valley and noted how the country continued to challenge waste management.

The world needs leaders in local communities

The Let’s Do It! movement has similar values with the JCI. Both organisations unite people who are ready to tackle first-time-ever challenges to benefit local communities.

“Partnering with JCI has created a synergy that helps young people develop as leaders, solve real problems through hands-on action and witness immediate results. We bring together communities and make them stronger and more able to fight pollution,” Kadi Kenk, the spokesperson for the movement, said.

Kadi Kenk.

Best known for her strenuous efforts in tackling waste management, Kenk takes sustainability seriously. “About 99% of the things we buy gets thrown out within six months, while half the amount of plastic waste we produce globally is only packaged for one-time use. Waste is a growing global problem,” she said.

The JCI World Congress, organised by JCI members and volunteers, takes place from 4-8 November 2019 in various locations in Tallinn.

Cover: JCI Estonia members celebrating JCI Tallinn 29th birthday in 2018.

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