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Introducing the GCI LEAD Challenge Participants!

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

We are thrilled to introduce you to the GCI LEAD Challenge 2021 Participants! 

In just a few weeks, 36 current and recently graduated secondary school students from all sectors of society and all corners of the globe will join GCI for the first GCI LEAD Challenge program. The virtual 6-day program will focus on Leadership, Ethics, Advocacy and Design Thinking as participants build key leadership skills and explore thought-provoking ideas while experiencing core components of GCI's flagship program, the Summit.

All 36 participants will gain the tools, resources and mindsets to be agents of positive change, empowered to advocate for themselves and their communities. As GCI alumni, they will join a lifelong global community, where they and other GCI alumni can support each other and continue their journeys alongside GCI staff, friends and mentors.

This amazing cohort represents 30 different cultural heritages, speaks 28 languages and attends 30 schools in 14 countries! And 58% of them have received need-based financial aid to take part in the GCI LEAD Challenge.

Continue reading to learn more about each participant and their story.



School: Noble & Greenough School

Home Countries: India, the Netherlands, United States

“In 8th grade, I was excited to join a newly created program to make a positive impact on the school community through acts of kindness. The program failed to gain traction and was ultimately shut down by the program leader. Disappointed, two classmates and I got together to discuss how we could revive the program. We realized that many who joined didn’t understand how standing up and being a good leader could help create change. We believed the true mandate was to help understand what it takes to become a great leader, and to create connections between all the students who are passionate about creating positive change. We realized we could use the power of social networking to bring together student leaders who wanted to drive change. After months of intensive collaboration, we converted the initial concept into a student-focused leadership development and personal growth program for high school students and faculty mentors.”


School: Aga Khan Academy, Mombasa

Home Country: Kenya

“I was seated in my school religious class and I bravely put up my hand to ask a question regarding the Bible we were using and the moment I spoke, it felt as if death itself was upon me. I have always been intrigued by the background of Christianity in relation to the Bible and its irregularities. To further elaborate, I used to question why different Bibles told us different tales. I still look towards other means of obtaining information to satisfy my intellectual desire. Even though I was often shunned and frowned down upon for disagreeing, I became more persistent, allowing me to keep dreaming and be a go-getter for the world we live in today. No one gave me the answers that I needed to feel complete, and this used to be something that frustrated me as it demonstrated to me the lengths that people like me in society must endure to seek answers and keep looking beyond.”


School: Hong Kong International School

Home Countries: Hong Kong, United States

“I grew up in a multi-religious household. From a young age, I can remember attending churches on Sunday with my mother and visiting temples with my father during Chinese New Year. I remember looking up to my parents who both believed, so passionately, in their religions and thinking to myself that I didn’t belong to any religion. This battle with identity has been a long, ongoing cycle that I haven’t been able to resolve. My questions were answered when I took the course “Spiritual Explorations.” We learned about the myriad of religions in the world and focused on the path of self-discovery. Through this experience, I realized that I identified most with the term “agnostic.” I believe that desires are what push us to work harder, achieve goals in life and become the best versions of ourselves. Through all this, I have realized that even though everyone has different views and religious beliefs, it is still possible for everyone to have their own opinion.”


School: Diocesan Girls' School

Home Country: Hong Kong

“I participated in the Kowloon Hospital geriatric ward summer service project in 2019. My teammates and I were responsible for arranging a “shadow play” (a form of Chinese theatre acted by colorful silhouette figures accompanied by music) for the patients. Some patients were fascinated, while some were not interested. I questioned the effectiveness of this activity and proposed that we revamp the activity into an interactive DIY session. I challenged the originally planned activity as I tried to put myself into the patient’s shoes. With the creative improvisation of activity design and delivery, the patients engaged in the activities more enthusiastically. During the service, not only could the patients appreciate the shadow play we prepared, but they could also gain a sense of accomplishment with their hands-on experience.”


School: Lebawi International Academy

Home Country: Ethiopia

"Throughout my childhood, I always believed what my parents told me. I assumed they were more experienced than me and I shouldn’t question them. But as I grew older, one thought kept popping into my head - why did my parents not want me to become a football player? My parents thought that football was a big risk for my well-being, is not as respectable as being a doctor or an engineer and that it’ll take time away from my academic success. I had to challenge this. My parents and I had long conversations as I tried to convince them that footballers are respected, that injuries are a part of football and that I can pursue my passion as a hobby without it affecting my grades at school. I told them that football allows me to make friends and is also good exercise. Now, I represent my school football team, I train with a local football training academy and have been promoted one level above my age."


School: Rato Bangala School

Home Country: Nepal

"Animal sacrifice, although reduced, still accounts for an important religious tradition amongst the believers of Hinduism. I was born in a Hindu family. My community holds a festival every three years called the Dewali, where goats are offered as a sacrificial being in the name of goddesses. For these offerings, each house from the community has to bring forth one goat to prompt prosperity and happiness to the family. Growing up, I despised the tradition. After 2008, I voiced my opinion to my grandfather and he, although a supporter of old beliefs, sympathized with my opinion. In 2011, our family announced that we would no longer participate in the age-old tradition of sacrifices. While at first our decision was met with raised eyebrows, soon after, other families followed our footsteps. My agency and voice have caused a ripple effect and I can only hope that although much needs to be changed, a small step at a time goes a long way."


School: Colegio Nueva Granada

Home Country: Colombia

"Some years ago, I was invited to a massive party in the suburbs of Bogotá and almost everyone I knew was invited. But early the next morning I had a tennis tournament, which was basically going to decide my future in a tennis division. My friends, my cousins and many other people were trying to convince me to go to this party. What made me decide what I was going to do was my own gut. I decided to avoid the party and went to bed early. The next day I woke up ready to play my best in the tennis tournament. Unfortunately, I lost in the third round of the tournament, but I was happy for my decisions and proud of myself for doing what was better for me as a person and for my health. In controversial moments I always try to follow my gut and think with my head, not with my heart. Thinking with your head will ultimately set you up for success and pave a path filled with gratitude."


School: Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar

Home Country: India

"A few years back, I heard someone say, “I hate feminism.” I asked my teacher what feminism is, the gesture and the voice of that person made me feel as if it’s a derogatory remark. But my teacher told me feminism is about demanding equal rights. I started working with the junior students. My aim was to break gender stereotypes in nursery students by introducing them to coloring books that send a message of gender neutrality. I also reinvented fairytales and narrated them to junior school students to break stereotypical mindsets. I realized that this inequality is not just between male and female, but also people of different sexual orientations. Through my social venture, Sehpaathi, I work on busting myths that surround the LGBT community and acid attack survivors. We also groom them and then get them employed. I have worked intensively with acid attack survivors from the Chaanv Foundation and helped them with their e-commerce website."

Eleanor "Ellie"

School: Lowell High School

Home Country: United States

"The deep south was my home for nearly six years. In yearbook photos, I was the only black-head in a sea of blonde. Not a week went by that I wasn’t mocked for having “Chinese eyes” and smelly Asian lunches. I constantly felt out of place and uncomfortable in my own skin. Sadly, I didn’t see anything wrong with the racial comments flung at me. I only saw how wrong my Korean identity was. I was embarrassed by the assumptions that haunted me. I worked hard to convince everyone I was the least stereotypical Asian. I refused to learn Korean, I ate Lunchables and I laughed off racist comments. Years later I moved to a city renowned for its Asian majority, San Francisco. Suddenly Caucasian kids ate seaweed and Korean culture was popular. Where was I? This city challenged everything I had been influenced to believe about my ancestry and Asian American background. Startlingly, I realized that I am proud to be Korean. I am no longer ashamed of who I am. I am proud to introduce my friends to my culture."


School: Andinet International School

Home Country: Ethiopia

"The first time I delivered a speech to a sizable group of people, I stood there frozen and nervous, mentally chewing the words I was about to speak. Ignoring all the eyes on me, I fixated on my brother’s thumbs-up. I stared right into my brother’s eyes and started my speech. Mid-way through, as I gradually gained confidence, my eyes darted between my brother and the crowd. My classmates later reported how brave, fearless and effortless my performance seemed. But no one knew how I felt deep inside, the churning in my stomach and thumping in my heart and the trembling in my hands. That experience was the beginning of a long journey out of stage fright into looking for the courage to stare fear in the face and overcome the obstacles that barred my potential as a public speaker. Stage fright is a weakness a majority of people have, but a weakness can be turned into a strength. Since that day of my first speech before a large crowd, I’ve gained more confidence, courage and, most of all, self-esteem and independence."


School: Phillips Exeter Academy

Home Country: United States

"Entering Exeter, I had one dream: to make Crew. Throughout the fall and winter, I eagerly anticipated spring when I’d be able to make the team. It greatly wounded my pride and self-worth when I did not make the cut. During that spring, I’d sit on a bench beside the river and watch the shells race by. I asked upperclassmen about my chances of making the team next year, but they were clear: it wasn’t going to happen. I refused to quit and over the next year trained in silence. I knew others had the coach’s daily guidance, and it would be extraordinarily difficult to match their skill on my own. But I wanted to prove to myself that when determined, I could achieve my goals. Over the fall and winter I greatly increased the intensity of my workouts, looking to build myself into better shape. When tryouts arrived my sophomore year… I succeeded. Not only was I able to bounce back from failure; I was able to challenge the very notions which constrained me."


School: Boston Latin School

Home Country: United States

"'If you make it past the exam, you are a superior student, a future leader.' This was the narrative I learned upon entering my school, but it didn’t take long for me to question what hid behind the stately facade. At the end of my first year, students of color came forward to detail encounters with racist teachers, only to be rebuffed by the administration. I started to learn more about how our education system upholds the white supremacist structure on which the United States was founded. The test we use to determine who is worthy of an exam school was developed by someone hoping to prove the white race superior to all others. After tenth grade, I joined the Boston Student Advisory Council to fight these inequities firsthand and was exposed to campaigns ranging from housing justice to safe consumption sites, to taking police out of schools. These have taught me restorative justice and how to approach problems with empathy."