By: Mollie Lastovica
For Karyssa Zavala, world peace, food security and equality are more than far-fetched dreams. The 2012 agricultural communications and journalism graduate is working daily to instigate change on the global level.
Recently, Zavala was recognized as one of 12 champions in the 2013 Your Big Year contest, created by World Merit. In November, she will compete against the other 11 finalists in San Francisco for designation as the 2013 World Merit Global Ambassador.
“Your Big Year was founded in 2010 by Chris Arnold, as part of Smaller Earth’s initiative to positively impact 20 million people by 2020,” Marti Grimminck, World Merit Co-Founder, said. “Chris Arnold’s intention through Your Big Year is to inspire people to become social entrepreneurs and global citizens, all while raising money for charity.”
Zavala’s journey to this point as a Your Big Year Finalist has been one defined by seizing opportunities.
After being part of a finalist team in the 2012 Thought for Food Challenge, Zavala was selected as one of five representatives of Texas A&M, sponsored by Syngenta, to attend the 2012 One Young World Summit in Pittsburgh. It was at this summit that she met One Young World Ambassador Maria Fernanda Gandara Gil from Mexico and learned about the Your Big Year competition.
The 12 finalists in the Your Big Year competition were determined through a two-phase, four month process. After the applicants were narrowed to the top 120, they had to plan and execute local events in the name of Your Big Year and World Merit and the second phase involved interviewing world leaders in various social, political and cultural areas.
“Throughout the tasks, all 12 showed their dedication, ability to collaborate, creativity, determination and merit,” Grimminck said. “Karyssa is a talented young woman with huge potential to continue to grow as a leader in her community. She has utilized the Your Big Year platform to launch her ideas and like those champions before her, we know this will be the catalyst to take her work to the next level.”
In November, Zavala will join the 11 other finalists to compete for the World Merit Global Ambassador title. Her competition includes young people from Iraq, Tunisia, Nepal, Philippines, Brazil, Liberia, Latvia and Canada.
“With more than 42,000 entries this year from all over the globe, I could not believe that I had made it to the finalist stage of the competition,” Zavala said. “We will compete through innovation and collaboration for the final prize of becoming World Merit’s Global Ambassador. In the past, Your Big Year has provided a launching point for many social entrepreneurs and their visions around the world.”
The ambassador will travel to six continents to meet world leaders and contribute to social impact projects. Zavala has a particular interest in agricultural systems in developing countries and, if selected as the ambassador, she believes the experience will prepare her for her future.
“My entire life I have been surrounded by agriculture,” Zavala said. “My father and grandfather came to the United States as migrant workers in the agriculture sector. They basically survived off the crops they planted and developed an appreciation for the land’s natural resources.”
It was her family’s roots in the industry that encouraged Zavala to pursue an education and career in agriculture.
“I cannot tolerate a world where nearly one billion people go to bed hungry, while one billion more over-consume,” Zavala said. “I believe we have the power to ensure that everyone around the world has access to adequate, nutritious and safe food.”
Zavala gives credit to the department and college for allowing her to capitalize those interests and achieve many of her personal and professional goals.
“My experience as an undergraduate student in the ALEC Department enabled me to improve my communication skills to advocate for agriculture,” Zavala said. “Throughout my coursework, I enhanced my knowledge of global hunger and the need for sustainable agricultural practices in the United States and abroad. Moreover, I have improved my personal and professional development by working with world renowned faculty and staff. I look up to my former colleagues as role models and appreciate the impact they have had in promoting sustainable agriculture overseas.”
She is excited about the competition, but feels as though she has already won much.
“I believe that I have already won this competition by expanding my network of global changemakers,” Zavala said. “Throughout these past five months, I have increased my knowledge of international affairs and gained a sense of appreciation for all the opportunities in my life.”
Grimminck points out that serving as the World Merit Global Ambassador gives young people a platform upon which to achieve their dreams.
“Last year’s champions were able to meet and pitch themselves to global icons such as Richard Branson and Sir Terry Leahy,” Grimminck said. “Most champions in the past have been able to leverage their Your Big Year experience into helping them achieve their dreams. Your Big Year is much more than a global competition. It is a place to jumpstart your ideas and make a real change in your life and your community.”
Zavala’s dream is to serve as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.
“I intend to follow the Public Diplomacy career track to build public awareness and promote U.S. interests abroad,” Zavala said. “I am currently looking into applying for the Peace Corps Master’s International Program at the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. I am particularly interested in international agricultural development and hope to complete my service in South America. I fully believe this degree program and volunteer service will enable me to promote sustainable agriculture on a global scale.”
She encourages all young people to take an interest in global affairs.
“Young people should see things from a global perspective, because we must understand what our neighbors are going through in order to develop solutions to current social issues,” Zavala said. “I feel that many young people in my country do not understand the impact our policies have on developing countries. Therefore, we must continue to collaborate across borders and raise our voices for the change we wish to see in this world.”