Leon Gojani, a 2021 Kofi Annan Changemaker, was born and raised in Kosovo and now works in youth leadership as a Program Director at MCW Global.
We spoke with Leon to learn more about his journey as a young leader ahead of the event.
You grew up in the 90s during the Kosovo War; how did that impact you?
I grew up in a tiny village in the western part of Kosovo. Obviously, a conflict like this has a significant impact on your childhood. You have to deal with horrible situations like poverty. That really shaped me into who I am today.
I grew up without having a lot of opportunities. Coming not only from a war-torn country but a little isolated village with nothing but a school, you don’t have much room to grow.
How did you get involved in youth work?
When I started high school, I moved to a slightly bigger town and began seeing more opportunities. I grew inquisitive about the world and its workings outside of my community. I started to engage with a local youth centre, participating in workshops, camps, and training which I found very useful.
“I started to transition from a village boy to someone who was beginning to meet the world in person.”
Looking back, it’s easy to see that I really wanted to learn. I was desperately searching for opportunities but didn’t have access to that many. But that challenge has led me to where I am now. I can now create opportunities and experiences for kids like me who don’t have many.
Who were some of your early mentors, and how did they impact your life?
I am a firm believer in mentors and mentorship; it is one of the best ways for a person to grow. Using others’ mistakes, achievements, and experiences can teach you a lot.
The first mentor I had was in high school in Kosovo. The manager of the youth centre that I attended was an inspiring young woman. She could be wherever she wanted in life but chose to work with young people in her community. That was what kickstarted my desire to work with youth.
Another important mentor is one of the board members of MCW Global, where I work. He has helped orient me in my career and goals, constantly helping me in my work and self-improvement.
“Mentors have done a lot for me. I’ve realized a lot about my work and what it means to me. They’ve shown me that we are brought to this world to use our knowledge and experience to benefit other people.”
How did the mentorship aspect of the Kofi Annan Changemakers programme benefit you?
You build a different kind of relationship at my current age when you meet a mentor because you know what you are looking for. Working with the mentors in the Changemakers programme grounded me a lot. They helped me take a step back, realise who I am, evaluate the opportunities presented to me, and find the match.
I was lucky to have two mentors in the Changemakers programme. One was more like a coach, helping me with goal setting and personal development. My second mentor helped me focus on my project and completion timelines.
I am a firm believer in mentorship; it is the core component of my work with MCW Global. It is a bit different because it is peer-to-peer mentorship, yet the essence is the same: we look to offer a guide to help you in your journey, whatever that journey may be.
How has being in the Kofi Annan Changemakers programme impacted your work?
The Changemakers programme came to me during a challenging moment in my life. It was the pandemic, and I was a little lost, trying to figure out what else I wanted to do in my life.
Looking back on the experience, I understand how important it is to thoughtfully do the work I do. Youth programmes can have so much more impact if you take the time to reflect as you participate.
The Foundation ensured the programme was tailored to young people, with impact always at the centre. As someone who works with youth, I really enjoyed that.
As someone working with youth, what was your main takeaway from the programme?
What made the programme so compelling was that the Foundation shared their network with us Changemakers. All of us were – and are – searching for resources and advice. The Kofi Annan Changemakers programme provided us with the opportunities we need to succeed.
If you could give your younger self advice, what would it be?
If I could talk to myself 15 years ago, I would say this: be hungry to learn, make sure you work hard to meet the world personally, whatever that means to you.
“You can be hungry to research, hungry to read, hungry to connect with people, whatever it is you want to do, do it.”
This will really change the way you will see and interact with the world. It will help you realise what you want to get out of it. Work hard to meet the world with your own eyes, see the good parts and the messed-up parts and then evaluate what you can do about it.