SEYO 2022’s Young Change Makers

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

SEYO 2022’s Young Change Makers

Esther Akinyemi, Harmonie Foundation, Gabriel Nobre, Orquesta Geraçao, and Carlos Fontán, Pedagogic Director and General Manager, SEYO 2022


Esther’s (second from right) working group shares their ideas. Photo: Laura Plaza/Design for Change.

On July 14, Madrid’s Auditorio Nacional de Música became a celebration of youth, joy, and social commitment. Celebrating its fourth anniversary, the Sistema Europe Youth Orchestra (SEYO) welcomed 140 young people from socio-musical programs all over Europe. The week’s slogan: “We play to transform the world.”

As part of the week of music-making, SEYO 2022 held a Leadership School for Change Makers, which trained young people to be future leaders in their communities. Participants were asked to consider the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), coming up with actions that might help achieve these goals. During the week, participants experienced the different phases of the methodology taught by the international organization Design for Change, who collaborated with SEYO during the week. In empowering these young people to dream big, the program integrated the SDGs, music, and youth ownership—so that solutions were designed with, and not for, young people. At the conclusion of the week, the change makers shared their powerful vision during SEYO’s General Assembly.

Two of our young change makers, Esther Akinyemi and Gabriel Nobre, share their experiences from the week here.

We play to transform the world—but do we believe we can do it? We were asked this question on our first day. All of us agreed it was possible with the right people and means. Laura Plaza, Design for Change’s Project Manager and Head of Design, explained that the week was designed to give us those very means, equipping us with the tools to make real change. We also spoke about the SDGs, exploring what they stand for and how we could strive to meet them during our time together.

After sharing our perceptions on the biggest problems facing our world today, we considered which of the SDGs most aligned with our mission. Goals such as “Good Health and Well-Being” (SDG #3) and Reduced Inequalities (#10) were mentioned. Through a lot of note-taking, conversation, and, eventually, a vote, we settled on two questions that would guide our week of collaborative inquiry: “How can we improve the transmission of emotional message through music?” and “How can we provide musical opportunities for students who may not otherwise have them?” To us, these questions felt like the right jumping off points for real change, capable of fostering both empathy and opportunity.

The Change Makers collaborate (Gabriel pictured center, or five from the left). Photo: Gustavo Bandres.

Working in two groups, we brainstormed ways to answer those questions. To visualize the process, we placed a chair on the floor and suggested different ways we might use it—ways like “removing its legs and using the chair as a drum.” Once the warm-up exercise was complete, we began sharing ideas for the challenges at hand. We chose not to limit our thinking; one of our sticky notes suggested “taking an orchestra around the world on a helicopter, so that everyone could attend the performance.” After another vote, two distinct pathways forward emerged. One group suggested the creation of a global orchestra, with one person or more from each country. The other focused on providing musical opportunities for those who don’t have or aren’t able to access them. We spoke about what we needed to achieve our goal, such as reaching out to the directors of musical projects across the world, amassing sponsorships and resources through benefit concerts, and more.

Each group presented their ideas to the other, who then offered feedback. This portion of the session was incredibly clarifying; as a rule, each group was only permitted to express gratitude in response to the feedback. This was a valuable lesson for us, as it can be challenging to feel positive about feedback when you are already eager to share your ideas. By the end of that day, we saw that our ideas were connected and decided to combine our two groups and work together.

The final step of our project was simple: take action. To do so, we merged our topics and had a mini concert on the streets of Getafe, handing out flyers that we made ourselves with information about El Sistema as well as our concert there in Madrid. This was where our teamwork was put to the test, and it turned out great! We truly listened to one another and strived to achieve what each of us wanted. We weren’t able to pass out all our flyers, but we were very proud of ourselves because we still managed to get some people’s attention. It’s hard to start something from zero, but we achieved a lot and convinced many people to have faith in our project.

Performing the mini concert! Photo taken by Klara, a participating Change Maker.

Later in the week, we were asked to summarize our work in a PowerPoint presentation, to be given during SEYO’s General Assembly. Funnily enough, most of our speech wasn’t written down—we had come so far as a group that it felt better to speak from the hearts. And, happily, our message resonated. We were clear about what we wanted to achieve and passionate about the potential benefits of our ideas. It was amazing to be heard and honored by such a group. As Laura said, everybody wants to make change, but this was a room of people who believed that they could.

Over the course of the Leadership Academy, we made new friends, developed new ways to express ourselves, and learned that everyone can be part of change. But it didn’t always go smoothly. We found it difficult to manage time—what a hard skill to master!—and had our struggles understanding each other as we didn’t all speak fluently. But, as Laura told us at the outset, we don’t need to speak fluently to communicate with each other.

You don’t need to do something big for a change to happen. You can start small and the results can grow and become powerful. Most of all, though, we grew to recognize the importance of direct action. Tying our brainstorm session to action steps made our goals feel real and achievable. And that’s important! As they say, “If you don’t do it, nobody else will.”


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