Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”

The 2017 Points of Light #ServiceUnites Conference on Volunteering and Service – the largest service-related convening of nonprofit, government, business and civic leaders in the world – brought thousands of people to Seattle the last week of June to answer this question, both for themselves and their societies.

This year’s conference affirmed the critical role that volunteers play in addressing some of our societies’ biggest challenges. It also tackled timely and relevant themes, like empowering women, working across cultural and national boundaries and redefining what it means to volunteer by putting people at the center of transforming their communities.

As an international attendee from Venezuela, I was impressed by how the power of collaboration can be used to solve targeted and urgent problems, especially if individuals, foundations and corporations come together to create innovative projects to positively impact the neediest communities.

Inspiring Women, Inspiring Us

At the Conference we learned that we can’t wait for inspiration. We have to go after it. I was inspired by the strong, smart and professional women speaking — and participating — at the Conference.

One panel brought together Umran Beba, CHRO, human capital management for PepsiCo; Cheryl Strayed, author of “Wild;” Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter for Michelle Obama and Zoe Terry, 10-year-old CEO of Zoe’s Dolls. Another featured a touching talk about refugees from Libyan Lubna Yousef, who is a Fellow Atlas Corps member serving at Airbnb. This conference was an amazing opportunity to connect with likeminded people and hear great ideas and stories that I will try to replicate in my home country, Venezuela, and during my Atlas Corps Fellowship.

Bridging Barriers and Building Global Movements

What does it take to move ideas across national and international borders to change people’s lives? This was the topic of one panel during the Global track session – “Changemaking across borders: What’s Possible?” I had the pleasure to participate as a speaker with MovingWorlds volunteers Sarah Horrigan, and Melissa Sassi, of Microsoft.

We spoke about how volunteerism, aid and development are viewed, why we should refocus our efforts on challenging power and inequality and how we can lead and facilitate in new ways to create the positive change the world needs right now.

We also talked about the amazing work that Atlas Corps and MovingWorlds, two global service exchange organizations, are doing to build bridges among leaders all around the world. By promoting innovation and cooperation these two institutions are changing the way that talent and opportunity are perceived. While the problems of the world are too great to solve alone, there is no challenge we cannot tackle together. We are building a global movement of superheroes!

Translating Vision into Reality

One of the many things that resonated with me at the Points of Light Conference, was the belief that individuals have the power to spark change — from this, leaders are born and can start their journey creating social change and wellness in their communities. Leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality!

On that note, I had the pleasure to attend the first night of the American Express Leadership Academy, which takes place in conjunction with the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering & Service. The Academy program is developed and delivered by the Center for Creative Leadership and funded by American Express. 48 emerging leaders participated in a two-day leadership development training program that included a feedback-intensive learning environment and hands-on activities to enhance the leadership capacity of all the attendees.These leaders are in the volunteering and service sector and share the interest of advancing their positions to a greater leadership role. I had the opportunity to connect with other nonprofit professionals, who provided me with some great ideas on how national and international service is the new ally for social change.

This year’s American Express Leadership Academy at Points of Light by the numbers:

The Academy kicked off with dinner and inspiring words by Aaron Hurst, Co-Founder and CEO of Imperative and founder of the Taproot Foundation.”Leadership begins with defining the core role of work in your life as helping others and being personally fulfilled,” Aaron shared.

Aaron Hurst shared a surprising statistic: Only 45% of the people who work in the nonprofit sector are purpose-oriented.

Aaron also shared a surprising statistic from his research from Imperative: Only 45% of the people who work in the nonprofit sector are purpose-oriented! That means that the majority of people working in the sector primarily responsible for helping our society are not purpose-oriented.

This made me think: the single most powerful way to grow as a leader is to become truly self-aware, which means to cultivate, on a daily basis, an accurate sense of how I show up in the world and what motivates me. What impact do I have on others? What do I care most about? These are some of the questions that I have to ask myself —and that the other leaders in the room have to answer in order to develop as leaders in this sector.

To help leaders become more purpose-driven and more effective, Aaron shared his top three resources in our For Your Impact section. You can also watch his remarks.