All Youth Assembly Delegates are true global citizens who work towards improving their local communities and the world. Among them, an Outstanding Youth Delegate is selected at each Youth Assembly session through a rigorous process, representing someone who:

  • Has demonstrated understanding and commitment towards global development and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Exemplifies excellent leadership capabilities
  • Has unparalleled experience working with various sectors or organizations towards serving and improving his/her community
  • Has a proven track record of exceptional achievements related to youth engagement, social action and/or sustainable development solutions.

The 2023 Outstanding Youth Delegate Award was presented to Savannah Verhage from South Africa who works in healthcare but at the global stage. This year, the Outstanding Youth Delegate will receive support, delivered by DHL, of $1,000 USD.

What has been the impact of your work so far?

My work has primarily concentrated on Global Surgery, a crucial component of Global Health dedicated to ensuring safe, timely, and affordable surgical care for the 5.3 billion people worldwide who lack such opportunities. In 2019, I took on the mantle of Head of Social Events and Outreach for the University of Cape Town (UCT) Surgical Society. During this tenure, I orchestrated numerous surgical outreach initiatives in collaboration with local surgical NGOs, bolstering surgical funding and capacity in Africa. With the collective effort of devoted medical students, we effectively raised over a quarter of a million rand, facilitating approximately 60 surgeries for those in need.

My election as President of the UCT Surgical Society in 2020 coincided with the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on South Africa’s healthcare sector. Recognising students’ potential as a frontline resource, I led the establishment of a COVID-19 Student Volunteer Taskforce. Over 250 medical and non-medical students from across South Africa united through four distinct initiatives, making significant contributions during the peak of the pandemic.

In 2020, I was also elected as President of the Southern African Student Surgical Society (SASSS). Recognising that significant disparities in surgical care exist across Southern Africa, my committee organized a virtual symposium entitled “Reimagining Perioperative Care in Africa” in collaboration with the UCT Division of Global Surgery. Despite pandemic constraints, the virtual conference drew over 200 attendees and fostered student-led discussions, shaping the Global Surgery agenda in Africa. A highlight of the event was that Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, delivered a pivotal keynote address, where he endorsed the conference’ goals and encouraged delegates to continue seeking African solutions to strengthen surgical systems – a very proud moment for our student-led event!

For 2023, I have been elected as Director of Mentorship and Professional Outreach for the International Association of Student Surgical Societies (IASSS), where I am leading the establishment of an international surgical mentorship program. I am also a Reach Alliance researcher and was privileged to have travelled to the AFS Youth Assembly with an inspiring, international Reach delegation. Reach Alliance is a global network that aims to develop local solutions to some of the most pressing challenges encountered in the 21st-century, with a focus on tackling the sustainable development goals and reaching the most marginalised groups in society. My team and I are investigating the role of social franchising in increasing access to healthcare services across South Africa. We aim to offer valuable insights to policymakers through our case study, especially as the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme draws near.

What does this award mean to you?

I’m incredibly honored and humbled by this award. It brings to mind a cherished African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This award solidifies the importance of this principle, demonstrating the boundless potential of youth to effect meaningful change and the formidable strength of unity. The achievements of the initiatives I’ve spearheaded stem from collaboration and impactful partnerships. Significant and sustainable impact is born through collective effort, and this award beautifully signifies that.

What did you enjoy most at the AFS Youth Assembly this year?

The highlight of this year’s AFS Youth Assembly for me was undoubtedly the opportunity to meet remarkable delegates and speakers from across the world. It was truly inspiring to connect with individuals who are deeply involved in meaningful and highly impactful initiatives. Hearing their stories and sharing in their passion was a source of profound inspiration. The atmosphere was electric with the enthusiasm of fellow young change-makers and trailblazers and this encounter has ignited an excitement within me regarding the potential our generation holds to make a lasting impact through sustainable SDG-driven initiatives.

What advice would you give to young people worldwide looking to make a difference in their communities?

Conquer imposter syndrome! Your age or perceived qualifications should not deter you from creating real change. Research by Angela Lee Duckworth, an esteemed psychologist, has revealed that success is not primarily linked to social intelligence, IQ, appearance, or physical health. The key predictor is grit – the combination of passion and perseverance for long-term goals, often characterized as stamina. Don’t let fear of failure paralyze your attempts. As young individuals, our collective commitment and actions are crucial for making a meaningful impact and achieving the sustainable development goals. Together we can “Breakthrough to a Better Future!”