Anna Halpine is 30 years old and out of a job — by her own design. In 1999, she founded the New York City-based World Youth Alliance and led the non-governmental organization as president through a decade of growth, lobbying on pro-life and pro-family issues at the United Nations and the European Union in Brussels.
When she turned 30 recently, the bylaws she wrote required her to step down as president.
Still a board member, she spends her days now at Yale University, pursuing a doctorate in philosophy and seeking ways to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to secular culture. Register correspondent Stephen Vincent asked her a few questions.
How did you found the World Youth Alliance?
The World Youth Alliance was founded in March of 1999 at the United Nations. I was in New York continuing studies in piano after earning a bachelor’s in music in Toronto, and I was invited to attend a U.N. conference on population and development.
I was present when the United Nations brought in a group of 32 young people who were given the floor to present their demands to the delegates. Claiming to represent all 3 billion of the world’s youth, they demanded abortion as a human right, sexual rights for children and a deletion of parents’ rights in guiding the development of their children.
I realized that these young people did not represent me and that there were millions of other young people who had a very different vision for the world. I went back into the U.N. the next day, accompanied by three or four other young people, and distributed bright pink flyers that said these youth do not speak for the world’s youth and briefly outlined our opposition to their statement.
This had the effect of causing total pandemonium; the negotiations were stalled for two hours. In that time, the representatives divided and the Western states clustered together, but the developing nations came up to us and said Thank You — “Thank you for coming here, thank you for saying these things.”
They asked us to have a full-time presence at the international institutions and to come to their countries and work with their young people. That was the beginning of the World Youth Alliance.
Who knew these international meetings were so exciting? But seriously, what is the mission of the alliance?
The mission is to build a global coalition of young people committed to promoting the dignity of the person through culture, advocacy and practical programs.
How did you grow so large so quickly?
The World Youth Alliance has always grown through word of mouth. It is an organization that is first and foremost about its members.
It is the young people who have stepped forward from the beginning, supported by many advisors, intellectuals, diplomats and others.
Our membership reflects both individuals and organizations but, from the beginning, the work and dedication of young people have developed the organization.
Our headquarters have gone from young people living in a very crowded apartment in Manhattan to a larger attic with both young people and a lively population of cockroaches to our present spectacular townhouse on the upper East Side, which was donated to us. Through each of these transitions we have relied upon the work, creativity and ingenuity of countless young people who have developed the World Youth Alliance.
Today we continue to benefit from that spirit of generosity; our headquarters has space for 8 to 10 interns and we have waiting lists from many young people anxious to dedicate many months of their life to work with us in our mission.
How is your organization funded?
The World Youth Alliance is funded through the generosity of our individual donors. We have a number of significant donors whose commitment to our work enables us to continue and to grow. We also have a growing number of smaller donors, many of whom are alumni and current members of the Alliance.
Our scholarship fund is raised almost entirely through the generosity of our members and alumni, and each dollar raised is matched by one of our members. So there is a strong basis from which we are growing into the future.
We have even begun to raise money through our Facebook page.
A popular saying in the 1960s was, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” How did you feel about stepping down from the organization you founded?
I have always trusted people over 30! From the beginning, the World Youth Alliance has relied upon the guidance, advice and help of our advisers and friends. Most of our donors are over 30. The age limit was initially set up to respect the U.N.’s definition of young people (ages 10 to 30), but has become extremely beneficial to the alliance. We all know that we have a limited number of years in which we can work exclusively for the Alliance and that at the end of that time our most important job is to replace ourselves.
Consequently, the focus on training and developing young people ensures that the Alliance is encouraging the development of leadership and excellence among our members at all times. This has been a source of new ideas and energy at the heart of our work.
There are many roles for those of us who are now 30 or more.
I am beginning work to develop an institute that will support the ideas and programs of the Alliance through the development of educational curricula and policy proposals that our young people can use.
There is a tremendous need for those who have developed professional skills, and who have maturity and experience to transmit that knowledge to eager young people ready to learn and work.
Stephen Vincent writes from