Past Billion Acts Finalists Continue to Inspire


Everyone matters. Everyone can make a difference. And together, we can change the world.


     Over ten years ago, ten Nobel Peace Laureates and 3000 youth from 40+ countries dreamt to life an ambitious and unprecedented goal, to inspire one billion peace projects around the world. It was not a dream for just the world leaders, the philanthropists, or the humanitarian aid workers- it was a call-to-action for everyone.

    A collective 86 million peace projects have been gathered since that moment, including a youth-led campaign that ensured peaceful elections across West Africa, a science project that brought solar power to Mayan villages, and a musical movement to heal and connect gun violence survivors. 

    Across communities worldwide, everyday acts of peace such as waterway clean-ups and emergency food drives have continued to transform one community at a time. Together, all members of PeaceJam and Billion Acts represent a global community of changemakers representing hundreds of different places, cultures, and causes—yet all held together by a common dream of a more peaceful world. It’s a tall dream but it is already in the making.


And it is being led by over 1.3 million youth-leaders.


    Each year, Billion Acts recognizes twelve of these incredible youth around the world who have demonstrated their commitment to moving the needle in one or more of our 10 key-issue areas. In honor of the upcoming 2021 Youth Awards, we are looking back (and catching up!) with three of our former Billion Acts Finalists. 


Leonardo Parraga & Letters for Reconciliation


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Leonardo Parraga falls under many names- a peacebuilder, storyteller, artivist, and youth inclusion advocate being just a few of the possibilities. Following the 2013 Colombian ceasefire, Leonardo felt drawn towards the peacemaking and reconciliation process in their home country of Colombia. Colombian youth such as Leonardo were eager to see an end to the Colombian civil war, a conflict that began generations earlier. Parraga embraced the role of peacebuilder by organizing with the Peace to the Streets citizen's assembly as well as the Campamento por la Paz movement. Through these movements, Leonardo joined voices with fellow Colombians in support of a new and sustainable peace agreement.

    Simultaneously, Parraga was organizing through the means of storytelling and art at BogotArt. BogotArt was founded by Leonardo as a collective of urban reality shapers who are promoting a world with public spaces where soceity can talk about the pursuit of equality and promote a culture of peace and nonviolence.

    It was during the 2017 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates that Leonardo and two fellow youth leader launched the Cartas por la Reconciliación (Letters for Reconciliation) campaign. 


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“The ‘Letters for Reconciliation’ campaign was created to bridge the social divide between the ex-combatants from FARC and everyday citizens in Colombia to promote more understanding, empathy and to deconstruct stereotypes through letter writing and dialogue."

Citizens were invited to write respectful letters to have a dialogue with “the other”, FARC members who have been the majority of their lives in the jungle and rarely have had interactions with the city dwellers. Conversely, the ex-combatants were invited to ask questions about the Colombian society nowadays and discover which chances they have to fit in. The letters were structured in a way that it was progressively escalating in terms of personal disclosure, with people first sharing superficial statements about them and then recalling more intimate stories, usually connected with the suffering caused by war…More than 3,000 letters were exchanged and several visits to the FARC encampments to have face to face conversations were organized, were citizens who had their family murdered by the FARC were able to forgive and ex-combatants said that even if they only knew how to use weapons, they were willing to learn new skills. The whole exercise involved +100 young people who were actively committed and helping to collect letters and engage with the population all over the country.”  -Leonardo Parraga

    Not only was Letters for Reconciliation celebrated across Colombia, but the campaign was also replicated  in South and North Korea. In this case,  South and North Korean youth exchanged more than 30,000 letters  to promote unity and bridge the differences that generations of war and separation had created. By the fall of 2019, Leonardo and the Letters for Reconciliation team found themselves back where they started- at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. This time, however, the team was being awarded a Billion Acts Award for their work to promote more understanding, empathy and to deconstruct stereotypes through letter writing and dialogue.

    Since receiving the award, Leonardo has remained a steadfast and persistent voice for peace within Colombia and beyond. Following the start of Covid-19 lockdowns and procedures, the Letters for Reconciliation team launched a sister project known as Letters for Healing, or Cartas por la Sanación. Letters for Healing inspired a global exchange of letters focused on manifesting solidarity, empathy and deep interconnection with those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Most recently, Leonardo was part of the Weaving Stories of Reconciliation panel, a discussion focused on the proejct 'Youth-Led Peace and Reconciliation in Colombia: a Transformational Approach,' which is led by The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Leonardo was featured on the panel alongside fellow regional peacebuilders, including Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum. Parraga is also now a Dalai Lama Peace Fellow, a UNESCO Youth Leader, the Youth Ambassador of the Peace Palace, UNAOC Summer School Alumnus, World Innovation Summit for Education Alumnus, European Development Days Young Leader, Dalai Lama Fellow and Global Trainer of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.


Lighting the Path




    Lighting the Path was awarded a 2016 Billion Acts Award for their humanitarian work to alleviate poverty and empower women leaders. While based in Missouri, Lighting the Path employs their mission  to empower communities for the long term both locally and globally.  They seek to find “the most effective, positive and sustainable methods to alleviate poverty, produce positive change and minimize negative outcome, so those we have served may prosper and help themselves.” The bulk of their work has focused on uplifting women leaders in Burkino Faso through microfinancing and educational programs. Lighting the Path also trains and employs women, and other marginalized populations, in the production of goods that benefit those in their community.

    Since receiving a Billion Acts Award, the organization has embarked on several new projects. The Girls for Girls Project seeks to provide feminine hygiene products for girls and women with limited resources. Across the world, young women are often barred from school, work, and other important activities due simply to the lack of feminine-hygiene supplies. The project also supports the livilhoods of local women who organize and create the products.


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    Construction is also underway for a school that will provide education to girls and women in Burkino Faso, West Africa. The school will provide training around beneficial and income earning skills for local women. Once completed, the school will offer a safe place for young women to live and grow. Lighting the Path has also been collaborating with another former Billion Acts finalist Street Business School in Uganda around small business curriculum.

    Covid-19 alongside terrorist activity in Burkino Faso has complicated several of the projects yet the mission has endured. It has given rise to a new project focused on assisting refugees, immigrants, underserved and homeless in the St. Louis area. The program also offers training to women and girls around building solid entrepreneurial skills and selling their products. 





    The 2020 Awardee for Best Coalition-Building project, Youth4Disarmament, is a global youth initiative of the United Nations that educates, engages and empowers young people to play a critical role in reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, including their proliferation. 

    Simply stated, Youth4Disarmament is dedicated to educating and empowering the voices of youth to "end war as an instrument of foreign policy and save succeeding generations from the scourge of war."

    Disarmament is at the heart of the system of collective security set out in the United Nations Charter. Disarmament is a tool to help prevent armed conflict and to mitigate its impacts when it occurs. Measures for disarmament are pursued for many reasons, including to maintain international peace and security, uphold the principles of humanity, protect civilians, promote sustainable development, and prevent and end armed conflict.

    Young people, the largest generation in history, have a critical role to play in raising awareness and developing new approaches to bring about change to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction and conventional arms, including their proliferation. Youth4Disarmament works towards their vision of youth-led disarmament initiatives through by organizing the UN Youth Champions for Disarmament Training Programme, hosting events for youth to engage world leaders and partner NGOs , creating youth challenges around topics of disarmament, and offering an online platform for young leaders to share their experiences and ideas around disarmament. 

    The past year has certainly been full of milestones and work for Youth4Disarmament. Alongside their existing programs, a number of new projects were introduced such as the Open Minds Project. This online collection was created to provide materials from the UNODA that encourage the participation of youth leaders around issues of disarmament and non-proliferation. 

Help us welcome & celebrate a new cohort of Billion Acts Finalists!

    Nominations have been extended to August 31st for the 2021 Billion Acts Awards!  Do you know of a young changemaker who is working to address pressing issues such as human rights, environmental protection, and creating safer communities? Fill out a nomination form at!

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