I recently watched my son Franklin graduate from law school—surely a moment to be treasured by his parents. As I sat back in the auditorium to savor the moment, I thought about the opportunities that were now open to him to pursue in his life, and how fortunate he was to have those choices. I also found myself looking back at similar turning points in the lives of my own children—and in others as well.

A few years ago I spent the afternoon with a young man who lived in Medellin, Colombia, a city where drugs and violence had for years torn the community and its families apart. But instead of turning down that path, Carlos had joined a job training program even when most of his friends said it was a waste of time, and that he could make more money dealing drugs. As a result of his training and family support, Carlos got his first job—in a nearby factory using his newly acquired computer skills. For the first time, his future seemed bright. His mother, I could tell, was filled with pride—and enormous relief. I could certainly understand why.

I recently watched a group of young women in Mallaha, a small town in Jordan, who had just finished cleaning up a yard by their local primary school. The kids could now play ball and take turns on the newly installed swings. One of these young women, 23-year-old Wafaa, told me she and her friends had never done anything like this before—working all day clearing away debris and painting the walls of the playground in bright colors. They were astonished at what they had accomplished, and wanted to do more. They realized they had something valuable to contribute to their community. This new sense of empowerment had changed their expectations—of themselves and each other.

This afternoon, I met Dante, a young man here in Baltimore who had found trouble and had recently gotten out of jail. He, too, was fortunate. He found an organization that cared about him and understood he had something to offer. He’s learning to be a carpenter, but wants to go to college and even own his own business. “I don’t care what my friends say, this program has changed my life,” he says, flashing a huge grin. 

Tomorrow morning I will have even more reason to be thinking about these young people—and what can be done so that millions more of their peers around the world have the chance, like they did, to realize a brighter future. Tomorrow the International Youth Foundation opens its three-day conference in Washington, DC, called Youth@Work: Bridging the Opportunity Divide. Global leaders and civil society organizations from nearly 50 countries are coming to discuss the enormous challenges facing today’s young people and to develop new partnerships and strategies that will enable them to find decent jobs—or start their own businesses.

A remarkable group of corporate and government leaders will help spark these critical discussions. Joining them will be members of our global partner network—youth-serving organizations from around the world whose expertise in youth development and passion to improve young lives will further enrich the conversation. Young people will be engaged as well –offering their own viewpoints and perspectives on their role in expanding employment and civic engagement opportunities. For the next three days, we will work together toward a common goal: to ensure young people across the globe can look to the future with hope.

If we get it right, far more young people than ever before will graduate from school, get decent jobs, and help revitalize their communities. If we get it right, parents everywhere will celebrate that remarkable moment when their son or daughter is able to see new and exciting possibilities in their lives—and in the world.