Everyone wants what’s best for future generations, but very rarely do children get the chance to share their ideas with leaders.

Officials in Arizona and Sonora are working to close that barrier with the Cross-Border Youth Summit (CBYS), which provides junior high and high schoolers from both sides of the border a place to gather and share their experiences while also proposing solutions for a wide variety of topics.

“This is a game changer for our region,” said Emilio Gaynor, Chicanos Por La Causa Director of International Development and co-chair of the Arizona Mexico Commission’s Community & Social Organizations Committee. “It just opens up [their] mind and eyes and shows [them] that people and kids are very similar to you even though they’re in a different country and they speak a different language.”

Collaborative Research & Design Lab (CRADL) started the CBYS to empower tomorrow’s leaders and community builders by providing them with tools to inspire others. Last week, more than 500 students convened in Phoenix to collaborate on solutions regarding topics from prejudice and bullying to commerce, education and media.

“Every day, politicians, business leaders, and community advocates on both sides of the Mexico-United States border make decisions they hope will improve the lives of future generations. What does the future generation think of these decisions?” CRADL writes. “What can politicians, business leaders, and community advocates learn from the youth of both countries?”

“It was a great opportunity to come together with our Sonoran partners [and] converse with youth and learn from them… [ways] to help potentially shape our work,” said Maria Cristina Fuentes, director of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family, and co-chair of the Arizona Mexico Commission’s Community & Social Organizations Committee.

According to CRADL, Generation Z or the “Plurals” — people born after 1997 — have a lot to teach the older generations and the summit gives them that opportunity.

“These kids are our future and having them meet at such a young age opens up worlds of opportunity in the future,” Gaynor said.

The students spent two days together at the Phoenix Convention Center discussing the future of youth in both countries and put together policy statements that will help guide current leaders.

The group arranged a detailed presentation based on what they concluded on how they want to be educated; what they want from future jobs; the products they want to buy and the companies they want to support; how they want to be portrayed in the media; ideas for eliminating bullying and prejudice; and creating a better future.

But the summit did more than provide students with a space to problem solve, it allowed them to make connections with peers across the border and break down cultural barriers.

“Phoenix and Hermosillo, the largest city in Arizona and the largest city in Sonora, we are sister cities, which means as you look across the rows here and you see the young people, the students from across the border, they are familia,” Congressman Greg Stanton (CD-9) told the students. “The closer we can come together from a business perspective, trade, education, arts and culture, the closer we can come together, the better off we will be together.”

“The biggest benefit is that you link the two countries together through our youth,” Gaynor added. “By doing this you get rid of prejudices, you get rid of the wrong idea of what the other might look like or might be like, you actually get to meet people and know how they really are and who they really are… It really is an unbelievable opportunity.”