Tornike Zurabashvili grew up amidst political turmoil and economic hardships. Following Georgia’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, 300,000 ethnic Georgians fled their homes permanently from regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Street violence and robberies occurred daily, particularly in Tornike’s neighborhood in the town of Gori. His options narrowed to two; many of his peers joined gangs but Tornike chose the second path, seizing every opportunity.
By his junior year in high school, he was selected for the Future Leaders Exchange Program and studied in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He appeared in a full page ad in the May 28, 2007 issue of TIME Magazine as winner of a Bentley College program that selects high school students around the world with exemplary commitment to their communities and proven ability to lead. Then, in November, 2007, Tornike received the U.S. Department of State Volunteer Service Award for Outstanding Community Spirit.
Back home in Gori in 2008, a regional skirmish escalated into a full-scale military confrontation with Russian troops occupying twenty percent of Georgia, displacing another 130,000 people—including Tornike. He was able to return home after three difficult weeks, but 30,000 people had not been as fortunate. Georgians lived in fear of violence, yet Tornike grew more determined to make a difference in his world. He continued studying at Tbilisi State University, the oldest in Georgia, but spent his sophomore year at Tartu University in Estonia. After earning his degree at Tbilisi, he took classes at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. through the Engalitcheff Institute on Comparative Economic and Political Systems.
Tornike has interned at the American Council for Young Political Leaders, the Parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee in Georgia, and worked full time for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. He pursues programs like HSI that offer opportunities to network and integrate theory with practice. He’s also working toward his master’s degree in Public Policy at Ilia State University in Georgia and hopes to do an internship at an international organization in Brussels, Vienna, or Washington, D.C. Perhaps most exciting is his selection as the youth delegate to the United Nations for 2013-2014. After getting input from youth throughout Georgia, he’ll speak on what he has learned at the UN General Assembly.
He plans to become a senior manager of an international program or head projects that promote democracy in developing nations, perhaps becoming a regional policy analyst or a future diplomat. How will Tornike “mold” his future? “I see my home country as a an integral and mature democracy where the political system is stable, economy is in constant growth, media is completely free and professional, and that everyone, regardless of political preferences, religious or ethnic background, and sexual orientation, is able to take advantage of the rights and opportunities in Georgia.” Tornike wants to be an active part of that.