30 June 2017

Giving Youth a Voice

“What year will it be when your children will be the same age as you today?” asked Jacques Attali, Founder and President of “Positive Planet”. Though we face many difficulties, the positivity of youth brings a brighter vision for our future—as envisioned by this question from the  keynote address at the Seventh International Forum of NGOs on “Youth and their Social Impact”, organized by UNESCO and the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee in partnership with the Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation (MiSK), and held on 3-4 May 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The NGO UNESCO Forum 2017 brought together over 400 NGOs from over 70 countries and over 2,000 delegates, 70 per cent of whom under the age of 35. It was addressed by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and several high-profile speakers, including Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis, and Justin Smith, chief executive officer of Bloomberg Media Group.

A first in the Arab region, the forum covered topics such as youth engagement and its potential for social change, optimizing the impact of the digital native, cultural diversity as an essential dimension of intercultural dialogue, among others.

The predominant theme was “Youth matter”, in recognition that young people are the custodians of a common future. Speakers addressed the need to communicate with youth in their own language, to reach out and support them so they could be engaged both vocally and practically.  Creating incentives for youth participation could start with simple initiatives such as asking young people to volunteer, and might also include more complex actions such as valuing youth as a resource, giving them the opportunity to turn volunteering into a career, and granting employees time off to participate in social work.

With their motivation and commitment, youth can turn dreams into reality, as well as shape a better future for our world. By transforming youth from job seekers to job makers and using technology as means and not as an end, young social entrepreneurs can revolutionize their societies. Not only do we need a good education system to provide youth with the necessary knowledge and skills, but also an inspiring one, focusing on inclusion, tolerance and education for sustainable development.

I was part of the panel on “The Voice of Youth: Their Vision of Social Change”, in which seven young people from around the world were given the opportunity to voice their impressions on the forum. Though perhaps lacking in experience, we, the youth, have the passion, creativity and capabilities to incite the change we need in society. Having learned so much over the past two days, I encouraged the young women and men attending the forum to use this new knowledge to take action, and most importantly inspire others.

Overall, this forum represented an indispensable step to ensuring active youth participation, and should serve as a foundation to future youth collaborations for a more sustainable world. It shed a positive light on the years to come, with youth being the leaders of today and tomorrow.


About the author

Rind Al Hage from Lebanon is one of the winners of the English language group of the Many Languages, One World (MLOW) 2016 contest. After travelling to New York and participating in the Many Languages, One World Global Youth Forum, she became an advocate for international youth and sustainability, giving speeches at UNESCO Beirut and the 6th international forum of NGOs. She considers herself as an active citizen of the world