For someone who studied politics, 2017 has been anything but a year of hope. With Brexit and the election of Donald J. Trump, it became difficult for most people to trust our fellow human being’s judgments. So, when I was preparing to attend the One Young World Summit 2017 in Bogota Colombia, I was not looking to be optimistic about the world or restoring my faith in humanity.
Much to my surprise, however, the speakers, attending ambassadors, and everyone else I had the fortune to meet in Colombia, did just that. The young ambassadors’ works in health, peace, arts, business, politics, and societies have demonstrated that remarkable things can happen when we take responsibilities for our own societies and communities.
The One Young World Summit is a global gathering where young people and world leaders come together to share innovative solutions for world’s most pressing issues. The overarching theme of One Young World 2017 was reconciliation and the role of young people in propagating peace. The 1300+ participants from 194 countries gathered in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, to discuss the most pressing issues of the world today— global peace, the high and protracted incidence of unemployment, the acute social and economic obstacles faced by women, the environmental impacts of climate change, and the road to climate action.
It also outlined the struggle with disabilities and the burning desire for it to be taken more seriously by society. An overwhelming theme emerged while discussing viable actions for change: the role that entrepreneurship and technology access will play in circumventing these challenges.
I attended the OYW 2017 summit as a Dr. Mohammad Yunus delegate representing Bangladesh. I find it quite impossible to summarize the learnings from this gathering in one article. But, here are three things that made a lasting impact on my mind.
1. Never too young to lead: There is a narrative in our societies that young people are not equipped to lead because…“ well, they are young.” But, the world is currently home to the largest generation of young people in history. With half of the world’s population being under the age of 40, it is the ideas and talents of young people that will drive the success of achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 as well as take us towards an inclusive and peaceful world in the long run. Kofi Annan, Ghanaian diplomat and former seventh Secretary General to the UN, said this in his keynote speech: “You are never too young to lead, act and take charge where you can.” Mr. Anan shared his experiences of peace negotiations and advocated for establishing trust between parties, being fully inclusive, and giving everyone a voice. Proving Mr. Anan’s point, the OYW summit championed young leaders from about the world who are doing more works towards a better world than many of our governments.
2. Business with a social conscience: Social entrepreneurship was another major theme of the One Young World Summit in Bogota. Right now, eight people hold the same amount of capital wealth as the bottom half of the world. This shocking fact shows how we live in a world of growing inequality. Moreover the rising social tensions and the rapidly digitizing global economy that is changing the global economy that is changing the way to live and work. Thus, there needs to be a fundamental change in the way that we conduct ourselves on this planet. Big business needs to set goals that benefit not just the company but the society as well. They need to commit to a more sustainable and equitable world.
Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Laureate spoke of his social business model and his 3-0 goals to create a society free of poverty, unemployment and carbon emission. Young people are already prioritizing this agenda. For example, One Young World ambassadors working at Deloitte in France are collaborating with local non-profit partners on addressing youth unemployment. And there are so many impactful OYW Ambassador-led initiatives around the world! It’s time for the big business now to support and initiate such programs to fulfill their responsibilities towards societies and communities.
3. Stories matters for peace and reconciliation: The third day of the summit featured young activist whose lives have been destroyed by wars—from Rwanda’s genocide to Colombia’s civil war to Afghanistan’s chronic conflicts. By sharing his story, Rwanda’s Hyppotitle Ntigurirwa showed us peace and reconciliation is possible, no matter what happens. Hyppotitle Ntigurirwa who spoke about his experience during the Rwandan genocide in which 1 million people lost their lives in 100 days. His story was one of survival. From the refugee camps he lived in after the genocide, he went on a journey of peace which led him to forgive his father’s killers.
One of the sessions titled “The Future of Colombia” explores the impact of the 52 years Colombia conflict and brought together young Colombians from different perspectives, including former FARC rebels, former paramilitary members, and kidnapping victims share their experience of the conflict to bring to life the impact of war on young people. The personal stories shared by these participants enabled us, the listeners who may not have any idea about the lasting impact of the war on individuals, to understand and to support the efforts to maintain peace not only in Colombia but also in any war-torn society.
In the closing session of the 2017 One Young World Summit at Simon Bolivar Park in Bogota, Ron Garan, a former Astronaut said we are a common planer with a common goal, common population, and a common destination. With that statement, he encompasses the essence of the summit. Despite the chaos of Brexit and the divisive politics of Donald Trump, there is still scope for hope as long as the ideas and works of young people are being championed. I realized, the gathering of hundreds of exceptional young minds from virtually every sector in Bogota strengthened that hope.