Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Youth Leadership: the One Young World Conference

Former President of Ireland and High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN, Mary Robinson

As former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson shared the stage of the One Young World Conference with Kofi Annan to discuss intergenerational climate justice and the inequity facing the world’s poorest people on the main stage in the Dublin Conference Centre, downstairs in the demonstration hall, Pepsico, Volkswagen and Lenovo stands were manned by teams of promotional staff who were working to provide the most positive perspective of their companies. Upstairs, at the panel discussions, a broad swathe of some of the most well-known representatives from the sphere of human rights spoke on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people to young people between the ages of 18 to 30 from over 180 countries on local and global problems.

In a conference with as stark contrasts present as this, it presented some of the worst and best aspects of the contemporary situation regarding unrestricted capitalism; that the private automobile industry would use the opportunity to market to the future generation of socially-engaged future leaders, as ethical visionaries encouraged them at the same time and in the same building to work for a fairer future.

A woman uses a laptop in a corporate sponsorship area

Within this mix of speakers and private promoters, there was no clear guiding principle on where the organisers of One Young World stood regarding their conference. This lack of a clear direction lingered in their attitude towards attendance. Tickets to attend the conference were priced at over €3,400 and delegates hoping to attend were advised by the conference to seek sponsorship to help cover their costs. Instantly, those who can’t afford the fee or who live in countries where the ticket price is several times the average yearly wage face a noticeable barrier from attending.

Dylan Kaplan, a delegate from Washington DC who was recognised by the organisers for his winning essay on technology and the public in government and the possible methods for reducing barriers to participation was someone who was fully aware of this dichotomy, “It’s creating this idea of exclusivity that makes people want to come, so they’ve to figure out how to fund themselves to come. If they said that this (the One Young World Conference) was completely free, as crazy as this sounds, they would probably have less people coming. So people want to pay more money; they want to find someone else to pay for it”. Many of the speeches were available through a livestream and were archived to view online. The conference also promoted the use of online media to access some of the ideas being shared.

Hugh Gardner, an urban planner from Australia, spoke on what he perceived as setting One Young World apart from other conferences, “The things that we go to, it’s all corporate and really you don’t get that diversity of views. I think what I like a lot about coming here is that you get exposure to so many forms of change and so many different organisations and ways of doing things.”

Amir Ashour of Madre, a human rights campaigner from northern Iraq

With speakers like Amir Ashour, who campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights in northern Iraq, those at the front line of human rights defence were represented at the conference. Ashour, who grew up in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah in the northeastern region of Iraq spoke to the conference on the extreme violence used to target individuals in the gay community in annual campaigns in the region. Speaking to Ashour afterwards, he spoke about the need for the revaluation of human rights in media coverage of violence, “Don’t only focus on those that are terrorists, because those terrorists are damaging the life of those Muslim countries as well. It’s not like they’re only affecting life in Western society. They’re affecting the local society as well.”

Amongst this group of well-funded and supported young people, those that we spoke to were unanimous in their desire for a fairer world. Global business clearly wants to remain a part of the lives of those involved in the shaping of the social and economic structures of the future. While the ethical considerations of partnering with groups like Diageo at a conference for positive social development is uncertain, there was clearly a strong demand from the individuals involved for a more equitable society.

This article originally appeared in the University Observer, on the 28th of October, 2014.

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