Q&A: Participants tout benefits of World Youth Forum ahead of fourth edition

Nermine Kotb, Sunday 2 Jan 2022

Since it was first held in 2017, the World Youth Forum has been a platform to express views, present ideas and share experiences across three tracks – peace, development and creativity – during its sessions, workshops and events.

Youth Forum

Since 2017 the forum has been held two more times, in 2018 and 2019, each time in Sharm El-Sheikh under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

This year, more than 500,000 youth from 196 countries applied to participate in the forum’s fourth edition, scheduled to be held 10-13 January

The forum’s agenda covers many topics of concern, including the effects of the COVID-19, climate change, social protection, human rights, entrepreneurship, technology, digital transformation, distance learning, environment and the future of energy.

Ahram Online spoke to two young people who participated in the previous editions of the forum, asking them to give their impressions of the event, and say what prompted them to come forward to repeat the experience again and to describe how they benefited from that participation.

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Bledar Feta, is a young Greek politician who works as an international relations expert & researcher in the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy’s (ELIAMEP) South-East Europe Programme.

As a young leader in his country, youth issues have composed a large part of his career. Although he was aware of the current hot-button issues on the European agenda, he had been looking for a more comprehensive perspective on youth issues. The second edition of the forum in 2018 was his opportunity to develop this perspective and exchange views with people he knew little about.

Ahram Online: First we would like to know more about you. What was your motivation to participate in the World Youth Forum? We would like to know your impressions before and after the forum?

Bledar Feta: I am an international relations expert & researcher with a demonstrated history of work in the public policy and international affairs industry. I have developed experience in working with inter-governmental and civil society organisations, governments, political personalities, diplomatic missions, advocacy groups, business leaders, and state and international institutions.

The World Youth Forum came into my life in 2018. Being a youth leader, I have been dealing with youth issues for a good part of my professional life. I have always had an international perspective in my work and tried to inspire and mobilise the youth for goals that have a broader effect. I am familiar with what is currently hot in the European agenda, but realised the need to be out of my comfort zone and exchange views with people I know little about. WYF was an obvious choice for me.

I found it a brilliant opportunity for what I wanted to do as an active citizen, since it offered a wide array of topics, an international crew of active youth leaders, and an encouraging environment for intersectional debate, views exchange, and experience sharing. In fact, the forum exceeded my expectations by far, making me also apply for its 2019 edition.

The attendees' diversity of the World Youth Forum reflected on the scope of my work, my needs, and my aspirations, making it a game-changing experience. My engagement with the WYF in the previous years provided me with fresh ideas and new tools opening new cooperation avenues in my career, taking it to the next level. As part of my daily job, I am providing analysis on temporary politics and reform with the aim to provide strategic recommendations for use by decision-makers implementing policies in the Balkan and MENA regions.

What most impressed me was the pride, the passion, and the care shown by the organisers, which made this forum the most constructive as possible. All in all, this event confirmed my motto that the only way to deal with the problems of our society is to learn the lessons and practices that the world has to offer at all-embracing organisations and forums such as the WYF.

AO: What are the strengths of the forum, from your point of view?

BF: There are many strengths that make WYF a unique experience. A very well-structured forum with specific goals and objectives like the WYF has the ability to provide young people with information, tools, tips and tactics to help them curate new ideas to improve their approach to the issues discussed during the event. My impression is that the forum does not only regard young people as the future but also as the power of today giving them the chance to have a say on issues that concern them the most.

It is a really impressive fact that the forum produces detailed action-oriented recommendations on youth themes which are announced during the closing ceremony. This is a clear sign that the forum does not remain only in theory, but it is also moving to actions.

One other significant dimension of the WYF is the wide range of activities that helps young people to find their own way of expression. All these different activities are creating a youth international community where young people from different fields mix and mingle with each other sharing ideas and best practices, while at the same time meeting experts, policymakers and influencers face to face, giving to the forum educational dimensions.

The fact that the forum remains always up to date with local, regional, and international developments setting its agenda accordingly is one other strength that increases its impact.

It is important to mention the contribution of this forum in establishing networks and building healthy cooperation ties among youth from countries that are in a kind of conflict. The WYF has the power to fight wrong perceptions and stereotypes that exist between different countries contributing to a peaceful co-existence.

As a former participant, I can definitely say that the WYF is well designed and implemented, particularly given the large number of participants and the complexity of the ideas under discussion. I can complement the spirit both of the organisers and of the participants in terms of their receptivity and openness.

AO: What was the most interesting activity during the forum? Which ones did you participate in? And what are your memories about them?

BF: Every activity in the WYF has its value and is shaped in a way that every participant finds their own position and participates in activities they enjoy. Personally, I tried to participate in as many activities as I could.

The workshop about the enhancement of the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation was a very interesting, pleasant, and constructive activity. The mutually reinforcing sequence of workshop’s sessions, each one building on the outputs of the earlier sessions with a high degree of flexibility to respond to emerging consensus and participants' needs, the organisation, the venue, the participants, the general atmosphere, everything contributed to creating just the right environment to work.

Besides, I have the best memories from the opening and closing ceremonies. These two events are highly emotional with the main hall of the venue envisioning an ideal world where problems, borders, stereotypes, and misperceptions do not exist. It is exactly this atmosphere that young people need in order to become more optimistic about their future.

The World Youth Theatre is also an event I really enjoyed. An added value of the 2019 WYF edition was the inspirational stories. Some of these stories touched my heart and created emotions that I will never forget in my life.

AO: One of the forum's main topics will be the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. In your view, what is the big challenge that youth are facing during the pandemic and needs their collaboration?

BF: There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified challenges for the youth. Employment-related challenges stand on the top of the list with many young people having lost their job since the start of the pandemic, while those who continue to work are working fewer hours or with fewer earnings.

Here, there is another important point concerning job quality. Another thing we have seen with the pandemic has been an acceleration of the trend towards digitally enabled and online jobs. Even though this is a positive development, these types of employment available in online markets tend to be rather insecure, short-term, task-based and above all not regulated by a common legal framework. This is why we need to pay special attention to these issues in order to ensure that these online working forms will become better types of employment.

In this context, there is a strong need for international coordination of policy response. Here, the role of young people and their voices on the World Youth Forum can play an important role. It is very important that we listen to what young people are saying about their future, we hear what they are saying about their employment aspirations, and we understand what it is about their aspirations that need to be taken into consideration in order to ensure that the short-term-exits from the labor market of young people does not turn into their long-term exclusion. The mitigation of this risk requires collaborations that can be established during the WYF.

Further challenges in the list are related to education. The disruption to education has reduced employment opportunities. The combined impacts on employment and education also exacerbate existing inequalities, including digital, health, and financial inequality, as the gap between rich and poor grows.

The sustainability of youth organisations is also a real challenge that requires the attention of policymakers. Many youth NGOs are facing serious challenges to continue their grassroots activities due to a number of reasons related to COVID-19 including the shortcomings in funding. The youth sector needs real support in order to revitalise and to continue delivering quality youth work activities for young people. The collaboration among youth organisations in the context of WYF could deliver positive results to this direction.

A challenge that is not extensively discussed is the risk posed by the long-hour exposure of youth on the internet which makes many young people vulnerable to the online narratives and propaganda of extremist groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has instigated an unprecedented digital transformation making people’s social life completely digital. These new technologies have given terrorists and extremists, often pioneers and innovators in the digital space, new opportunities to adopt and adapt them to radicalise young people. Young people need to collaborate in order to create a safer online space for them and exclude risks that could come from extremist personalities or groups.

While not a silver bullet, the upcoming WYF in Sharm El-Sheik has the power to identify ways in which young people can collaborate in order to respond to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

AO: What are your tips for everyone who wants to participate in the next forum to get the most out of the experience?

BF: My suggestion to the participants of the next forum is to identify the opportunities and take advantage of the different thematic activities that WYF is offering. Sign up for the thematic workshops and sessions. Different sessions are organised focusing on different topics, with speakers from civil society, media and government. They are designed to focus on a specific aspect of the forum-adjacent issues, touching on everything from climate change to social security, distance learning, and human rights. There is really something for every participant.

I would recommend attending sessions you want to take a deep dive into, as well as session topics you are not as familiar with and want to learn more about.

Do not lose the opportunity to interact with other participants to exchange ideas as well as to connect with speakers and panelists. It is exactly in this way that better ideas are coming to the surface. In any case, you should not leave Egypt without interacting with the local population. Only this way you will come across the country’s traditions and culture. Egypt is a great country with great people and has a lot of lessons to offer.

AO: Have you achieved any networking with others forum's pioneers?

BF: The establishment of a network consisting of former WYF participants was always one of my intentions. Since 2019, a group of young people from Greece, Egypt, Albania, and Cyprus, all former participants in the previous editions of the World Youth Forum, are working on this.

The idea behind this networking is its evolution into an innovative youth cooperation laboratory network among Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, and Albania which aims at strengthening youth cooperation on key issues in an effort to address the common challenges in an institutionalised way. The main objective is the establishment of an innovative platform of cooperation among youth from the four countries that will function as the best cooperation model in the Mediterranean region.

This idea came to the surface during the 2019 WYF in a meeting a group of young leaders from the four countries had with stakeholders from Greece, Egypt and Cyprus. In this meeting, every part argued for the need of setting up a joint Greek-Cypriot-Egyptian-Albanian project which will design and implement research, organise activities and public interventions, and provide recommendations to policymakers.

The objective will be to contribute to the establishment of a network of young people from all four countries that will work together for the resolution of any problem, address relevant issues and common challenges, and generally promote better understanding and collaboration among the four countries and their respective societal actors and institutions. Since then, we are working together on the idea. We have already in place the respective proposal with the necessary consecutive steps for its implementation.

All in all, the project portrays and develops a coordinated portfolio of actions that combine culture, policy, education, and young people’s participation, with cultural heritage and tourist flows promoting at the same time the sustainable development of different services between the selected countries; setting the basis for the development of synergies that will result in the economic growth, cultural preservation and improves the institutional cooperation among the four countries.

AO: And what is the most important thing that distinguishes the forum in general?

BF: It would not be an exaggeration to say that of all the young forums I have attended, WYF is one of the best and very unique. Inclusiveness is one of the characteristics that differentiate this forum from the others. This forum is not leaving anyone out. It accepts participants from all countries of the world, from a wide range of ages, and from different disciplines. Above all, the forum is not created for the privileged youth, it gives the opportunity to the poorest young people to attend it by covering all expenses and fighting any kind of discrimination. The WYF is not only inclusive, but it is also focusing on solutions.

This is confirmed by the long-hour presence of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in the forum, something we do not see in other young forums around the world. For me, the presence of the president is a strong indication of the importance of this forum.

Continuity is another factor that distinguishes this forum from the others. The fact that the forum is organised every year mixing together past and new participants ensures continuity of engagement.

The last but not least factor that distinguishes this forum is the excellent job done by the huge number of young Egyptian volunteers, who make all participants feel like in their homes. It is exactly this hospitality that fuels our desire to return back.

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Agnieszka Korycka, from Poland, is a 33-year-old, PhD Student, entrepreneur and active national sport team member (powerlifting, mass-wrestling, strongwoman). Agnieszka loves to meet people from diverse cultures and regions with different stories. She also likes to know where other people draw their inspiration from, since she also holds a sports club in Poland, where she wants to inspire kids and youth to do more for the world and to make it a better place.

Agnieszka's visit to Egypt in 2019 was not her first, but was her most distinguished.

Ahram Online: How did you know about the World Youth Forum and what motivated you to participate?

Agnieszka Korycka: Before arrival I did not know what to expect. I watched some movies on YouTube, caught the great spirit of the songs and the idea of bringing people together. I had some expectations, and – I have to admit – the WYF 2019 exceeded them. From the first moment at the Berlin airport, I knew the people selected were not there by accident. Every person had something to say, had a story to share and ideas to develop.

After the forum, I was so amazed that I spent over 70 hours making a movie about our group and the activities I participated in

I have been to Egypt multiple times; snorkeling is my huge passion. But at the forum I had the chance to see that this country has much more to offer: universities, organisations and companies. The organisation itself was great; no one was lost, we could feel that every aspect was under control by organisers.

The top strengths were an amazing facility and organisation; wide range of topics, everyone could find something for himself; opportunity to meet important people, politicians, influencers from all over the world; helpful and well oriented volunteers.

AO: What was the most interesting activity for you during the forum? And in which one do you participate?

AK: I participated in many activities, such as workshops about persons with disabilities, with amazing speakers, such as Amr Elsohagy, the captain of the paralympic swimming team of Egypt. These workshops were also held by many other people with some kind of disability, such as blindness, so we learned how to read Braille alphabet, how life is if you have to use the wheelchair, and so on.

Also I had the chance to attend a round table with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the minister of education from Malta, a minister from Cyprus, and other very honorable guests, to get to know the issues touching Mediterranean countries first hand.

It was also very triggering to participate in the women empowerment session. Since I live in Europe, I never knew about some issues that women are facing on a daily basis in more rural areas. After this I decided to record interviews with participants from different regions about women's position in their society. I haven't published it yet, but it is about to come.

AO: One of the forum's main topics will be the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. In your view, what is the big challenge that youth are facing during the pandemic and needs their collaboration?

AK: The big issue for youth, at least in Poland, caused by COVID is the education model. In my country teachers were not prepared to switch to the virtual lessons; it took a while. [Another challenge was ensuring every child had access to a computer.] But transforming education is not only about teachers talking to the camera, it also includes the adjustability of students to be able to reach satisfactory knowledge level without the personal contact.

The other thing is depression, loneliness and weight issues, which are easy to develop if kids spend so much time sitting in front of monitors, then spending their free time playing games, and chatting online.

The next point – or maybe it should be the main point – is crisis management globally. From my perspective, there are certain points that could have been managed much better if people with the right knowledge and experience would have a loud voice instead of the politicians, who sometimes were new to their job. Crisis management on a global level is something that should appear from march 2020.

AO: What are your tips for everyone who wants to participate in the next forum to get the most out of the experience?

AK: Be open; do not let any of your fears or boundaries stop you from shaking the hand of any person that gives you a hand. Differences between us are those that make it so interesting to live on this planet.

Be bold; you want to talk with someone, know his opinion or share your idea, and see if it might bring you success in work, hobby or any aspect of life. Share it; this is the right place and right people. You will always find someone who has achieved more than you at the moment and this person will in 100 percent of cases try to motivate you to do your best.

Be respectful; if you were chosen, most likely you do something in life that made the organisers invite you, but respect the rules of Egyptian culture and individuals. Other people also do something that makes them stand out of the crowd. So enjoy the moment of being with such amazing human beings, with maximum respect to everyone. We all have our own story, and some things might be harmful to someone, so pay attention to the details. You will recognise the right moments and people to talk about particular things.

AO: Have you achieved any networking with others forum's pioneers?

AK: This is the best thing that can happen. You will stay in touch with at least your group from the workshops you participated in or the hotel you were based in. Our WhatsApp group helped us to survive COVID, to not feel lonely. We sometimes do a group video chat. Every time you will learn something new, for example the time difference between Bangladesh, Poland and Lima.

We shared the news, hoping for a better future and next WYF! That’s not all, I was able to meet with some of the friends I met during WYF 2019. Nikhil, from India, visited Poland as a digital nomad, so we met a few times, discovered Krakow, and the mountains; I helped him to choose the national Polish dress for his mom. In September 2021 I visited Istanbul, where I met Prince from the Ivory Coast. First, he helped me to find myself in the city, then … we started cooperation. My company will soon start to promote and organise the medical tourism between Poland and Turkey, to make it more affordable for people who need any medical help.

AO: And what is the most important thing that distinguishes the forum in general?

AK: In this forum everything was covered, so no matter if someone is from a rich country or poor place, no matter how well his family is doing, and if he can afford travel, stay, food. We were all equal. No one could feel bad because of his personal financial situation. This was amazing because this relaxation gives an enormous place for creativity, being yourself, focusing on learning, motivating and sharing the inspiration.

Also the participants selection was incredible – I can’t say how the organisers did it – but people were great. There were a great number of great people, so this just had to be amazing.

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