President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi inaugurated the fourth World Youth Forum (WYF) in Sharm El-Sheikh on Monday. Since its launch in 2017, the landmark annual event aimed at bringing young people together to promote dialogue and discuss development, has become a significant international event.
After a one-year hiatus imposed by the pandemic, young people from 196 countries, together with heads of state, prime ministers and international dignitaries all gathered at the City of Peace to take part in the dozens of WYF workshops and events. Covid imposed itself on the WYF agenda, however. The decision to hold the event while the world remains puzzled by the virus’ latest mutation (dubbed Omicron) as well as shots and booster shots was a message to the world that life must not come to a standstill.
Before the pandemic broke out two years ago, the WYF had already attracted wide-ranging attention from the youth of the world at large. Despite the fact that young people make up the majority of the world’s population, there are hardly any international events of this kind in which only young people’s voices are heard. While taking all necessary precautionary measures, including utilising advanced robots to sterilise halls, take the participants’ temperature and hand out sterilisers, the WYF is being held under the slogan of “Back Together”.
Confirming the significance of the WYF, both the UN secretary-general and the director of the World Health Organisation addressed the opening session in recorded video speeches. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has become a household name all over the world since the outbreak of coronavirus, said the forum was “a great opportunity” for the youth to exchange expertise, create a better future and improve health. “Most of the world’s population is young people under the age of 30… The future is in their hands, and they are facing the challenges of today and tomorrow, including climate change, pollution, health and others,” he added.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, meanwhile, said the pandemic has had a negative psychological impact. However, young people will manage to overcome this experience successfully. “The minds of young people are inexhaustible in the way of innovative ideas,” Guterres said, summarising the key reason why Egypt has spared no effort to make the WYF a successful annual event: looking for innovative ideas coming from the world youth.
Under the theme “Covid-19: A Warning to Humanity and a New Hope”, the opening session of the four-day event started with contributions from experts, inspiring young people in various fields, prominent international figures and youth groups from around the world.
The evening of the first day also saw the opening of the World Youth Theatre, which is a youth-to-youth hub that gathers promising artists from all over the world to showcase their talents and express their cultures through a wide range of art-related activities.
The keynote topics in the conference’s workshop revolved around post-Covid impacts, climate change, social security, human rights, entrepreneurship, technology, 5G networks, digital transformation, distance learning, the environment and the future of energy – all topics in which young people are hugely interested and involved.
Participants also discussed the growing role of financial technology in emerging markets, post-pandemic education, the role of the young in confronting environmental and climate-centric challenges and the UN’s sustainable development goals in the light of the pandemic.
Recognising young talent worldwide, WYF workshops also covered the future of technology and the post-pandemic digital transformation, Generation Z’s perspective on the post-pandemic world, and Egypt’s “Decent Life” countryside-focused initiative.
The LE700 billion “Decent Life” Presidential Initiative, which was officially inaugurated in July 2021, aims to improve standards of living, infrastructure and basic services – including healthcare – all across the countryside. In his opening remarks, President Al-Sisi said this vital project was necessary to confront the effects of Covid-19 and provide job opportunities for the young.
“The pandemic was indeed a tough test for all of us,” Al-Sisi said, “but it was also an opportunity to look for innovative solutions and technology to deal with this danger.” In this field, it is mainly youth who led the innovative efforts and took part in awareness campaigns to protect themselves and their societies.
Moreover, the WYF has become an important interactive platform that brings together young people and world leaders, prominent decision-makers and intellectuals, all of whom formulate recommendations and initiatives on the topics discussed in the workshops.
This year’s event also included sessions in which young entrepreneurs shared their experiences, the challenges they faced and their success stories, with a special focus on the role of start-up companies, small and medium enterprises and the ways they are coping with the economic repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
Considering the intensity of young people’s interest in taking part in the conference, and the variety of topics being discussed, it was no surprise that the UN Commission for Social Development hailed the first three rounds of the WYF, recognising that it was an international platform allowing for the discussion of contemporary issues and the role of young people in achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.