The One Young World Forum is an annual gathering of 1300 young leaders from over 180 countries who come together to discuss issues on social change that are having the greatest impact on earth. An idea borne by David Jones and Kate Robertson supported by the likes of Sir Bob Geldof, Kofi Annan, Mary Robertson, Muhammad Yunnus - just to name a few - has made this an important event in the annual calendar. The inaugural event was held in London back in 2010 and thereafter in Zürich, Pittsburgh and South Africa in the years that followed.
Over the course of three and a half days topics such as climate change, human rights, disability, gender equality, war and conflict, immigration are discussed and debated with passion. Delegates address those topics with speeches, supported by counsellors, who are more senior, many of whom have experience in those areas. This is then followed by plenary sessions allowing the audience to ask questions, contribute opinions or promote the work they are involved in. With such a large global contingency, only the Olympics manage to surpass those that are represented.
This year the event was held in Ireland – a suitable location in my opinion because it has experienced many of the issues we are facing today. Ireland’s struggle for independence from the British is one of two long lasting “dark clouds” that hangs over its head - the other being the re-unification of Northern Ireland. However delegates were taught on how Ireland has managed to come to terms with the situation through diplomatic dialogue and the Good Friday agreement in 1997 that created a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Though tensions remain in Northern Ireland the violence is a fraction of what it was.
Dublin, one of Europe’s youngest cities has grown rapidly over the last decade and specifically, the technology sector. The favourable economic climate makes it an attractive choice for many tech companies including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, Wayra and more. Of course as more companies pile in, so does the workforce from Europe and around the world, which in itself brings about a strain on affordable housing for the natives! Dublin is a modern and charming city, much of it mirroring the infrastructure and systems of the UK. Gaelic, the Irish language, is the inherent language spoken by a relatively small number but remains the country’s pride.
Two breakout sessions meant that the delegates could form closer ties and friendships as they worked together to solve an issue of their choice. Whisked away to different companies around Dublin, problems such as How to help the billions without power to How technology education can help the economy were on the agenda. Aspire attended a session with Wayra, a startup accelerator based in Dublin, and through this, we created a partnership with presenters Code Dojo that helps young people aged between 13-17 code. As part of our 2015 strategy, this will be an area that we will be much focusing on.
The One Young World conference was incredible for Aspire. Through first hand, personal meetings, our name has reached over 50 countries. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe we will use these delegates as future partners to further the causes of girls and women in education, entrepreneurship, empowerment and freedom.
The most influential speaker for me personally was, however, Muhammad Yunus who over the last 30 years has run Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to help millions finance their business through microloans (microfinance). This means small amounts of up to US$1500 are handed out to the poor to help them start or grow their businesses and all without collecting interest. AND if that wasn’t enough – the bank is run entirely by women! My favourite quote was: “If we want to make a profit, we can only solve one problem however if you wish to make no profit, you end up solving multiple problems”.
Sofia was inspired and in awe of Caroline Casey, a speaker whom we aspire to have with us presenting in the not too distant future. Declared legally blind, she has made massive inroads in tackling gender equality however is best known for her tireless campaigning for the rights of the disabled. A passionate and exuberant speaker, she commanded the audience to listen to the voices of five disabled people - in the dark - inferring that they are no different to anyone else before bringing them out (below). Sofia herself works tirelessly on encouraging individuals at work and outside to recognise the achievements and skills of such minority groups.
However the most notable speaker at the conference was a young girl from North Korea. In her family’s endeavour to escape the country, she had to witness horrific crimes such watching her friend being publicly executed for watching a Hollywood film; friends jailed for making international phone calls and watch her mother being raped by a Chinese guard in exchange of her being spared and then having to flee into the Gobi Desert. And "when the compass failed them, they used the stars to guide them to freedom". Eventually, her family was arrested by the Mongolian authorities whilst having to endure the demise of her father, slowly crumbling under the curse of cancer. The audience was in tears; the panel was in tears – from which followed a three minute standing ovation. Stories such as this are not unique to North Koreans – millions of women across the globe endure brutal violence, rape and murder but its impact is never fully felt when it is not happening in your own back yard. That is, until you hear it from the person right that is right in front of you. Her humble appearance and colourful dress did not in any way prepare the audience for what we were about to experience.
The conference is ultimately a magnificent networking event. Cards being swapped, facebook friends added, linkedin profiles inspected! People meet others whom they otherwise would not in a day to day context either perhaps due to opportunity or even stereotypes. But you feel equal, regardless of your background, gender, disability, ethnicity, race, religion etc when someone smiles at you and just wants to get to know you for you. We have one agenda, to make the world a better place to be and live in
Next stop Bangkok, Thailand…!
The One Young World Forum was attended by Dhruv Parekh, CFO and Sofia Sharkova, President and Co-Founder between the 15-18th October. If you would like to know more please get in touch with us at: Dhruv@aspireme.co or firstname.lastname@example.org Many more photos are posted onto our gallery page.