On 18-19 November 2019, around 75 youth gathered to discuss youth engagement with UNESCO at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France.
This year’s Youth Forum had a strong focus on youth engagement with UNESCO. In fact, the Forum participants were selected based on the projects they have co-led or co-shaped with UNESCO on the ground. The youth participants represented many different youth engagement modalities and regions across the globe; there were researchers, entrepreneurs, media personalities and change-makers, who had at least one thing in common –the objective to enhance meaningful engagement of young people in UNESCO’s work.
For the first time, the UNESCO Youth Forum was fully designed and ran by young people themselves! A Youth Steering Group (YSG) was established in August 2019, consisting of 5 young leaders from all regions of the world (Africa, Arab States, Asia & the Pacific, Europe and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean). Its role has been crucial, as its members took the lead in designing and shaping the Forum alongside UNESCO. The members of the YSG were Ashlee Peacock, Elyes Guermazi, Johnpaul Ekene Ikwelle, Katelynne Herchak, and Luciana Batalla.
The main objectives of the 11th UNESCO Youth Forum consisted in creating strategic and meaningful recommendations on youth engagement with UNESCO, to better shape the work of the Organization when it comes to including young people in every stage of programme and project design. Additionally, young participants produced a document that will support operationalizing the Global UNESCO Youth Community of Practice (YCoP). These recommendations were presented by youth at the 40th session of the UNESCO General Conference on 27 November 2019 by participants, Erika Francillon and Mohsen Gul.
Youth Engagement with UNESCO and beyond
The 11th UNESCO Youth Forum kicked off with a youth-led introductory panel, sharing experiences of youth engagement with UNESCO, moderated by Juan Pablo Ramirez-Miranda (Programme Specialist in UNESCO New Delhi and member of Young UNESCO). The panel made the audience discover more on UNESCO’s action with young people on the ground, through UNESCO’s areas of competence and themes such as education, culture, and science. Victoria Ibiwoye spoke about the importance of inclusive education and the work she is conducting on SDG4 together with UNESCO’s Education Sector. Yapeng Ou shared experiences from the World Heritage Young Professionals Forum. Alice Roth shared her experience with the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme while Ankur Shah talked about his involvement in the UNESCO Silk Roads Project.
Additionally, a significant output of the previous UNESCO Youth Forum, the Youth Citizen Science Toolkit, was presented by Moctar Dembélé, and the audience was given a sneak peek by Eva Radek on an upcoming UNESCO initiative called YoU-CAN, which is a network that will focus on youth engagement and climate change.
The second panel focused on youth engagement from a multilateral perspective. The panel, moderated by Carson Kiburo (Youth Caucus of the UN Interagency Network on Youth Development), highlighted different modalities of the work of youth around the world. Present on the panel were, Bora Kamwanya from the Pan African Youth Union, Tyler Rae Chung from the Pacific Youth Council, Nouf Al Soghayar from the MiSK Initiative Center, Agustín Batto Carol, and the Y20 process, and Pakinam Achraf and the Egypt World Youth Forum. Additionally, during the first day of the Forum, a World Café was organized with a view of creating connections and building intergenerational dialogue among youth, UNESCO staff members and the Member States.
For the two days of the Forum, the participants and panelists combined their skills and strengths to create courageous, innovative and meaningful results, which were presented at the 40th session of the General Conference. The participants strongly recommended for the UNESCO Secretariat to have a youth observatory seat in the Executive Board to ensure linkages between UNESCO Youth and UNESCO’s governing bodies. Moreover, they invited UNESCO’s Director-General to formulate a ‘Global Youth Advisory Group’, consisting of members that are representatives of youth from across all regions, including vulnerable groups. It was also recommended that UNESCO should establish monitoring and financial support mechanisms to ensure that young people are well-represented in the development and implementation of UNESCO programmes.
During the closing session, selected participants gave a dynamic presentation of the outcome documents that include strategic recommendations on youth engagement with UNESCO as well as a document outlining the Global Youth Community of Practice (YCoP). The YCoP intends to bring together different streams of youth engagement, to facilitate youth-to-youth collaboration and intergenerational learning. Its objectives are to encourage and facilitate the meaningful engagement of young people in the development and implementation of UNESCO projects and structures. It is meant to emerge as a learning community for and by youth around the world to co-design and co-implement projects related to UNESCO’s fields of competence in a safe, flexible and inclusive space.
The concluding remarks were made by the President of the UNESCO General Conference and the Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences.
In the framework of UNESCO’s global online storytelling initiative #YouthOfUNESCO, the participants shared their journeys, how they create positive change in their communities and impact youth policies in collaboration with UNESCO. You can read about Abel, who fosters inclusion for Afro-descendant youth in his community through films and capacity building. Discover also the stories of Clarah, who works together with UNESCO to provide free healthcare for youth in rural areas, Gio, who works on Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia and many other success stories of the participants.