UNESCO Director-General and Saudi Minister of Education Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud open the Youth Volunteerism and Dialogue Conference in Jeddah

“Volunteering and dialogue go together – they reinforce each other, guided by the common goal to unite people around a common cause,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova today at the opening of the international conference “Youth Volunteerism and Dialogue” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Organized by UNESCO, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education and the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, the Conference focuses on the scope and direction of youth volunteerism in a diverse global world.

This Conference is part of the cooperation agreement signed in 2010 with Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, the Minister of Education of Saudi Arabia, in support of the Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Programme for a Culture of Peace and Dialogue. Its aim is to celebrate diversity, to deepen the culture of peace, to promote ‘learning to live together’ in schools, universities, the media.

Opening the Conference before an audience of 170 participants from over 30 countries, including youth with volunteering experiences, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud said: “Young people make up a majority in the population of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They will build the future – and we will provide them the means and opportunities so that, with their talents and creative energy,  they can achieve their ambitions for the future they want, which is increasingly rooted in sustainability.”

© UNESCO/Jeff Lee - The Director-General during her speech in Jeddah

Volunteering takes different shapes across the world, reflecting varied needs and diverse cultural contexts. The Director-General said, “Volunteering is much more than action to complete a task…It is about crafting new and meaningful forms of dialogue, especially intercultural dialogue – that go beyond exchanges through social networks, that engage personal responsibility, with the willingness to listen and learn, to understand and change one’s own views, to adapt to new challenges. This is essential for building the new forms of global citizenship the world needs today, to respond to humanitarian crises and build peace, to forge new approaches to sustainable development, to make the most of humanity’s great cultural diversity.”

In his keynote speech, Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muammar, Secretary-General of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue as well as the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, said: “Through the dialogue that will take place over the next three days between youth participants, we will consolidate the values ​​and culture of volunteerism and dialogue as a symbol of universal culture, and highlight the fundamental human values that unite us​​. Through volunteerism, we can multiply  the opportunities for dialogue, and increase collaboration between individuals, deepening and strengthening human bonds.”

© UNESCO/Jeff Lee

The opening ceremony provided an opportunity to award the eight winners of the first-ever “Global Contest for Mutual Understanding”, which received over 1,300 contributions from youth aged 14 to 25. The winners are Elena Karantagli (Greece), Ho Rui You (Malaysia), Ismail Ben Amer (Tunisia), John Paul Usman (Nigeria), Mher Ghalumyan (Armenia), Olga Katile (Mali), Slavina Nenkova (Bulgaria), Tanny Achar (Mexico) The winning works – ranging from essays, photography, video and graphic design – highlight the core values of the culture of peace and non-violence, including respect for diversity, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, justice and equity.

From 3 to 5 December, the Conference will host five workshops, offering practical support for participants to catalyze impactful change through volunteering. Themes include: nurturing a culture of dialogue; peace-building and humanitarian assistance; culture of peace and sustainable development; promoting cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue. An exhibition will present best practices of successful volunteering action in different areas. The closing session will be marked by the adoption of a Declaration, capturing key features of an innovative volunteerism agenda, as defined by the youth participants. It will pave the way for a new youth civic engagement in the 21st century, invigorated by dialogue.