Posted on November 16, 2019

Amid a rise in youth activism around the world, the question of how to involve young people in decision-making has been placed in the spotlight at the 2019 Paris Peace Forum – with speakers from Qatar, Europe, and Africa having their say.

A discussion session at the annual global governance summit in the French capital focused on the theme Age is But A Number: Including Youth in Decision-Making Processes, as, in countries throughout the world, traditional age-based hierarchies continue to be challenged by a highly-connected movement of young people with a desire to be part of the conversation when key decisions that affect their future are made.

Mrs. Machaille Al-Naimi, President of Community Development, Qatar Foundation, was among those who participated in the discussion, as she spoke about the importance of youth engagement alongside fellow speakers Stefan Pfalzer, President of the European Student Think Tank, Edwin Mulimi Nayendo, Project Leader at the Oslo Center, and Yasmine Ouirhrane, Expert on Peace & Security at the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub. The event was moderated by Noëlla Richard, Youth Policy Specialist at the UNDP Youth Global Programme.

The session explored the fact that, worldwide, young people face increasing pressure and insecurity from rising unemployment and decreasing social welfare – but that while protestors and activists are often applauded for speaking out, true empowerment, or the involvement of youth in decision-making processes, does not necessarily follow. “One only needs to pick up a newspaper or scroll through social media and see the protests taking place around the world to realize that the youth have had enough and are demanding to be heard,” said Mrs. Al-Naimi. 

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“The previously-accepted hierarchies of the youth being far removed from the decision-makers are now being challenged and dispensed with. We cannot have decisions being made about the future without our youth being present at the table to set the agenda and be a part of the decision-making process. “First and foremost, it’s about believing in the voice of one – understanding that your voice is powerful. At Qatar Foundation, we understand that the youth are integral to future decisions, and that decisions cannot be taken on their behalf without them being involved.”

The speakers discussed how to define nation-specific and culture-specific ways of encouraging youth representation in governance, society and employment, and enabling young people to be partners in driving change. They also emphasized the need for assumptions about the role of young people in the world to be overcome, and to ensure they know their views and opinions will be listened to. Nayendo said that “a prejudiced approach” to engaging young people must be avoided, as she said: “Let’s keep an open mind and let them tell us what they think is the solution – young people are not the leaders of tomorrow; young people are the leaders of today.”

According to Ouirhrane, involving young people in decision-making is “a bottom-up process”. She told the discussion: “I encourage young people to believe in their potential and make sure that their voices are heard at the local, national and international levels, because it’s with this positivity and this willingness that we make change happen.”  At the Paris Peace Forum, Dr. Ahmad M. Hasnah, President of Hamad Bin Khalifa University – a member of Qatar Foundation – also participated in a discussion session titled Shine Bright: A Better Future with Innovation in Education. He and fellow speakers Myo Thein Gyi, Myanmar’s Minister of Education, Haifa Dia Al-Attia, CEO of Luminus Plus, and Delphine Dorsi, Director of the Right to Education Initiative, addressed topics including disruption, inclusivity, and gender parity in education.

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“In order for us to prepare graduates and students for the world they’re living in, we need to provide them with a multidisciplinary and multidimensional educational experience,” said Dr. Hasnah. “We need to educate our students for the future, not the current state. A lot of jobs that will be available once our students graduate don’t even exist right now.” He said education still provides the best opportunity for young people “to be in a diverse and truly global environment”, but questioned whether education should be delivered in the same way to every student, saying: “Should we instead have a competency point for each student? “With advances in areas like personalized medicine, we need to look into how we make education more personalized.”

Meanwhile, Her Excellency Lolwah Al Khater, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, introduced a panel session on the topic of Education for Peace and Development: How to Create Sustainable Impact? Featuring two leading Qatari organizations in the field of international philanthropy – the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), and Qatar Fund For Development (QFFD) – it explored the role of education as a mechanism for peace, and how innovation can sustain education in times of conflict.

The session also highlighted how organizations in Qatar work globally to assess the needs of educational institutions in conflict areas, and collaborate with communities, governments, and businesses to provide access to quality education in safe learning environments across over 100 countries. Giving their perspectives were panelists Alya Fakhroo, Youth Advocate, EAA, Ali Abdulla Al-Dabbagh, Executive Director of Corporate Strategy, QFFD, and Anna Paolini, Director of UNESCO’s Gulf and Yemen Office.