In the chaotic aftermath of Brexit and Trump, events like the World Economic Forum at Davos, widely respected and revered not too long ago, are now more typically reviled as cosy playgrounds for out-of-touch elites. So, when I first had the One Young World Summit described to me as the ‘Davos for young people’, the comparison didn’t immediately conjure up the positive connotations that it might have done only two or three years earlier.
However, I reasoned, an event of Davos-like scale and scope had to be a different ballgame when infused with the energy, enthusiasm and earnestness of young people who, unlike some of their Davos counterparts, weren’t caught up with jostling for political power and posturing for the ever-present media.
For those not familiar with One Young World (OYW), it is a UK-based charity that was founded in 2009 with the aim of gathering together ‘the brightest young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change’. The apex of the OYW calendar is its annual summit, held in different countries each time, where over 1,300 of these young minds from nearly every industry, sector and nation congregate to devise, debate and, post-summit, disseminate futuristic solutions to solve present-day problems.
And this year, with the summit based in Bogotá, Colombia, I was fortunate enough to be one of such young minds.
The OYW experience is a hard one to capture in a single article or even verbally articulate in person. Indeed, the day after the closing ceremony, it was quite often the case that many, normally eloquent, delegates found themselves unable to compose a coherent response when asked how they’d found it all. Instead, barely-started answers tended to tail off as respondents ended up beaming blissfully to themselves – a definite testament to the mind-blowing nature of the event. However, with four Ps, I hope to provide a window into this intense, four-day powerhouse of a conference.
People: Having never previously been to a conference so mesmerisingly international, I experienced a special kind of thrill every time I happened to glance around the various rooms at the Agora (our conference centre) and take in the rich tapestry of different races, religions and nationalities meeting, and frequently tweeting, together.
My Chartered Accountants Worldwide (CAW) delegation group was a microcosm of this wonderfully diverse mix. With close to 10 different nationalities represented amongst only 15 of us, I enjoyed the dazzling array of cultures, perspectives, adversities and triumphs shared within our group before even branching out beyond it. The constant hum from a multitude of languages in the air, all spoken with a heady excitement, reflected the incredible pace at which new global connections were being formed, a pace matched only by the momentum of the event itself.
Programme: It was impossible not to feel like some sort of Renaissance woman when presented with the sheer breadth of topics that the conference spanned in a matter of days. And while the speaker lists often boasted impressive names, such as Kofi Annan and Prof. Muhammad Yunus, in the role of OYW Counsellors, it was young people that were centre stage and the driving force behind the assortment of sessions.
From Education to the Environment to Poverty Alleviation to Peace Processes around the globe, the programme relentlessly served up salient subjects and stories that provoked both animated discussions and quiet, sometimes tearful, reflections.
And all of this was bookended by the spectacular Opening and Closing ceremonies which boldly championed the OYW values as well as celebrating the awe-inspiring advances of this year’s host country, Colombia.
Place: I’ll admit that, in the past, whenever I’d heard the word ‘Colombia’, a grisly montage of war-ravaged landscapes, avaricious drug barons and blood-soaked violence usually flashed through my mind. What I actually found on the ground could not be further from this outdated image.
Bogotá offers a sumptuous blend of urban and rural delights with its sprawling but safe metropolis nestled at the feet of lush and verdant mountains. Of course, there are scars of the country’s turbulent recent history but the exuberance of the atmosphere, culture and people make its national message one of hope and optimism.
Moreover, its determination to restore and respect its stunning natural environment – did you know that Colombia is listed as one of the world’s ‘megadiverse’ countries with close to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity? – mirrors its commitment to building a lasting peace for future generations.
In this way, the association with the globally-recognised OYW brand is yet another step along Colombia’s journey to achieving these cherished goals.
Power: Quite simply, the heft of the OYW brand cannot be overestimated. Within Deloitte, being associated with such a prestigious event increased my visibility in my department, particularly amongst senior team leaders who were duly impressed by the fact that I had been granted such a brilliant opportunity by my professional body.
For the ICAEW, involvement with this kind of event provides valuable access to fresh new thinking and, more crucially, places the organisation in an active network buzzing with youthful power that, if properly harnessed, could propel the ICAEW to the vanguard of revolutionising the very essence of what it means to ‘do business’ in the 21st century.
So, to conclude, rather than another Davos, the OYW summit could perhaps be considered an example to Davos, with its emphasis on verifiable outcomes that transform lives as opposed to verbal outpourings that lack real intention. Attending this phenomenal conference has easily been one of the highlights of my 2017 so I’d like to express huge thanks to the ICAEW for inviting me to be their OYW representative this year. Without a doubt, this has been a truly perspective-changing experience.
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