The 5th Youth Global Forum: 3 Important Take-Aways
Here are my take-aways on inclusive economies during the Youth Global Forum.
I’ve been invited recently to the fifth annual Youth Global Forum in Amsterdam as a journalist.
[Last May, I wrote a piece that could sum up the Youth International Movement and Youth Global Forum which you can read here.]
Amsterdam was the perfect place for the youth forum. While I’ve never been to the city before, I could tell it was that perfect—because locals continue to embody its inclusive and egalitarian landscape. The city is a mirror of social inclusion, innovation and technology—core principles of this year’s youth forum.
From Dec. 2-6, we attended speeches, workshops, classes before witnessing 11 entries compete for the coveted Youth Time grant worth 10 000 euros on the forum’s final day.
This year’s theme is “At a Crossroad: Industry 5.0 vs Inclusive Development—Where is the Future?”
Here are my key take-aways:
Inclusive Development is elusive
One of the pressing and defining challenges we are facing globally is inclusive development. For a long time, persistent global economic models are based on the trickle-down theory, but we have long since known that wealth accumulated at the top, has very little chance to trickle to the bottom. Much less, reaching those at the very ends of society.
The Youth Time International Movement is is a nongovernment organization created to address pressing social issues, like inequality. It collects ideas from the youth around the world and helps them hit goals in their communities with a chance for these ideas to become a full social enterprise for replication and enforcement.
With a fast-changing world and unpredictable future, the key to survive is flexibility to adapt to these changes without shedding off core values that drove us to build start-ups in the first place. The forum’s focus was to find ways to strike a balance between inclusive development and economic growth.
Even advanced nations are struggling with finding that balance. Global economic models had greatly benefited advanced nations often at the expense of the so-called Global South, which had been relegated to just being sources of raw materials and resources. For so long, people in the fringes of society have been excluded from the discourse that has tremendous impact on their lives.
Marginal groups, like indigenous peoples or people with disabilities, for example have no sufficient legal protection. It’s a problem confronting not just developing nations but also those in the First World. These groups of people had been swept aside in policy-making which governments proclaim was for the people but which is hardly felt by those in the peripheries.
Yet, these marginal groups are among the first to suffer most from wrong policies that lead to dysfunctional economies. Centralized government tends to remove the voice of those without roles in policies.
In general, governments may make policies intending to be socially inclusive and promotes economic growth, but as Royal Society of Arts (RSA) social scientist Atif Shafique said, “rhetoric is different from implementation.” Writing reports or making programs designed to cure the symptoms of societal ills is counterproductive when we still have a non-egalitarian structure embedded in our institutions.
Change is local
As guidelines for inclusive international cooperation and collaboration, the United Nations have set the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Global cooperation, though, is needed to achieve the goals which make it essential for government institutions and businesses to have mechanisms hewing closely to core principles and values of the UN goals.
The norm, for so long, has been biased for quantity over quality. It is mirrored by the practice of measuring progress by gross domestic product or GDP. When we look at our social ills—hunger, poverty, income inequality, among many others—we realize that they are all economic in nature.
One of the insights I got in the forum was that we as a society have not transcended greed.
Personally, I think some form of greed (especially in business) is acceptable. In this context, greed could be something good but for lack of a better term is called such.
However, in major financial institutions, like World Bank or International Monetary Fund, blanket reforms led to currencies being demonetized. The impact is worse for countries that receive conditional loans to build their economies. Historically, political and geopolitical factors play major roles in the policies of WB or IMF which have benefited only countries in the so-called Global North.
Dialog and cooperation between local and foreign experts may help clean up the mess thrown by dysfunctional economic models. These models benefit only those at the top, leaving only crumbs for those at the bottom to fight over.
A systematic restructuring would be needed to bring change that matters.
This would require data, learning about people’s real lives and how the economy impacts them. Focusing just on an overview would be passe.
Learning about best practices from local and international experiences and striking balance between these would be more effective than just using blanket policies that ignored local realities.
Politics, economy, and society are intertwined
The Youth Global Forum is a non-political forum. We were actually frequently reminded to refrain from asking questions that smacks of politics. At first, I thought it would be easy.
But as the days wore on and after conversations with people from developed and developing nations, and seeing that people are aware of their privileges and are humbler than politicians, I realized that social activism is a necessity. We can’t confront society’s evils by passivity.
The world of politics is appalling, to say the least, but hope is not lost. Grassroots movements and innovative ways to engage the youth, like what is happening now in the climate justice movement, can work wonders. It gives me hope that people power will topple structural inequalities eventually.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old school girl who is now Time Magazine’s Person of the Year for her climate activism, is an example of young People Power.
Many others had come before her and we are reminded that economic models designed by high-strung economists have forgotten about people, communities and the well-being of the planet.
Willful ignorance is one of the main reasons we still have social ills. Thunberg had discussions with scientists and experts and people feeling the impact of climate change. Her #FridaysForFuture movement is definitely a great case study on how to stir people away from the fence into the streets.
Therefore, active global problem solvers are welcome in events like the Youth Global Forum. Tapping the youth, their ideas and expertise, is an awe-inspiring experience that would make you realize that there’s an alternative to policymakers–Us.
Politics is very social in nature and the networking aspect is what makes it such a powerful medium.
That’s the only reason I’m even mentioning politics now. Outside the non-political discourse at the youth forum, people can and have talked about how politics in the world had drastic effects on those in the fringes of society both in developed and developing countries.
We are into social activism because it is a medium to advance our goals, the ones that would benefit us, the people.
"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Mahatma Gandhi
Just to sum it up, the Youth Global Forum was an intellectually stimulating experience. In the distant future, I might be able to use the insights I’ve learned from there in order to advance my personal goals for business and development. It also helps that I’ve connected with many individuals from a wide variety of industries, absorbing their energy, knowledge, and passion in advocating change. Everybody in this generation is a future leader – if not already one – and we have a broad and diverse focus on inclusive development and economic growth. We'll ensure a human approach to what we build. It is an oft-repeated quote from Mahatma Gandhi, but it bears repeating time and again: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world."