18.05.2017 - Education Sector

ESD Youth Leaders at UNESCO NGO Forum in Saudi Arabia


The 7th NGO Forum organized by the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee and UNESCO in partnership with the Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation (MISK) was held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from 3-4 May 2017. The focus was on Youth and their Social Impact which fits UNESCO‘s mandate and its actions related to youth.

The forum brought together 400 NGOs with strong youth representation from over 70 countries including 25 ESD youth leaders from Lebanon, Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Japan nominated by UNESCO for their contribution to grassroots youth-led initiatives aimed at advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. The ESD youth leaders are also beneficiaries of different regional trainings conducted by UNESCO under the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD, in collaboration with members of the GAP’s Partner Network 4 (Youth Priority Action Area), as part of the network’s flagship project.

Involving youth to find solutions

“As a young education leader, it was an exciting moment which made me value our organization’s contribution to ESD,” said Victoria Ibiwoye from Nigeria, who had participated in the regional workshop for ESD youth leadership workshop in Nairobi. “I am so glad to see more attention on youth people and our impact to the society. Several decades ago, youth participation was almost invisible and today, it’s interesting to see the direction of the NGO Forum which goes to show that youth are really taking a stand to impact generations to come.”

The high-level forum included professional speakers and dignitaries such as H.E Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of State for Federal National Council Affairs (UAE). “Youth suffer a lot from non-interest of the government, we need to find solutions with them,” she said, challenging the government to support youth in their endeavors. “

Tanzila Khan, a social entrepreneur from Pakistan advised youth leaders to get excited about creating solutions to existing problems through volunteering. Khan mentioned the role of her organization as an example of how young people can build sustainable initiatives. Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation, shared lessons on resilience and rising from failure. He sent a strong message to the youths about the fear of failure. “Fail faster but enjoy yourself along the way,” Wales said.

Sharing ideas and creating networks

For the ESD Youth leaders from the African region, the forum was an opportunity to reunite and discuss ways to build a stronger advocacy network for ESD in Africa. They shared ideas such as creating a visibility framework to promote individual actions at the country level, mobilizing other young people to share ideas, tools and skills to help their grassroots activities. The youth leaders also supported young activists from the region to seize local and international opportunities for development.

Ms. Sherihan Akkawi, ESD youth leader from Beirut, said that the ESD Forum motivated her to believe in what she is doing and continue her job in spreading awareness on sustainable development goals. The forum showed her how important education for sustainable development is for young people to grow with a sustainable mindset in addressing the complexities of the world today.

The forum also set a trend by introducing an opportunity to increase funding for youth-led initiatives. This was done through a pitch competition to identify the most promising project or proposal from an NGO that fosters engagement amongst young people to create positive social change. Five youth-led initiatives were shortlisted from a pool of over 70 applications. While the winner won a grant of $30,000 as well as profiling by the MiSK Foundation, others were awarded $20,000 each.

The forum was highly successful in bringing together states, non-governmental organizations, academia, and youth leaders in shaping the future. According to Dejan Bojanic, a representative of the European Youth Forum, discussions at the forum centered on issues of importance to the preservation of human rights while entrenching the merits of inclusion.  

“The forum created a rare space in Riyadh where women could make active choices, where we listened to role models and discuss feminism. It created a space to learn about protecting human dignity of people with disabilities. Human rights organizations, no matter where they are, do not belong to states but to humanity. The first step to empathize and ally with someone else’s struggle is to understand it. That is why I went to Saudi Arabia,” Bojanic said.

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