A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
The One Young World (OYW) Summit is an annual event that brings together young leaders from all around the world to discuss and work on solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. This year marks the ninth OYW Summit, and as it is also the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the event was held at The Hague, home to the International City of Peace & Justice. It was here that more than 1,800 young delegates from over 190 countries had gathered for a life-changing experience.
BEFORE THE SUMMIT
Most of the delegates had arrived a day before the Summit, which was scheduled for October 17 to 20. This allowed us some time to meet one another and explore the beautiful city of The Hague, located on the western coast of the Netherlands.
There was never a dull moment from the time I touched down at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. I met a few Singapore delegates at the airport and when we arrived at The Hague train station, there were OYW volunteers standing by to provide directions. During the journey to our hotels, I met many other delegates from different countries. One of them was Geetika Bhatia, Product Development Manager from Unilever India, who greatly inspired me with her efforts on sustainability – developing ways to convert plastics into oil. Later in the evening, I met with fellow Chartered Accountants Worldwide delegates for dinner, and we were privileged to have Adam Boys with us. As the former Chief Operating Officer of the International Commission of Missing Persons, he shared how being a Chartered Accountant equipped him with the skills and ethical standards that positioned him as a trusted business partner vital in making key decisions.
OYW SUMMIT OPENING CEREMONY
The OYW Summit 2018 Opening Ceremony took place at the Peace Palace in The Hague. It was a breathtaking experience being surrounded by more than 1,800 delegates, ambassadors and counsellors as everyone cheered while the OYW introduction and 2017 Colombia event highlights video was played. Queen Maxima and Mayor of The Hague, Pauline Krikke, each gave a speech welcoming us to this historic location. There were also keynote speeches by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Bob Geldof, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Tawakkol Karman. All of them emphasised the limitless power we have to influence and create the change needed to make this world a better place. The most memorable moment was the Flag-bearing Ceremony, where delegates from 193 countries proudly waved their country’s flag. The crowd cheered in unison when delegates from North and South Korea joined hands while waving their nation’s flag. This reminded us to put aside our differences and come together as one, because together, we are stronger.
THE OYW SUMMIT
Over the next three days, the World Forum was the main event venue for the keynote speeches, delegate-led plenary sessions, workshops, Q&A breakouts and exhibitions. This year, the plenary sessions focused on five themes, namely, Education, Environment, Health, Human Rights and Poverty Alleviation.
I was deeply inspired by Rakesh Kapoor, CEO of RB, who shared the “More than a toilet” campaign. Before the session, it was announced that toilets at the summit would not be available for use. It immediately caught our attention. I later found out that one in three people around the world does not have access to a toilet. Mr Rakesh went on to highlight that not having access to a toilet can have alarming effects on people’s health, safety and education. Nearly one million people are killed by water, sanitation and hygiene-related diseases each year. Women living without access to a toilet are twice as likely to experience sexual violence when defecating in the open. And children can spend hours each day searching for a place to go to (as a toilet) when that time can be spent at school. I began to realise how much I had taken basic sanitation for granted, and learnt to appreciate the importance of a basic necessity, such as toilets, in our lives.
Another instance that greatly moved me was during the plenary sessions on sexual violence and human rights. Some of the Summit delegates shared their personal testimonials, and encouraged all of us to take action and stand up against sexual violence and human rights violations in our own communities. Luke Hart, a gender equality campaigner, shared about his father who had killed his mother and sister before taking his own life. Despite such a horrific act, the media had termed his acts “understandable”, suggesting that his mother was in some way responsible for his father’s actions. He highlighted the fact that women are most threatened by the men they live with, with 50% of female murder victims killed by a partner or ex-partner. Being a woman myself, it is heartbreaking hearing these recounts. I applaud the courage of these delegates who stood up to share their stories so as to raise awareness and to give a voice to the voiceless.
Among the workshops I attended, I was intrigued by the session on “Product Inclusion as the Great Equalizer” conducted by Google. They shared the principles and thought processes behind some of their digital solutions aimed at providing a more equitable and inclusive world. For example, in India where the majority of mobile owners use the prepaid SIM card, mobile data is a precious resource. Google’s Datally app provides the user with ways to manage and save on data usage. Furthermore, in a country where mobile phones are relatively entry-level, Google’s new payment app, called Tez (the Hindi word for “fast”), allows users to transfer money using sound. This transaction does not require the exchange of personal details like bank accounts and contact numbers. Technology advances may result in a wider digital and economic divide around the world, and it is heartening to know that big corporations like Google are making an effort to develop inclusive product solutions for under-represented user groups.
Each day would end with a dinner party – a chance for delegates to connect and have fun. The most memorable for me was the Community Dinner, where we were placed in 32 groups, each assigned to a different organisation and dinner location. I was assigned to Resto VanHarte, an organisation aimed at combating social isolation and promoting quality of life in the neighbourhood. It does this by providing healthy and affordable dinner in a school or community centre with the help of volunteers and donors; some of these volunteers are children.
Besides having the opportunity to connect with other delegates over good food and music, I met a local resident and dear friend Add Flipse, an elderly man who is physically challenged and hard of hearing. We had a warm conversation and he absolutely enjoyed himself, as did I. It was such a heartwarming and meaningful experience. Looking back, it only takes a simple action like enjoying a meal together to contribute to social inclusion.
OYW SUMMIT CLOSING CEREMONY
The finale of the OYW Summit was the Closing Ceremony. This was held at the AFAS Circustheatre, formerly a home for the Circus Schuman Animals and now famous for its spectacular musicals. In addition to the keynote speeches, there were performances by Jay Sean and the London military marching band to officially announce the OYW Summit 2019 in London. The highlight of the night was definitely the Ribbon Tying Ceremony, where everyone wrote a personal commitment on a white ribbon, which were all tied together and wound into a ball. This ribbon ball includes commitments from participants of every Summit since 2010, and symbolises our unity and dedication to building a better future.
BE A CHANGEMAKER
My key takeaway from the Summit is to be a changemaker – to challenge the status quo and be willing to take risks. The world will not be a better place if we keep doing things the same way. Changing the status quo takes courage, and as the late Nelson Mandela had said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
OYW Summit 2018 offered us a global platform where like-minded young leaders congregated. The energy was truly extraordinary – we were empowered and felt that anything was achievable. As the late Kofi Annan once said, “Alone, you can go fast. Together, you can go far.” Every one of us may be doing something small in our own community but together, these efforts add up and go a long way in making this world a much better place to live in.
Jaime Ting was ISCA’s representative at the OYW Summit 2018. She is Business Planning and Governance Leader, Procter & Gamble, Singapore.