THE HAGUE – A sea of colorful flags, hundreds of impressive 20-somethings, and some of the world’s most powerful and influential leaders found themselves in The Hague last week. This unusual triptych served as the backbone of the 10th annual One Young World Summit – a firecracker of optimism that spread a bright message of hope from the heart of Europe to every corner of the world.
With its headquarters in the UK but its eyes constantly fixed on the global arena, One Young World is a nascent charity with lofty ambitions. Its mission is to attract the world’s brightest young leaders and help them create formative connections that will amplify their impact and create positive change.
At the heart of the organization lies its annual summit – a spectacular event that connects talented youth from the realms of entrepreneurship, nonprofits and academia with global leaders from just about every field imaginable.
A quick peek at the list of attendees makes the spirit of the summit clear: This year’s event was attended by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, Amnesty International Secretary-General Kumi Naidoo, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, and supermodel and activist Naomi Campbell, among others.
At a superficial glance, the summit is likely to be received with cynicism. Before the conference began, a journalist described it as “Davos for teenagers” and projected that beyond the spectacle, the event would be shallow in terms of content. Her assessment proved to be far from the truth. Due to the youthful energy of its participants, this year’s One Young World Summit was brimming with optimism, positivity and fresh solutions to the world’s most challenging problems – ingredients rarely found in formal international conferences.
The conference was also characterized by an unusual level of inclusivity and representation, and during a short walk around the lobby this writer met representatives from Vietnam, Nigeria, the Philippines, Colombia and Burundi, as well as the expected G7 countries.
The freshness of One Young World’s perspective became evident from the very first moment of its exciting opening ceremony at the packed and brightly lit Peace Palace.
Two distinguished women launched the summit – Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and the Mayor of the Hague Pauline Krikke – a symbolic gesture which sent a loud message about women’s participation in global leadership.
An important and touching segment of the ceremony was dedicated to the memory of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, a strong supporter of and regular face at One Young World summits before he died in August.
“We cannot refer to him in the past tense, Kofi is our present and our future,” said Irish singer and activist Bob Geldof while holding back tears.
Undeniably, however, what truly set the summit apart was the multiple panels that gave voice to hundreds of brilliant young participants and allowed them to share their dynamic and inspirational work.
In a plenary session on human rights, 26-year-old Afghan doctor and activist Tamana Asey talked about the hundreds of women she has helped during childbirth, and the tenacity required for her activism against the unscientific and inhumane virginity tests that are so rampant in her homeland. She received a truly deserved standing ovation.
As the One Young World Summit drew to a close, one could sense that the young participants were realizing that they were about to leave behind an incredibly optimistic and inclusive community – something almost utopian.
One after another, they all boarded their planes, heading back to their home countries and the countless of challenges that they are trying to address. However, they all took back with them a spark, newfound hope and immeasurable energy to build a better future together.