The World Youth Forum is an annual conference held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt that hosted 7000 young people from 164 nationalities in 2019. It serves as a platform at which aspiring leaders can engage directly with policymakers under the general theme of peace, prosperity, harmony, and progress.
I was fortunate to be invited to the forum this year as a speaker to deliver a presentation about blockchain and entrepreneurship. My message to the youth was to use this incredible technology to be creative through innovating and disrupting conventional business processes, especially within the fields of law and finance. I warned corporates and government that innovation with blockchain requires no permission and that they should prepare themselves for change. Conventional financial systems are outdated, and many make the mistake of trying to find problems that a blockchain can solve. I compared this strategy to the post office thinking it will use the internet to track the location of their letters. While that is indeed an interesting application of the internet, this hypothetical post office fails to realise the ability of the internet to remove the demand for letters altogether. If, however, corporates and government take the necessary steps to re-align their business processes in preparation for blockchain, they could not only ensure survival, but also reach bigger markets than ever before.
The World Youth Forum 2019 was the most professionally organised conference I have ever attended. I was pleasantly surprised by the hospitality of the Egyptian people, and how a year of intense planning ultimately lead to a world class event.
After a series of pre-event workshops, the opening ceremony kicked off the forum on 14 December. The 7000 strong audience, from a wide variety of nationalities, races and religions were instantly united through singing, dancing and the waving of flags. It created a truly electrifying atmosphere! After an hour of celebration, the opening ceremony commenced with the welcoming of numerous political ambassadors and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi. We also heard inspirational stories from amongst others Jessica Cox, the world’s first licensed armless pilot and 12 year old Zane Yousef, a four-time cancer survivor.
The 4 day conference continued the next day with a series of talks, panels and roundtable discussions. President Fattah El Sisi was noticed during many of these while actively engaging with the youth. Topics such as food security, entrepreneurship, environmental challenges and women empowerment were part of the agenda.
In addition to the main event, the World Youth Forum also hosted several other initiatives including a Model Union for the Mediterranean, the World Youth Theatre, WYF labs and Freedom.e.
WYF Labs is a platform that hosts a network of young start-ups with a vision of working towards achieving the sustainable development goals of the UN. WYF Labs runs a parallel agenda to the Forum, where they connect these start-ups directly with policymakers, corporates and incubators.
Freedom.e was an area outside the main conference hall. Through a set of unique experiences, we had the opportunity to unleash our creativity while experiencing different cultures. Some of the activities included virtual reality tours, making digital music and reflection through art. There was even an open stage where anyone could present on any topic to a live audience.
The conference finally concluded with the WYF2019 recommendations and closing ceremony on 17 December. President Fattah El Sisi awarded several young individuals for exceptional achievements, before the Executive Director of the National Academy for Youth Training, Rasha Ragheb, announced 10 recommendations that emerged from the discussions. Some of the recommendations include:
- Launching an African initiative to promote digital transformation and governmental excellence in collaboration with the African Union and Africa’s Regional United Nations Technology Innovation Lab to sponsor technology innovation.
- Launching an initiative among African universities to focus on the fourth industrial revolution studies.
- Launching an initiative to support blockchain apps achieving Sustainable Development Goals in collaboration with WYF 2019 Lab. (WOW!)
What struck me was that the president mandated these recommendations and others to government officials at the conference. He is clearly a man of action.
This event expanded my frame of reference to the issues that today’s youth are facing. Last week, Barack Obama said that “most of the problems in the world came from old people, mostly men, holding onto positions of power”.
The experience in Egypt convinced me that this statement is true, and that there is no better platform than the WYF for tomorrow’s leaders to stand up and make their voices heard. To the organisers, the attendees, the speakers and His Excellency President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, I thank you. May this incredible initiative continue to grow from strength to strength.