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Blog: 'Youth at heart virtual forum'

The Youth at Heart virtual forum took place the 2nd of November and was organized to boost the movement of international actors investing in the prospects of young people. Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which hits the youth disproportionately hard, and to work together with young people as leaders and partners. Three main themes guided the discussions of the sessions: decent work and income; quality education; and meaningful youth participation.

Youth at Heart was the first virtual conference of its kind organized by the NL MoFA; in close cooperation with international partners, 23 sessions were broadcasted at 4 channels (3 live studios), with inspirational and artistic youthful interludes. In total 75 international partners contributed and well over a 1.000 participants from 100+ countries joined the forum. Via the NL MoFA YouTube channel the Youth at Heart sessions can be re-watched. However, the forum was not a stand-alone event. Dozens of ‘Road to-events’ already took place, organized by partners such as IFAD, ILO, UNICEF, Palladium, Orange Corners, FMO, NL embassies any many more partners. The forum follows up on the appointment of the Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work and the subsequent Youth at Heart strategy

youth at heart summit
Image: ©Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Age cannot be a barrier - by Lila van Dijk (15 years old; social internship for 30 hours)

That is how the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development cooperation Sigrid Kaag started the day. On 2 November 2020 she organized a virtual forum called Youth At Heart. You could follow the forum from the entire world on your laptop or smartphone. Four studio’s where used to talk to young people, listen to young people, and young people where given the opportunity to express their opinions and share their experiences. Thus, the roles were reversed, adults had to listen and watch how young people talked to them on their current situation. 

youth at heart virtual forum
Image: ©Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Some obstacles that where mentioned was regarding to the way of communication with young people, the opportunities for young people to obtain work, and moreover developing this generation in general. And that whilst young people often have the brightest of ideas. Where you come from and how old one is should not be an obstacle but should be an opportunity. Thankfully this was made clear this day. When you as a young person hear that people are seriously interested in your point of view than you get motivated to participate. I believe in the coming years we will see a fast change in in cooperating young people’s voices which eventually results in a satisfying generation. If you see how fast we all adapted to the Coronavirus, I am confident that this is possible. In a short time of period we have seen so many new progress in regards to digital communication, thus it is also easier to reach a lot of people all over the world. The Youth at Heart virtual Forum on 2 November was a prime example on how good you can get people together digitally. I hope more of these events will take place on the same manner!

The Virtual Youth Forum is for youth - by Latoya Balogun (22 years old; research internship for 6 months)

During the beginning of my internship, I was included and given responsibilities in the team organizing the Youth At Heart Virtual Forum. Before I could completely understand the mission and purpose of the Forum, I dove deeper in the ‘Youth At Heart’ Strategy. I learned how the strategy aims to invest in education and employment and specifically focuses on bridging the gap between the skills acquired, and the demands and opportunities of the labor market. Meanwhile, it wishes to strengthen the voice of young people in society.

youth at heart virtual forum
Image: ©Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent worsening situation for young people in the NL MoFA focus regions (MENA, Sahel, and Horn of Africa), the decision was made to host a Virtual Youth Forum. For me it was impressive and interesting to see how the hard work of the Youth at Heart team, the partners involved and the production company finally paid off during the live-broadcasting of the event. Since all content was streamed via four separate studios, I experienced enthusiasm and excitement when it was time for me to choose between studios Orange, Pink, Purple and Blue. Luckily, I can re-watch the sessions via YouTube. During the forum youth-led principles were also shared. In my eyes these principles are extremely valuable as they function as a call for action for governments, civil society, private and public sector, bi- and multilaterals and knowledge institutions to recognize and invest specifically in the opportunities of vulnerable youth, including girls and young women, young people living with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced young people, living in rural areas, slums and informal settlements. 

Personally, I think that these challenging times also require youth to be flexible and creative, and that such a forum is a good way to inspire them and stimulate other stakeholders to pay attention to the specific challenges facing youths in the fields of work, education and participation. Together with my colleagues we are committed to avoid this Forum being a one-time event. Instead, these upcoming weeks will be dedicated to provide concrete follow-up to the event, while we will also be brainstorming within our department on how we can improve the integration of youth participation within our foreign decision- and policy-making. Thus, it is safe to say that the Virtual Youth Forum will be continued!

To conclude

The discussions at the forum emphasized matching the skills young people learn and the jobs that are available and the importance of entrepreneurship. Also –and related- the lack of internship and on-the-job learning possibilities was often mentioned. Mental Health and Wellbeing was consistently mentioned as a challenge and a prerequisite for young people to make use of opportunities in education and work. The day was closed with the presentations of youth-led Principles which youth-led organization Restless Development has developed with input from over 1200 young people from the Middle East, North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa. These Principles are the result of youth-led research and reflect the ideas of young people on education, work and participation. Several high-level international contributors indicated how they intend to keep the prospects and the voice of youth at the heart of their work based on these principles.

youth at heart virtual forum
Image: ©Ministry of Foreign Affairs / Ministry of Foreign Affairs

As mentioned before, the Youth At Heart virtual forum is not a stand-alone event. Apart from the road-to events, there will be numerous ‘Road after-events’ as well: e.g. the NL embassy in Kenia will join hands with the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) in organizing a youth consultation session, and Oxfam Novib will join hands with MoFA in a co-creation session all before the end of 2020. Other partners, such as Generation Unlimited, also stand ready to organize events continuing the discussion and Dubai Cares will highlight the Principles during their RewirEdx education conference.

We sincerely hope that more partners will join this movement by keeping youth at heart. In many cases, the voice of youth is being heard insufficiently, and they are barely involved in shaping and implementing the policies that affect them. By involving youth, especially in the countries where these policies are being executed, there is a bigger chance that a project aimed at them will succeed. Hence Minister Kaag of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, is launching a Youth Advisory Committee, with the objective to effectively bring in meaningful youth participation. This means: approaching youth as leaders, partners and as beneficiaries. Learn more on the Youth Advisory Committee here.