When the opportunity to participate in the World Bank Group’s 10th annual Youth Summit presented itself, dozens of questions began swirling in my mind. Which development sector heavy hitters would be present? Which trends and buzzwords would dominate the conversations? Which of the many daunting social injustices and geopolitical issues impacting today's youth would get the most attention? And perhaps the question that I found myself coming back to more than any other - in a world where well-intentioned efforts to engage marginalized populations often fall short, would the WBG’s efforts to engage youth be meaningful and genuine? There was, however, one thing I knew for sure – there was no way that I would pass up this opportunity.
For the uninitiated, the Youth Summit is an annual (now hybrid) event hosted by the WBG that aims to 1) empower youth to explore innovative ideas to tackle development challenges; 2) provide youth with the tools to build and engage in impactful projects; and 3) promote dialogue between youth, the WBG, and other key stakeholders globally. This year’s theme was "From the Ground Up: local solutions to drive global impact." Most attendees, known as “youth delegates,” were young changemakers from all over the globe who passed a rigorous application process. The rest were non-youth representatives of adult-led stakeholders.
Throughout, I learned about a number of timely topics from an impressive and diverse group of experts, such as 1) how to empower and support people living in vulnerable contexts on the frontlines of climate change during a plenary session with the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Climate Advisor Joyce Mendez; 2) ways to address gender-based violence in conflict at the local level during a fireside chat with GBV specialist Iryna Pavlyk, of the UN Women Country Office in Ukraine; and 3) how community-driven decision-making ensures a more equitable and long-lasting recovery from crises during a plenary session with Loli Arribas-Banos, the Practice Manager for Social Protection and Jobs at the World Bank.
One aspect of the summit that left me feeling particularly energized, hopeful, and capable of affecting real change was the composition of its steering committee. It was diverse in terms of gender identity, race, country of origin, and discipline, but all members had one thing in common – they were young! What’s even better was that the steering committee didn’t slip away into the background during the actual event – they held prominent visible roles, such as MCs and panel moderators. Who better to lead an event for young changemakers than other young changemakers? In terms of investing in youth leadership, the World Bank wasn’t just “talking the talk,” they were actually “walking the walk.”
The steering committee’s decision to prioritize participation from the audience left me feeling empowered as well. Most, if not all, panel discussions reserved time at the end for questions from the audience, which meant that participants were able to steer the conversation in the direction they wanted. Youth delegates were also given the opportunity (and great responsibility!) of voting for the winner of the Case Challenge.
The Case competition was the highlight of the WBG Youth Summit. The case competition is a form of action-based learning, in which individuals or groups devise a solution to a proposed prompt or simulated scenario, usually in a limited amount of time, and present that solution to experts in their field on topics including 1) fragility, conflict, and violence; 2) jobs and skills; or 3) climate and energy. The Case Challenge allowed me to learn not only about my team’s topic, geographic region, and innovative approaches and tools for localized equitable development, but also about my strengths and weaknesses when it came to working in a team and public speaking.
Last but certainly not least, the WBG Youth Summit allowed me to become a part of a dynamic, diverse, and supportive community of young people doing their best to make the world a better, more equitable place. In fact, I’ve already begun to collaborate with some and have plans to collaborate with more in the future. I’m particularly amazed at the WhatsApp group for in-person attendees, where people still (five months later!) share photos and fond memories from the summit, professional development resources, employment, volunteer, and funding opportunities.
Global in-person and/or hybrid events for youth should continue to work on becoming more inclusive. To have meaningful participation, event timelines should incorporate contingency time for individuals traveling abroad. Many youth delegates received their acceptances a week before the summit, which, due to financial and logistical reasons, prohibited some delegates from participating in person. Additionally, only a handful of delegates were selected to attend the “networking lunch” to meet and converse with senior leaders from various organizations affiliated with the WBG. Having a diverse selection process for opportunities better ensures all persons can fairly access and be considered for opportunities.
The WBG’s efforts to engage youth in the planning and execution of this year’s Youth Summit were genuine, and ultimately, very successful. As other international development conferences are being planned, I hope we can learn from and build on these successes in creating an empowering learning experience for youth development leaders. I am very much looking forward to the 11th edition of the World Bank Group Youth Summit. Hope to see you there!