“We are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today”
– Opening remarks by Jayathma Wickramanayake, Sri Lanka’s first Youth Delegate to the UN
Last week Sri Lanka hosted the World Conference on Youth. Over 1,500 young people representing 169 different countries gathered in the capital city of Colombo for this conference which has been held all over the world every few years since 1936. The United Nations is currently in the process of drafting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the replacement for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire in 2015. The biggest problem with the MDGs was that there was little to no youth participation, even though youth were the ones who were responsible for carrying them out. The young people at this conference and around the world are determined to make sure their inputs are considered this time around.
The purpose of the conference was to gather youth input from all over the world to produce a joint outcome document between the government representatives in attendance and the global representation of youth, officially called the “Colombo Declaration on Youth.” This document will be taken back to the UN headquarters in New York City to be considered in the negotiations of the SDGs.
Participants came from all over the world and were fully funded by the government of Sri Lanka. Delegates included youth from marginalized backgrounds, youth leaders and experts, Sri Lankan youth delegates, national youth delegates representing 200 nations, and youth from international youth-led organizations—including AIESEC. Cassandra Ruggiero, Global VP of Public Relations for AIESEC International, and myself as the AIESEC Representative to the United Nations, who represented AIESEC at the conference. There were roughly 20 other AIESECers in attendance from Sri Lanka and the rest of the world.
The biggest testament to the strength of the AIESEC network was that anyone you asked about AIESEC had either participated in a program or definitely knew all about it. Whether or not they were formally a part of our organisation, everyone had the mindset of an AIESECer: determined to make the world a better place through youth leadership.
Cassandra was able to step in for a missing speaker on the Globalization and Youth-led Development panel to share these values with an audience of nearly one hundred people. She was given only 5 minutes to prepare after being asked to speak on the panel, a tribute to the ability of AIESECers to adapt under pressure to any situation. After speaking on the panel, we ran a side event on “Becoming the Leader the World Needs” to help delegates reflect on their leadership journeys so that they can take the excitement of the conference back home and make an impact in their countries.
While many side events focused on presenting information on different thematic areas, AIESEC’s event stuck to a youthful vibe that allowed delegates to learn from their past experiences in leadership and start to figure out what they feel their strengths are. This was just a taste of AIESEC’s leadership development program that runs for each of their members around the world.
“By figuring out how to be the best version of yourself, you can be a better leader for the world, and have more impact in whichever path you choose.”
The Millennium Development Goals have done a lot over the last 14 years to change the world we live in, but take a moment to think about how your leadership can shape the world post-2015. There are many avenues within the United Nations to express your vision for the future, including the MyWorld Survey, but the most important thing for you to do is think about your own community/village/town/city/country/world and figure out how you can make an impact, starting today.
To read more about the outcomes of the World Conference on Youth, head to their blog.