Boy was I wrong about One Young World

This blog originally appeared on Medium.

Just 2 weeks ago, I was presented with an incredibly rare opportunity from the company I work for, Shopify, to attend the 2016 One Young World Summit. The event took place in Canada for the very first time, right here in the capital city, Ottawa.

For those of you unfamiliar with One Young World, they are a UK-based charity that organizes an annual Summit in a different city every year. It draws from the planet’s top young leaders from universities, companies, NGOs, and etc, to discuss, debate, and form solutions to the modern era’s most pressing issues.

Now I know what you’re thinking…

“Youth Summit = Kool-Aid Drinking Festival”

And to be completely honest, this was my original impression of a youth summit. I expected it would follow the same stereotypical format of:

1. Someone goes on stage and preaches about youth impact potential

2. Audience gives a standing ovation

3. Repeat from step 1

I also can painfully admit that before the conference, I was more excited by the amount of star power present, rather than the amount of mind power present.

Boy were my first impressions wrong.

As the conference went on, my original mindset shifted, and I began to realize that One Young World was not your typical youth summit.

It was amazing. Every day of the Summit, I found myself in a room with over 1,300 like minded, energetic individuals, getting first hand insight and in depth discussions into the complexities and details of the situations our globe faces today. One Young World really shined in that, as opposed to just letting us know what the problems were, and ending the sessions there, we went deep into discussing how the youth of today (who often feel powerless on such a global scale) can take steps to solve these problems within their companies, within a group, or on their own.

It sounds cliche, but this was truly a life changing experience.

If you weren’t able to attend this year, have no fear. I’ve tried my best to summarize my three key takeaways from this year’s Summit.

1. One of the key tools for fighting extremism lies with the youth

It was the first panel session of the summit, we filed into the massive auditorium, took our seats, and sat in shock as speaker after speaker spoke of their harrowing experiences with extremism. We heard the chilling recounts of calm, seemingly average moments turning into moments of sheer terror. From an energetic evening at a bar turned dark as two bombs went off, to a normal day at a summer camp in Norway right before a killer began a massacre that eventually took 69 lives.

These stories resonated deeply with me, because as much as we see these events happen on the news, these were the people the attacks happened to. Visualizing the pain as they talk about how their regular lives (much like yours and mine) changed on those fateful days was incredibly impactful. We saw first-hand how the rise of extremism is only getting worse.

Kofi Annan (the former UN Secretary General), then arises to the microphone, and calls upon not only the youth of the conference, but on the youth of the world, to speak out against violent extremism. He referred to this team and this movement as #ExtremelyTogether.

Arizza Nocum, an #ExtremelyTogether young leader from the Philippines, said young people could not stand by and expect political leaders to solve their problems. “I believe peace starts from the ground up, not from the Government or leadership down. It starts right here, so we have to feel extremely responsible.” 

The session ended with Hajer Sharief, another #ExtremelyTogether leader, encouraging the entire audience to stand up from their seats, and pledge to no longer be silent about extremism.

2. Climate Change is real and it’s pretty f***ing scary

Climate change was undoubtedly the most discussed topic of the summit, as it is one of the issues that threatens humanity the most. From a 26 year old Micronesian activist to the first female President of Ireland to the Minister of Environment for Canada, we learned just how in jeopardy the world is when it comes to our rapidly changing climate.

It was truly an awe-inspiring experience being able to hear a former head of state describe how the future of life on earth lies within mere degrees.

“We are not on course for a safe world, we are on a trajectory to a world of 2.7 degrees Celsius warming, or perhaps 3–4 degrees, and that is disastrous.” — Mary Robinson

Fortunately, recent efforts such as the Paris Agreement (which goes into effect on November 4th, 2016) have been signed to mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions and attempt to limit global warming. But it’s also up to the youth of today to step up and voice our concerns about climate injustice, and speak our whenever we see it.

“We are co-owners, co-creators and co-authors in this story and it can have a very different ending from what I fear.” -Yolanda Joab, a Micronesian mother, and climate activist.

3. Today’s problems are our problems, whether we like it or not.

Prime Minister Trudeau said it himself. Youth are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today.

It’s time for us to step up to the plate. We have no more time to blame our current issues on past generations. The solutions to our biggest problems will come from us, the youth.

That’s why conferences like One Young World are so valuable. We must take them less as an opportunity to see the surrounding city/culture (although a large aspect), but more as an opportunity to see the problems that currently affect humanity as a whole. We must be open to temporarily shift our focus from solving small mundane problems in our lives, to solving larger problems that will affect billions of lives.

Whether we like it or not… today’s problems are our problems. Do we pass it on to the next generation (as our past generations have done), or do we take the steps to tackle them today?

For me, the answer to the above question is more clear than ever. I can only thank One Young World and Shopify for allowing me to realize this over the course of 4 amazing days.

If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you all to learn more about the application process to become a delegate for the 2017 Summit in Bogota, Colombia.

I hope to see you all there :)

Abdou Sarr is an Ambassador from Canada. He is a Developer Intern at Shopify and a student at Carleton University.