Rimla Akhtar CA sums up One Young World
After an exciting start to the One Young World Summit, the remainder of the conference promised to test our endurance with a plethora of pressing global problems to explore.
The second day saw a number of big names take the stage, from three former Latin American Presidents to music royalty in the form of Cher, who addressed the audience with her desire to see the world end the captivity of animals.
Jon Landau, the Oscar-winning producer of blockbusters Titanic and Avatar, spoke of the need for stories to help us take our own journeys and to resolve real life issues through walking in each other’s shoes and transporting us to another reality, as he did in Avatar.
In addition to the celebrities on stage, we were inspired by the stories of three individuals who have been named as Queen’s Young Leaders, as well as the work of water.org, who aim to provide safe water and hygiene to all parts of the world.
We also heard from a panel on how global businesses can become a force for good through their young employees and from Antoine de Saint-Affrique, CEO of Barry Callebaut, on learning, acting and giving back.
The first breakout session of the conference gave us the opportunity to explore our skills in a real life situation and my contribution was in determining a framework that would enable not-for-profits and charities to become self-sustaining.
It was interesting for me to see that the challenges that face such organisations are extremely similar right across the world.
Unity, not uniformity
The best sessions on Friday for me, however, were about the peace and reconciliation process for the Aboriginal peoples with wider Canada and the inequality in the global economy.
Senator Murray Sinclair gained a well-deserved standing ovation for his speech on the situation in Canada. Hearing from four young Aboriginal leaders lended some serious perspective, particularly in relation to the high levels of suicide amongst young Aboriginal people due to the impact of marginalisation.
Senator Murray spoke of how an erasure of their identity and forceful assimilation meant that the Aboriginal ancestry is made to feel inferior. As a woman from an Asian and Muslim background, it reminded me of the difficulties that my communities have faced, and continue to face, and the need for education for all sects to unite as one without the need for uniformity.
As I always say, diversity is magic. If we recognise the beauty in our differences, the conflicts we see around the world will reduce.
Dambisa Moyo, a global economist and author of Dead Aid, gave a stunning speech on the inequalities we see across the global economy.
The stand out facts for me were that the wealth of the top six individuals in the world is the same as that of the bottom 50% in the world, and that the two biggest economies in the world, the US and China, have the same level of income inequality despite their difference in governance and economic policies.
If we reflect on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the road to zero poverty is going to require these extremes to be brought to a more balanced place.
The big names on Saturday's stage included former Chiefs of Staff of US and Latin American countries,Thuli Madonsela, Public Protector in South Africa, and Hussain Manawer, who is a spoken word poet-turned-astronaut from Ilford.
We also had the privilege of hearing from refugee heroes and how they are redefining what 'home' means. Other sessions included discussions around education systems, the power of partnerships, the power of sport to do good and the hard work going into disability rights and enabling the entire world to see clearly.
Silence is not an option
I have a particular passion for mental health advocacy in addition to my sports focus, due to my mother’s work in this arena over the past 20 years.
It was positive to see the One Young World platform being used for this topic and the speeches and debate that followed reflected the complexity of the various issues surrounding it.
The session was led by News Broadcaster James Chau, who himself has suffered from depression and spoke openly about his experiences. We also heard from a number of mental health advocates from across the world.
Mental health issues can impact anyone anywhere and sometimes without an obvious cause. There is certainly an opportunity for businesses to acknowledge and support their employees in working to prevent the causes of mental health issues as well as providing support when they do suffer from such illnesses.
The stand-out session on day three for me was a presentation from Emmanuel Lulin, Chief Ethics Officer at L’Oreal. He posed some difficult ethical dilemmas for us to consider think on how we would act in such situations.
These weren’t business scenarios but similar dilemmas are likely to face us all in our business lives as well. Most of the 1300 strong audience could not decide in that moment what to do, and I was one of them.
The key, as Emmanuel pointed out, is that silence is not an option, not when you are a leader and especially not in grey and complex areas.
He spoke of how certain actions can be lawful, and yet awful, and this is something that we in the accounting profession will undoubtedly have to consider throughout our careers. Ethics is something that every profession needs to uphold and transparency is definitely the key.
Committing to sustainability
The final session before the festivities of the elaborate Closing Ceremony was the session held by Chartered Accountants Worldwide. This was honestly the best experience of the conference for me – and I’m not just saying that as a CA!
The session was on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and how each of us individuals, businesses and other organisations worldwide need to contribute to them if we are to achieve the ambitious targets.
The presentation was led by Alan Horn CA, President and CEO of Rogers Telecommunications, alongside Martin Martinoff of the ICAEW. The room was full of over 60 delegates from a variety of professions and industries being given an opportunity to discuss and debate the various Goals set by the UN.
Following a particularly hilarious introductory speech from Alan (who said accountants aren’t funny?), Martin took over the reins and, split into groups, we provided our own plans for achieving the Goals.
A key message was that businesses should not care about who gets credit for meeting the UN targets as achieving them will benefit everyone.
Alan summed up the session well when he said that there is a need to protect the interests of the public before we address the interests of our stakeholders, as is the case with ICAS and the entire accounting profession.
Speaking to the delegates on my table and others, it was clear that they left the session educated and, most importantly, armed with a framework within which they can act.
This conference has reminded me of a quote of the Persian poet, Rumi, who said: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.”
We, as CAs, have had the privilege of going through a fantastic education and, although we may not realise it, we have the ability to create a world which we want to live every day. We can be the entire ocean in a drop.
Rimla Akhtar MBE CA is the 2016 ICAS One Young CA winner.