Advocating for change: One Young World Summit
It’s Sunday 1 October and I’ve just stepped off the plane in Belfast. Tomorrow I’ll be attending the One Young World 2023 Summit to represent ICAS and the profession alongside peers from around the world, who are also attending with the Chartered Accountants Worldwide (CAW) delegation on behalf of their respective professional bodies and institutes.
We’ll be spending the week hearing from royals, sportspeople, musicians, politicians, diplomats, models, senior leaders, and activists. This may sound like a list of individuals you’d never expect to see in one room, but they share at least one thing in common – they are advocates for change. They believe the 2,000 young people attending this summit are the global leaders of the future. Before this experience, imposter syndrome would have stopped me from recognising myself as one of these young leaders, but my time at the summit has both inspired and given me the confidence to drive change. Here are some of my highlights and learnings from the week…
On the first day of the summit, I made my way with the other CAW delegates to the ICC to learn more about what to expect from the week and shoot introductory videos with the CAW media team. In my video (see below), I spoke about my interest in social mobility and education, particularly given my links to the ICAS Foundation, for which I am an alumni ambassador and mentor. I then had the opportunity to network with my fellow delegates. Many of us agreed that despite it sounding quite cheesy, an accountancy qualification really is a ‘passport’ of sorts that can support your ambitions to work and travel around the world. As testament to that, I was in the company of a colleague who trained for her CA ANZ in Australia and now lived in London, as well as a member of the South African Institute who was currently residing and working in Dublin.
We also attended the opening ceremony in the evening, where we heard from the co-founders of One Young World (OYW), Kate Robertson and David Jones. Representatives from the 190 countries in attendance then took part in a flag bearing ceremony to symbolise that all countries are welcome at OYW, regardless of politics or current events. The key address was made by Queen Rania of Jordan. Her speech centred around the importance of living in the here and now, while also being forward looking, making the most of one’s time on the earth and doing so in a way that brings about peace in the world. However, the standout speech for me was made by James Martin. James starred in the film ‘An Irish Goodbye’ and became the first ever actor with Down Syndrome to win an academy award. He told us of his rise to stardom and how he had become an advocate for demonstrating that a disability doesn’t limit what you can achieve in life. As you might imagine, he received a well-deserved standing ovation.
On the second day we really started to get into the detail. Each year in advance of the summit, OYW undertakes a global consultation process to give young leaders the opportunity to influence the topics covered as part of the summit. As a result, the five areas explored over the course of the week were the food crisis, education, the climate emergency, mental health, and peace and reconciliation.
The morning session, which covered the food crisis, made me realise that I was quite ignorant to the scale in which food is so unequally distributed around the world. There was some stark facts and figures shared, including the point that if global food waste was represented as a country, it would be the third largest contributor to greenhouse gas. We heard from Angela F. Williams who is the President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, one of the world’s largest privately funded charities, on the impact of food insecurity. She highlighted that there are people in the world that go without food due to other countries’ over consumption and waste, and ways to address this could include redistribution of surplus food or education to teach communities that suffer from food insecurity how to grow produce in an environmentally friendly way.
The afternoon session focused on education. This was the session that I was most looking forward to, as I hoped there would be a focus on how we can strive for a base level of education for all. I feel quite strongly about this as you never know who might have a solution to some of the world’s biggest challenges, and a strong start to an individual’s education could really push them to unlock their potential. The focus of the session was instead on upskilling and reskilling the workforce. My main takeaway was how important it will be for organisations to consider the move away from admin-related tasks to more data and tech-related roles, as evidence shows that the negative impacts of this change will be felt more by women because they are more likely to be in the admins roles that will be replaced.
The morning topic on day three centred around sustainability and activism regarding the planet and climate change. We heard from AstraZeneca on the links between the health of the planet and our health as humans. A delegate speaker also shared how he had become an activist for clean air in Latin America through visual art. He recounted how he had built a pair of cotton lungs and taken them to a busy station where there was a lot of pollution to encourage people to visualise the impact that the pollution was having on their lungs and bodies.
There was also an interesting introduction to indigenous populations and how world leaders might learn from them about preserving the earth. In their culture they are taught to think and reflect about their ancestors, as well as look forward and be mindful of the generations that will come after them. Because of this, they are very environmentally conscious and ensure that they only take what they need from the earth. This encouraged me to think about how I use the earth’s resources. I now aim to consume no more than three meat-based meals at home a week, and I would challenge readers to think about how they might make incremental changes in their routines that could have a positive impact on the planet.
The afternoon session placed a spotlight on mental health, and there were some very powerful speeches made by delegates who shared their stories. We were introduced to Adwoah Aboah who spoke about her charity ‘Gurls Talk’ and the importance of taking time to work on your own mental health and build a toolkit of things that work for you. In a speech that really struck me, we heard from Alice Hendry about the loss of her brother to poor mental health and how this had impacted her. The loss led her to investigate the effect of the internet and social media on mental health and she discovered how easy it was to access harmful content online about suicide. Shocked by this and armed with her background in cyber security, she channelled her energy into creating a tool called R;pple. The tool, which can be either a browser extension or integrated into Wi-Fi, diverts harmful online searches and redirects them to mental health support content. I would urge readers to look into this platform and Alice, as implementing this tool at home or in a workplace might be a small change that could have a huge positive outcome, as far as saving a life.
I was really looking forward to day four, as the whole day was dedicated to peace and reconciliation. This was particularly significant given the location of the summit in Belfast, as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the ‘Good Friday Agreement’. We heard from politicians over the course of the day, including former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former leader of Sinn Féin Gerry Adams. It was fascinating to hear their perspectives on peace in Northern Ireland and they both stressed how important it is to consider different perspectives and work with what some might describe as ‘the enemy’ in the hopes of negotiating and maintaining peace. The agreement in Northern Ireland has in some ways become the blueprint of other peace negotiations, including in Colombia.
We also had the opportunity to hear from a number of women as part of a panel discussion around ‘Showing Solidarity with the Women of Afghanistan and Iran’. Despite deteriorating conditions in their country, particularly for women, the panellists shared how they were standing up in the face of adversity by fighting for the right to work, study and participate in sport, and how everyone can engage in the discussion and show their support.
In the evening we attended the closing ceremony. The baton was handed from Belfast to Montreal, where the summit will be held for 2024. Each year the closing ceremony includes a ribbon exchange where each delegate gets the opportunity to pledge what they will do going forward based on their learnings from the summit, whether that be in their personal life, workplace, or through extra-curricular action. Your ribbon is tied to your neighbours until all of them are linked and added to the ribbons of the previous years.
To me, the tied ribbons illustrated the power of connection. It made me realise that as 2,000 individuals supporting change in one capacity or another, we should never operate in siloes. It’s important to communicate, surround yourself with people who can see the big picture, but also people who can act. To me, being a leader and driving forward change is not about knowing everything or doing it all myself, it’s about recognising what I don’t know and building a team of people around me that can complement my skills and support me in creating a better world.