One Young World 2017: My Takeaways as a Delegate and Sustainability Professional

Posted by Salem Afeworki, Value Sustainability December 5 2017 0 Local experience

I have been fortunate enough to attend various local and international summits in my life, but this is the first conference I have ever attended where young leaders (delegates) are taking the front seat, seasoned professionals (counselors) took the back seat, and introduced delegates to share their stories and insights!

Around 1,500 people from 194 countries attended One Young World (OYW) Summit 2017 in Bogota the first week of October. We all experienced the dynamic, energetic and inspiring conference in the heart of Bogota where, little over a year ago, the peace accord was signed between the government and the FARC (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia), ending a brutal civil conflict that lasted 52 years and claimed 8 million lives.

Mayor Enrique Peñalosa of Bogota welcomed OYW to the capital and addressed the anticipating crowd. “With your energy and imagination,” he said, “you can create a more environmentally sustainable and happier world.” Some of the outstanding global leaders that attended as counselors included Nobel Peace Laureate President Juan Manual Santos of Colombia, Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman, former UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Laureate Kofi Annan, and Unilever CEO Paul Poleman.

How did I get into an international event like this as sustainability practitioner based in Orange County? Well, I applied for a scholarship to attend the 2017 OYW. Two-time Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion, Hope Solo, decided to sponsor me to attend the conference as a delegate representing my native country, Eritrea! The picture on the top was taken with a delegate from Georgia at Simon Bolivar square located in downtown Bogota where the opening ceremony was held.

The summit was full of inspiring moments, stories of young leaders making a difference despite their hard realities, limitations, cultural barriers and belief systems. I heard testimonies of people who have survived civil war, genocide, and being an illegal refugee, abused physically and mentally – tales of brave souls that fought to change their fate and that of their communities. I realized how insignificant my challenges sound compared to theirs….


On Innovation And Entrepreneurship

  • Be optimistic and focus on shared values. Many young people from different walks of life are working to make a positive change in their communities, and unlike much popular belief, most millennials wants to work for a purpose and are generally compassionate. I am hopeful that the future is in good hands and that young people are working to challenge the status quo.
  • Be a welder and action taker. Social entrepreneurship, societal business and micro financing are on the rise globally. There are many organizations working to connect entrepreneurs to capital.
  • Have a job creator mentality rather than a job seeker mentality. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it and seek the right support.
  • We need to build flexible systems and infrastructure. Digital transportation, energy storage, carbon management and advance mobility are here to stay. We can accommodate these changes.
  • Take what is good and focus on making it better. Innovation is our responsibility – we can’t solve future challenges with past solutions! 

On Sustainability And Partnership

  • What you are doing for others today is something you are doing for yourself tomorrow. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are setting the global framework for sustainability and many big employers are energized around them. Sustainability is GOOD for business as it gives a competitive advantage to early adopters.
  • Go for big things! Businesses can be a source of good to make a lasting impact, but their success depends on having the right ecosystem, leadership and partnership to solve some of the world’s complex sustainability challenges. Foster the culture of mindful cooperation, make the impossible possible.

Alleviating Global Poverty

  • There is a solution for everything; we just need to look deeper and harder!
  • Poverty is not lack of money but lack of resources. International aid lacks empowerment and education is the easiest way out of poverty.

On Social Media And Communication

  • We all use social media, but we are not using it to have meaningful, constructive and open conversations. Millennials don’t like traditional media and count on their friends’ posts to stay informed. Use technology and social media to keep decision makers accountable and to share the untold stories and initiatives.

At the end of the OYW summit, we were asked to commit to a goal we can execute when we go home. I committed to keep working hard to build resilient communities and empowering others to do the same. What will you commit to?


About the Author

Salem Afeworki, LEED GA, ENV SP is the Founder of Value Sustainability, a consulting firm that provides sustainability, climate change, and community engagement advisory services headquartered in Orange County, CA. She is a United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Local Pathway Fellow, One Young World Ambassador, a member of the LA County Sustainability Council and serves on the City of Irvine’s Green Ribbon Committee.

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