The World Youth Forum (WYF) in Sharm El-Sheikh brought together young people from 196 countries to discuss the plethora of challenges facing humanity. Perhaps the most obvious of these, given the strict precautions that were taken for the four-day event, was the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to proof of vaccination, participants had to take a PCR test every 48 hours.
For the first time since the forum was launched in 2017, organisers introduced an online site for participants to attend sessions virtually. This made it possible to limit the number of physical attendees in conference rooms while ensuring maximum participation.
In addition to the pandemic, discussions focused on climate change, social and educational initiatives, business entrepreneurship, digitalisation, and future technologies.
Al-Ahram Weekly was on hand to observe the event live. Diversity and dynamism best describe the involvement and interaction of the young participants in the sessions and workshops that covered a wide range of subjects and which concluded with unanimously adopted recommendations. Some sessions launched significant initiatives, such as the Shabab Balad project, sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a local Egyptian version of the international initiative Generation Unlimited, launched in 2018. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a recorded speech at the forum’s opening that the international initiative “is the first public-private partnership platform for youth, created to give young people a platform to express themselves and find opportunities, and has a bold goal — to have every boy and girl in the world have the opportunity to attend school, learn, or train.”
Sinai heritage: Participants had plenty of opportunities outside the conference halls to take part in educational and recreational activities and acquaint themselves with Egypt’s culture and history. Numerous stands and kiosks displayed clothes, fabrics, and carpets with traditional Sinai Bedouin embroidery and patterns. Other Bedouin products, from herbs, dates and olive oil to handicrafts, were also displayed.
Khadra Ibrahim, a member of the Samaana tribe, took part in an exhibition introducing handicrafts that Bedouin women hand down from generation to generation. Promoting the crafts, she said, helps keep them alive.
At one stall Siham, 25, a native of Nuweiba and a graduate of the Faculty of Political Science at the British University in Egypt, displayed traditional tools such as spindles for spinning wool and mills for grains and seeds. Dressed in Sinai garb, she told the Weekly that she was proud of her identity and wanted to preserve her heritage. She added that of the forum’s many sessions, she was particularly interested in those addressing environmental conservation and climate change.
DECENT LIFE MUSEUM: A short distance from the heritage booths was a small open-air museum dedicated to the Decent Life initiative. It showcased models of simple rural homes that had been upgraded to meet the goals of the initiative, alongside 3D displays explaining the programmes’ contribution to education and healthcare and its promotion of sustainable development. Indeed, the success of the Decent Life initiative was one of the discussion topics during the forum. The initiative aims to develop 4,500 villages in 20 governorates, reduce urban-rural disparities and strengthen the values of participation and belonging.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: The entrepreneurship area, a short walk from the museum, sparked the curiosity of forum participants. Lining the pavements between the conference halls were booths manned by young men and women of different nationalities keen to present their ideas for advancing communications, networking and opportunities.
The forum included a series of workshops on entrepreneurship led by young business leaders from Egypt, the US, Germany, China, Lebanon, Greece, Rwanda, Albania, Algeria, Jordan, Kenya, and India. The workshops discussed the challenges and opportunities awaiting young entrepreneurs. Participants had the chance to learn about international programmes dedicated to helping young businesspeople by providing consultation and technical assistance to start-up companies.
Mohamed Taysir, an Egyptian entrepreneur, launched his firm, Singularity, a technology and financial services provider, in the WYF’s entrepreneurship area. The company offers two products, the Dabarhali platform which manages purchases for small and micro enterprises and enables them to get in touch with potential funders. “The service is similar to Marketplace,” Taysir said. “It facilitates purchases for merchants or owners of small companies and stands in for the purchasing departments which small and micro enterprises do not have.”
The second product is an app to facilitate electronic payments to small enterprises. “The owners of small and micro enterprises do not want to pay expensive fees for credit card payment machines and services. Our application helps them handle credit cards and smart wallets easily and cost-free.”
Taysir said he had benefited greatly from his participation at the forum. “The chance to present my start-up in the entrepreneurship area was a great opportunity to network, especially with local and foreign official agencies represented at the forum.” He added that the forum had allowed him to learn from the experiences of foreign start-ups.
SMART RECREATION: As participants left the museum and heritage area, they had a chance to enjoy Sharm El-Sheikh’s splendid weather and indulge in recreational activities connected with the event’s discussion topics. The Freedom.e area was dedicated to interactive games using modern computer technologies. There was also an interactive museum featuring historical figures engaged in dialogue. Imagine Um Kolthoum, Mohamed Ali Clay, Newton, Neil Armstrong, and Amelia Earhart chatting together in a room. Elsewhere, visitors could take virtual tours of Egyptian cities or listen to performances by Egyptian folk troupes, or find themselves in the midst of Flash Mob dance displays.
The Freedom.e stage served as an informal platform where talented youth could speak and exchange ideas about the issues discussed inside the conference rooms. It also offered a venue for young talents from around the world to display their artistic and musical skills.
Nearby, the Friend of the Environment area was dedicated to young entrepreneurs and start-ups producing environment friendly and sustainable products. A special section was set aside to offer training in the manufacture of environment friendly and recyclable products.
YOUTH THEATRE: Youth of the World Theatre allowed WYF participants and visitors an opportunity to express their artistic talents and cultures through music, acting, stand-up comedy, art and dance on the Freedom.e stage. It was also possible to share inspirational stories through a dedicated platform. During the opening ceremony of the forum the stage hosted a performance of We Were One. Attended by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the show brought together young people of all nationalities who had attended a two-week workshop to train for the performance.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.