This year, I had the great honor of being invited to attend the Reach Out To Asia Empower 2016 youth conference, where 450 delegates between the ages of 17-30 gather annually to discuss pressing issues that impact global communities. Unlike many conferences hosted in the MENA region, the Empower conferences are unique, because they are planned by youth for youth. In fact, I don’t believe the average age of the conference organizers or participants exceeded 23 and that young energy was definitely tangible.
Youth Conference Best Practices
I have attended many conferences before, but I feel that the Empower 2016 conference has a special place in my heart, because it consistently strived to promote youth empowerment and leadership through every aspect of the conference’s brainstorming, planning and execution process. Luckily for us, Reach Out To Asia’s annual Empower conferences have created a simple and repeatable model that any country can use to creatively start building human capital in young people. Here are the 4 elements that made the Empower 2016 conference a success for me and the reasons why global youth conference organizers should start incorporating these best practices.
1- Skillfully Defined S.M.A.R.T Objectives
The most important ingredient for the success of any organization or enterprise are S.M.A.R.T (Sustainable, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals. Passion is nothing without discipline and that’s why having well-defined goals or aligning yourself with an existing vision is important. By choosing to focus on the theme of youth social entrepreneurship and how it can be used to engage youth to contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Qatar 2030 National Vision, the Empower 2016 organizers skillfully tried to redirect all of the delegates’ energy and efforts to fulfill the macro goals of each of these global and national visions. Nowadays, our problem isn’t a lack of ideas, money or talent, it’s a lack of direction. Imagine if every youth conference held across the world decided to redirect all of its participants’ activities towards a specific national or global agenda? The world would be a different place. However, it isn’t only the responsibility of conference organizers to make sure that social enterprises are aligned with nation or global-wide development initiatives, it is also the responsibility of individual entrepreneurs to make sure that their efforts are also contributing to the “bigger picture.” So, whether you’re an organizer or a delegate, next time you attend a conference, think about how you can leverage your enterprise to fuel a larger vision.
2- Represented Youth in Every Aspect of the Conference
Every August, a committee of several Qatari-based youth come together to choose the conference theme, speakers and activities, which take place during the jammed-pack 3 day Empower conference every year. Not only are youth responsible for choosing the theme of the Empower conferences, they are also involved as volunteers and speakers. No matter where you Iooked throughout the Empower conference, you saw young volunteers herding participants to sessions, giving them their lunch vouchers or answering their queries. Furthermore, almost everyone of the 48 workshops that were offered over the 3 days was conducted by a young person between the ages of 17-30, which was a very exciting thing for someone who has only ever attended workshops conducted by seasoned professionals. For the first time in a long time, I really felt that age had nothing to do with experience or the potential impact that young people could have on the world. According to the Deloitte Millennial Survey conducted in January 2014, 75% of the global workforce in 2025 will be made of millennials. With that in mind, it is crucial that more conferences adopt the Empower conference model, so we can hone the skills, confidence and passion of this age group over the next 10 years. Nobody understands the shortcomings in our labor markets, socio-economic structures and educational systems more than our youth and it’s time that we give these “experts” more platforms to share their problems and hopefully their solutions.
3- Created Global Opportunities through Networking
Anybody who works in marketing will tell you that you can have the greatest product in the world, but if you don’t market it it will never be successful. During the Empower 2016 conference, I was so impressed by the passion, ingenuity and innovation of all the participants involved. Their tenacity was truly admirably, but unfortunately, many of them had been laboring in isolation or obscurity until the Empower 2016 conference. Every person I met had a unique story, which gave me a new perspective of the world and my role in it. Also, with every new person I met came the opportunity to expand the influence and reach of our respective projects, by exchanging contacts and exploring mutual synergies. As the conference progressed, the question that often came to my mind wasn’t “are we dreaming enough?” the question became “are we dreaming big enough?” because I felt that every person I met had the capacity to grow their enterprise and impact, if they had the right guidance and support. While every aspect of the Empower conference was valuable, I believe that the most valuable was the networking opportunities it provided, because it allowed us to establish new and global advocates that would give each one of us the courage and resources to persist in our respective nascent entrepreneurial ecosystems. More conferences need to shed the light on youth-driven social enterprises like Empower 2016, because it is these entrepreneurs who are helping the world innovate its way to a better future.
Conclusion: We need to change our narrative
My participation in the Empower 2016 conference cemented one important idea: the time for change is always now. As a young global citizen, I am fed up of hearing the tired old narrative of the self-absorbed “Me Generation” with their selfie sticks and their hashtags. Yes, I do take the occasional selfie and I might jokingly using hashtags in my conversations, but I am not self-absorbed and neither are the hundreds of delegates that attended the Empower 2016 conference. We care about our communities and we want people to pay attention to the growing number of youth who are innovating despite the harsh socio-economic realities they face on a daily basis. The Empower 2016 conference helped me realize that each one of us has the ability to change our narrative, but we can’t do it alone. We don’t need anyone’s permission to shine, but we do need more platforms to promote cultures and ecosystems that will allow us to share our passion with others.
My generation has decided to take back their narrative, now the only questions that remains is what role will you, social influencers and decision-makers, play in our new narrative?
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