Young leaders from around the world inspire social and economic change
By Joseph Mathieu
When Ottawa hosts the One Young World Summit (OYW) in September, the entire world will be watching.
Often referred to as the younger sibling of the World Economic Forum, OYW is bringing together some of the brightest young people from 196 nations, who will examine social and economic issues from around the world.
OYW is a London, UK-based charity that wanted to create a platform for young people to confront the troubles of the 21st century. Now in its seventh year, OYW has tackled thorny issues from hunger relief to peace and conflict resolution. The Ottawa event is dedicated to reconciliation, and will feature Canadian Senator Murray Sinclair, who presided over the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a comprehensive look at the legacy of the Indian residential school system, designed to promote awareness, truth-telling, and healing for Aboriginal people.
OYW delegates are between the ages of 18 and 30. They are entrepreneurs, social activists, founders of global companies, and young parliamentarians who join their first Summit as delegates and leave as ambassadors.
“If you think of any issue in the world today, know that our ambassadors are at the forefront of that crisis,” says OYW Canada Director Antoine Pouliot. “They represent a social commitment to solving those issues.”
Just over 1,200 young leaders will come away from the Summit as ambassadors for positive change, as Pouliot did in 2011 after attending the sophomore event in Zurich. The Toronto-born, Ottawa-based Pouliot was appointed Canada Director for One Young World last February. The upcoming gathering will be the fourth Summit he attends.
First Nations and Métis elders and young delegates will also be centre-stage in Ottawa to tell their stories as Justice Sinclair, who will serve as a counsellor at the event, presents findings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
OYW counsellors are senior international activists and trendsetters committed to inspiring the young delegates. Together, elders and youth all represent communities and organizations that promote positive social change. Past counsellors have included Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, Bill Clinton, and former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, who will be in Ottawa this fall.
After each Summit, the newly minted ambassadors will work on their own projects or lend the power of the OYW network to existing initiatives. Many ambassadors return to their home organizations and work to create change from within, energizing their workplace with the enthusiasm and ideas generated from the summit.
September’s summit will be the culmination of three years of partnership between City Hall and Ottawa Tourism. In 2015, the bid to host in Ottawa beat out other economic heavyweights like Hong Kong and Kobe, Japan.
“The City of Ottawa is honoured to have won the 2016 bid,” says Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. “The summit is a great opportunity to hear from young people from around the world, men and women who have done great things.”
Mayor Watson remembers the atmosphere at the 2015 summit in Bangkok—thousands of young delegates “gushing with an enthusiasm that was contagious”.
“We put on a Canadian performance featuring a First Nations singer and dancer amongst other performers, and the Governor of Bangkok passed me the One Young World host city baton.”
The baton is currently on display in the main foyer at Ottawa City Hall, where it will reside until the summit begins on September 28th.
Pouliot says that although OYW brings in experienced VIPs, it’s the young leaders themselves who always steal the show.
“It’s the delegates who have always kept me coming back,” he says. “You meet young people from all over the world who are doing amazing things around their community, and they inspire everyone to do more.”
Joseph Mathieu is a freelance writer who covers artistry, invention and entrepreneurial spirit as he explores customs and culture across Canada.