Virtual Youth at Heart forum: for youth, by youth

Over a 1.000 participants from 100+ countries joined the Youth At Heart virtual forum organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 2nd of November. Latoya Balogun (22) is an intern at the department of Sustainable Economic Development and helped with the organization of the virtual forum. Here’s her story about the forum and the future of Youth at Heart.

I am currently working as an intern at the department of Sustainable Economic Development, focusing on youth employment. During the beginning of my internship, I was included in the team organizing the Youth At Heart Virtual Forum, and was given quite some responsibilities.

Latoya Balogun

What is it all about?

Before I could completely understand the mission and purpose of the Forum, I dove deeper in the ‘Youth At Heart’ Strategy launched in February as developed by Minister Kaag of International Trade and Development Cooperation. I learned how the strategy aims to invest in education and employment in the focus regions, while it specifically focuses on bridging the gap between the skills acquired, and matching demands with opportunities on the labor market. Meanwhile, it wishes to strengthen the voice of young people in society.

The focus regions of our department are the MENA, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. The overall majority of the population in these regions is young. Young people stand at the beginning of their lives and have the right to gain skills and knowledge to build a stable future for themselves, their communities, their countries, and the world.

Organising a forum during a pandemic

The corona-outbreak has hit young people hard, especially vulnerable and/or disadvantaged youths. The aim to organizse a conference for youth had been articulated in the Youth at Heart strategy. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent worsening situation for young people in the focus regions, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to host a virtual youth forum on 2 November 2020.

The three main themes which were discussed were decent work and income, quality education and meaningful youth participation, focusing on Africa and the Middle East.

The actual forum on November 2nd

For me it was impressive and interesting to see how the hard work of my team, the partners involved and the production company finally paid off during the live-broadcasting of the event. Since all content was streamed via four separate studios, I experienced enthusiasm and excitement when it was time for me to choose between studios Orange, Pink, Purple or Blue.

Luckily, I can re-watch the sessions which I have missed via the YouTube channel of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The discussions emphasized the importance of correctly matching the skills that young people acquire with the jobs that are available on the labour market. In addition, the importance of stimulating entrepreneurship, responding to the lack of internship opportunities and to on-the-job learning possibilities were topics which were often mentioned. Mental Health and Wellbeing also were consistently mentioned as challenges and a prerequisite for young people to make use of opportunities in education and work.

Image: ©ILO / M.Crozet

Youth at Heart Principles

The day ended with the presentations of youth-led Principles which Restless Development has developed with input from over 1200 young people from the Middle East, North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa. These Principles are the result of youth-led research and reflect the ideas of young people on education, work and participation.

In my eyes these principles are extremely valuable as they function as a call to recognize and invest specifically in the opportunities of vulnerable youth, including girls and young women, young people living with disabilities, refugees and internally displaced young people, living in rural areas, slums and informal settlements. It was inspiring to see that all participating partners are committed to this principle document and strive towards a future in which no one is left behind. Several high-level international contributors indicated how they intend to keep the prospects and the voice of youth at the heart of their work.

Studio Orange

An international movement that takes youth at heart

For me the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its virtual Youth at Heart Forum has succeeded in the contribution to and strengthening of an international movement that takes youth at heart. Personally, I think that these challenging times require youth to be flexible and creative, and that such a forum is a good way to inspire them and stimulate other stakeholders to pay attention to the specific challenges facing youths in the fields of work, education and participation, while advocating for youth-led change.

Follow-ups and future events

Youth are the future, and should be included in decision-making at all times.  Together with my colleagues we are committed to avoid this forum being a one-time event. Instead, these upcoming weeks will be dedicated to provide concrete follow-up to the event, while we will also be brainstorming with our department on how we can improve the integration of youth participation within our foreign decision- and policy-making.

Apart from road-to events, there will be numerous ‘Road after-events’ as well: e.g. the Dutch embassy in Kenia will join hands with the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment (CFYE) in organising a youth consultation session on 4th of December, and Oxfam Novib will join hands with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a co-creation session on 15th of December. Other partners, such as Generation Unlimited, are also planning to organize events continuing the discussion. Moreover, Dubai Cares will highlight the Principles during their RewirEd education conference.

We hope that more partners will join this movement!

Watch the virtual forum on YouTube

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised the virtual forum Youth at Heart. Here young people from the Middle East and Africa discussed their experiences and thoughts about education, work and participation.

All sessions of the Youth at Heart virtual forum that was broadcasted on 2 November 2020, can be watched on our YouTube channel: Livestream 4 studio's on YouTube