One Young World Summit – First Impressions

In her second installment of the series, Sadhbh writes about her trip to the One Young World Summit in November 2015, taking place in Bangkok.

I arrived into Bangkok at 7.30am on Tuesday to 27 degree heat after what my French neighbour on the plane called a ‘nuit blanc’ – an all-nighter. Wandering around the city that day, I noted that the city has changed since I was last here, but the friendliness of the Thai people has not – everywhere you look, you can see why this country is called The Land of Smiles.

The conference kicked off on Wednesday with registration in the Bangkok Convention Centre, where we got our welcome packs and picked up our delegate badges, labelled with our name and country of origin. Immediately, I was thrown into the deep end of this ‘networking’ pool ; hands were thrust towards me from every direction, stretching out from Indonesia, Australia, Bangladesh, France, countries from every continent. From students to Apple employees to founders of NGOs, there are people from all walks of life represented at this conference. I was chatting away casually to a French guy my own age before he revealed that he is president of a French think tank company, a defence advisor with NATO – and still a student of political science in Strasbourg. One rapidly gets used to feeling moderately inadequate here..

Many delegates were dressed in their traditional clothing, making for a bright and colourful procession as we were transferred from the BCC to the pier for the boat trip up the Chao Praya river. An impressive selection of canapés and iced drinks awaited us, the ideal spread over which to mingle.

The opening ceremony was held in the grounds of the Royal Palace, the first non-royal event to be held in the venue. We were blown away by the lengths that the host city went to – a traditional Thai drumming performance opened proceedings before the One Young World counsellors were welcomed to the stage, amongst them Sir Bob Geldof, Kofi Annan and Muhummad Yunus. These three men gave fantastics speeches, from Kofi’s empowerment to Bob Geldof’s ‘get real’ straight-talking. This was followed by the flag ceremony, with each of the 196 countries present at the Summit represented – and without doubt the Irish representative waved with the most gusto!

As enjoyable as that night was, the real business of the Summit began this morning at 8.30am with the Special Sessions and the Plenary Sessions. The morning sitting focused mainly on human rights (in particular the migrant crisis) and young Thai leadership and entrepreneurship. We heard from Kofi Annan on climate change as he implored us to hassle our governments ahead of the COP 21 meeting in Paris next weekend – ‘We sink or swim together, with regard to climate change, in the long term’, he said.

The highlight of the afternoon sitting for me was the Plenary Session on the environment, as this is something I feel particularly passionate about. The topics of water and sanitation, COP 21 and food waste were discussed, with one delegate telling of his #lickitclean campaign – imploring people to post pictures on social media of their empty plates after they eat, in an effort to reduce food waste. There was a session on disability, where a boy with cerebral palsy delivered a spectacular speech that moved many of the audience to tears. ‘See me’, he told us. ‘I want to be ordinary. Yes, sometimes I need help opening doors – but only if they are closed in the first place’ .

I had the opportunity to ask a question that I had submitted in advance – although the moderator of the session did struggle to pronounce my name when calling me to the stand! I asked Angelina Cheung, editor of Vogue China, if she felt a conflict in being editor of one of the world’s leading fashion magazines in one of the countries most abused by the fashion industry in terms of the sweatshops. There were some raised eyebrows, a murmur of agreement, and then a round of applause . The great thing about OYW is that it not only gives you the chance to ask the counsellors for advice but also to hold them accountable. Whether or not they choose to adequately answer those type of questions is another story !

12 hours later, we emerged from the BCC, tired, hungry, slightly overwhelmed, but thoroughly impressed and inspired. OYW aims to move young people to action – and in our first 24 hours, I can already feel these seismic effects. I’m looking forward to two more days of talking, debating and questioning, adding to my growing collection of business cards and imbibing more of the electric energy flowing abundantly at this Summit.

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