My inspiring experience at the 2019 World Youth Forum in Aswan
On March 15th, I landed in Aswan (Egypt) after an 8 hours trip from Ghana, to attend the Arab and African Youth Platform of the World Youth Forum. It was a great and inspiring event where I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with the Egyptian President, H.E El Sissi. In this blog, I’m going to share my best experiences, highlight areas that need improvements and suggest some propositions to better future editions.
What I liked most?
- This event is an innovative way of promoting cultural and political diplomacy.
Aswan, where the event was organised
The WYF promoted tourism in Egypt and showed the whole world that Egypt is a safe tourism destination, not to mention its capability to hold such a well-organized forum that welcomed a hundred delegations from all over the world. The forum resulted in inking several investment deals, which will provide lots of job opportunities for Egyptians. It proved that Egypt has intellectual youth, who are totally aware of African problems, with a clear vision to reform or resolve them. I believe many African governments can learn and be inspire by this program.
- It gives Arab and African youth a voice, a platform where to creatively and thoughtfully express their ideas on how to improve their societies.
- Most, if not all, the members of the organizing team (PLP) never lose their control and were always cool even when unexpected things happened. For example, I lose my wallet and they have helped me to recover it professionally and gently.
- I connect with many people from across Africa and made new friends with youth from Swaziland, Bahrein and Lebanon. It would be very difficult for me to book hotel accommodation whenever I’m travelling to one of these countries. Beyond friends, we are now a family, a network ready to support each other whenever the need arises.
- I enjoyed revisiting Aswan, after a first trip in 2016 with my colleagues from Senghor University in Alexandria. Stuff were less expensive, and the Egyptians are very welcoming, always ready to take a selfie. I enjoyed the nice food and thanks to all the chefs, particularly those on the “Tower Prestige” Cruise who were friendly and patient. One night that we came late for dinner, they had already cleaned everything but accepted to serve us some food to eat.
- Most of the participants were dressed in their national or cultural attire. As an Afropolitan, it’s very important to me because we need to value more our cultural artefacts and present it to the world. Some participants who were dressed in the western style said that it was “more conventional and convenient” to them. But I always replied that it was a wrong perception, nothing is conventional or not. It’s just a matter of perspective and thinking. If there is something in Africa that’s not conventional, we are responsible for accepting that status quo and following the trend. Let’s be original! Let’s dare to be different. Let’s dare to be unique and do everything from an African perspective. It just requires a mindset shift that we all need to develop. Let’s stop being passive followers and assume our rich identity. As a proud Afropolitan, I always wear African dresses and many times, it has intrigued or inspired foreign people.
What can be improved?
At the level of planning, most of the participants received all the travel documents just three days before the event. It was therefore difficult or impossible for some participants to be granted authorisation to leave from their organisation because the time was too short. If possible, the WYF Organizing Committee should send a confirmation email at least two weeks ahead to enable all the participants to prepare accordingly. As a convener of debate & public speaking events across Africa, I know the logistical and organisational burdens that such events may constitute.
I really appreciate the fact that there was a WYF Wi-Fi hotspot at Aswan International Airport but was quite surprised to notice that most of the boat cruises were not having WiFi for participants. However, I understand that it may have been strategically been done to enable participants to connect more together rather than isolating on social media. Not providing a free internet connection has also enabled most of us to buy local SIM Card (Etisalat, Vodafone, Orange…), henceforth contributing to the economic development of local communities.
There was also asymmetrical communication between participants and organisers. The agenda wasn’t fully respected, and I understand it may be due to factors that weren’t under the control of organisers. But what we say must always line up with what we do.
You can’t please everybody
Some participants also complained about not have being informed about the presidential meeting on the boat. Even though they are right, everyone couldn’t have been able to get on the boat. It’s just a matter of natural selection and divine grace. No matter how much thought and planning goes into an event, you simply can’t please everyone who attends. That’s also why I’m writing this feedback.
Workshop on Social Entrepreneurship from an African Perspective: a disillusion.
Even though the topic was interesting, the content has not properly been designed and delivered by the facilitation team. They made it look like a teaching session or course, while it was supposed to be an interactive and participant-driven session. We had different groups with different level of experiences, cultural background and expectations in the classroom. As an Instructional designer and facilitator, a good approach will have been better if the facilitator had previously sent a quick needs assessment to understand participants expectations and tailor the content according to that. They could have also been able to do that in-class by briefly asking participants’ expectations before the beginning of the workshop. Knowing and understanding participants expectations will have then served to divide them into small diverse team of 4-5 members working on 3-4 key characteristics of social entrepreneurship in Africa, previously identified by the participants. After 15-20 minutes of brainstorming and collective work, the participant would have come front to present their findings and the facilitator could have then build on that to explain it better, using its own examples and references.
This bottom-up approach was more suitable than the top-bottom one that was used. It has irritated and frustrated participants and some of them openly expressed their discontent or left before the workshop’s end. The lesson I have learnt from this is that, the more important is not the value of the content, but how it’s been shared. Knowledge only becomes power when it’s appropriately and conveniently shared with others. The second lesson I learnt is patience. In life, things won’t always work as expected nor planned, but it’s how we respond that makes the difference. Attitude is the foundation and support of everything we do and the most valuable asset we can possess toward life.
It has been a life-changing experience and I’m impatient to see this program growing and reaching its full potential in solving problems for a better world. I believe in this program and in its transformative potential for diplomatic and cultural relationship between the MENA Region and Sub-Saharan Africa.