The first Futurecasters Global Young Visionaries Summit kicked off at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland today with a host of inspiring messages from young visionaries as well as UN leaders, including Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.
The Summit – co-organized by ITU and the Model UN Programme of Ferney-Voltaire, France (FerMUN) – welcomes some 700 young students from 23 countries worldwide.
The three-day event is a programme of youth-oriented consultations aimed at bringing the voices of young people to all major ITU development discussions and activities.
The Summit’s opening took place in the famous Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the United Nations of Geneva.
At the opening, the energy in the room was palpable as students from around the world saw themselves on the big screens in a video set to the thumping beat of “Giant” by Calvin Harris and Rag’n’Bone Man.
“Looking across the room at all 700 of you from so many different countries and cultures, fills me with excitement and hope,” said Ms. Bogdan-Martin at the opening. “Excitement, because I know that as young people, you get it. You understand technology and what it can do better than any of us. I am also, really filled with hope, because as you’ve noticed that today’s world really needs some fresh new ideas.”
One of those young people, Gessienne Grey, Secretary General of FerMUN, spoke for many when she expressed her view on the value of the Summit.
“Over the next few days, in committees or in our two new Youth Assemblies, it will be up to us, young people, to propose solutions, reach consensus, and make decisions about our common future. We are no longer on the outside, looking in; instead, we are at the core. … I will not ask: ‘How dare you?’ I will ask: ‘Do you dare to?’ ”
“The theme of this year’s debates is far from simple: “Technology for Development”. The power of technology is as scary as it is promising,” said Grey. “It could help us solve massive issues. Or it could create new problems on unprecedented scales that we are far from ready to face. How can we use it efficiently, without letting it escape our control?
“Usually, these debates are reserved for professionals. But for the next three days, it will be up to us. And the professionals will listen. That is what makes this conference special. This is the first ever ITU Futurecasters Global Young Visionaries Summit. Through this summit, ITU is engaging with youth on the digital future we want.”
From the beginning, the young Model UN delegates jumped right in with questions about climate change, inequality, poverty, conflict – and the role of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) in helping or harming progress on those massive issues.
“Technology can be the greatest equalizer we’ve ever known, but it can also exacerbate inequality,” said Ms. Bogdan-Martin answering a question from a student during the first day.
“The UN believes young people need to be engaged as equal partners in development,” said the UN Secretary General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka, in a video message.
Without technology and innovation, meeting the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “will be impossible,” she said, calling the Futurecasters Summit a “remarkable opportunity” for young people to engage with UN discussions on technology.
In her opening address, Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, said that nowadays modern technologies give a voice to everyone regardless of where they are.
“Will tech make us more or less secure? Will it increase or decrease our human rights? Will it create more or less inequality?” asked Fabrizio Hothschild, Under-Secretary-General of the UN, during opening remarks to the eager young leaders assembled. “We need you. We need your voices … to tell us to dare to do more. We need your voices to bring us to our senses, in the same way that Greta [Thunberg] did.”
“The issues we’re facing are massive in scale. Their importance is planetary,” said Ms. Grey. “It can seem daunting, like a huge mountain. You’re not sure you’ll make it to the top; maybe you can’t even see that far. But take one step, just one, and you’ll already be that much higher; the view will be that much clearer.
“That is our vision for the next three days,” said Grey. “We may not solve every issue we tackle here and now, but if each one of us makes that step, those 700 steps in unison will give us the momentum we need to go further.”