Young people can play an important role in leveraging information communication technologies (ICTs) to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
That’s a key message from the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS), an annual event that brings together government leaders, private-sector representatives and civil society members to form partnerships, showcase innovation and exchange best practices on applying ICTs to form a sustainable world.
This year’s event, which took place in March in Geneva, featured a special track on youth engagement and included hundreds of student and young professional participants. WSIS aims to include youth perspectives and engage young people in discussions about how technology can provide opportunities to address some of the world’s most pressing issues, says Gitanjali Sah, WSIS Coordinator at ITU.
“We need to provide a platform where youth can offer their insights and understanding of the information society, its challenges and opportunities, and where they can raise questions but also propose solutions to harvesting the power of ICTs towards equally distributed social impact,” she says.
As part of this effort, teens from two schools joined a team of WSIS interns and other students and young professionals from around the world to participate in the interactive, multi-stakeholder event.
Here are five ways WSIS 2018 engaged young people on issues related to ICTs and the SDGs – and why amplifying youth voices matters.
The WSIS Forum 2018 featured a number of high-level dialogues on topics including Internet connectivity and electronic waste. Two in particular emphasized relevant issues for youth: digital skills and youth employment.
These two dialogues highlighted current trends and showed young people how digital skills could amplify their career opportunities.
The Forum’s thematic workshops also shone a light on youth engagement efforts, with themes including linking education with ICTs, increasing youth knowledge about SDGs and leveraging ICTs through youth engagement.
The UN Major Group for Children and Youth, a youth-led effort to help non-state actors engage in the UN, hosted two workshops, one on using ICTs to promote resilience and one on the future of work for youth.
“We saw the WSIS as crucial space to facilitate youth engagement in to leverage the role of appropriate technologies, ICTs and information systems more specifically, in accelerating progress towards SDGs,” say Donovan Guttieres, Rozita Singh and Jiwon Park, members of the group.
WSIS also held its second-annual hackathon in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the theme #HackAgainstHunger. More than 70 participants representing more than 30 nationalities formed 14 teams and spent 36 hours creating innovative tech solutions and new sustainable agricultural practices to ensure food security and end hunger.
Top solutions included:
“One of the advantages of this hackathon was getting the opportunity to meet team members who had experiences in different areas,” says Joshua Thompson, one of the members of the winning team from Jamaica.
The 2019 Hackathon will partner with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to create e-learning solutions.
For the first time, the 2018 Forum hosted a “Cloud Café,” an open session that welcomed young professionals to identify topics of interest within the WSIS framework and contribute to the WSIS process.
The Café was a two-hour dynamic space where experts provided knowledge, shared their experiences and answered questions on topics including cybersecurity, social media and communications.
Outside the structured discussions of the Forum were a collection of exhibits from technology start-ups offering innovations ranging from robots to Virtual Reality (VR) experiences.
In the VR exhibit, participants, including a group of seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students, presented on how VR could impact development and be a game changer in education.
Daniel Chassot, a WSIS intern who helped organized the Forum, says the experience exposed him to new ICT topics and opportunities for professional development. He says the biggest takeaways are the knowledge and skills he can take to future positions.
“This internship provided me with the opportunity to meet with various stakeholders from around the world who are interested in advancing development by using the information and communication technologies,” he says. “I have also met many high-level experts while I was handling the interviews during the WSIS Forum 2018, including the ministers, CEOs, heads of international organizations and civil society, and many more.”
Amplifying youth voices is critical for ensuring an inclusive, collaborative environment with equitable access to ICTs and their benefits, say the representatives from the UN Major Group for Children and Youth.
“Technologies impact youth in different ways (gender, region, country) and therefore potential consequences cannot be generalized to across spaces for all youth,” they say. “It is therefore crucial to have their voices well represented at all decision making spaces, promoting an intergenerational approach.”
The WSIS Forum’s agenda is crowdsourced, so anyone interested in shaping the 2019 Forum can contribute to the Open Consultation Process. Sah says she expects – and hopes – the trend of youth engagement will grow.
“We will continue to provide prospects to youth and invite all interested parties from around world, schools, universities, individuals concerned about development to join us at the upcoming WSIS Forum 2019 (8-12 April), hoping to establish a solid base for the voices of youth to be heard and ideas to be spread.”
Moving forward, Chassot says he encourages more young people to feel empowered to take part in harvesting the power of ICTs for a sustainable world.
“Young people should have faith in the work done in the WSIS process and at ITU, and should seek ways on how to actively be a part of shaping their own future,” he says. “The new and emerging technologies are young, as much as we are, and some of us out there are already a part of success stories that are changing the world.”