Sri Lanka youth conference demonstrates global concern of young people

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA — A global youth conference, designed to incorporate substantive input from the youth of the world to the post-2015 development agenda process, drew some 1,500 people from an estimated 150 countries from 6-10 May 2014.

Sponsored by the government of Sri Lanka and an international youth task force, the World Conference on Youth 2014 produced a 12-page outcome document, titled the “Colombo Declaration on Youth.”

Among other things, the Declaration called for “an enhanced and active role for youth in policy formulation and implementation and evaluation of processes related to development” and encouraged the establishment of a “permanent youth department within the United Nations.”

Daniel Perell, who headed the Bahá’í International Community’s six-person delegation to the event — including youth from the United States, India and Sri Lanka — said that even aside from the conference’s formal outcome, the energy and knowledge that came about from bringing together so many young people in one place is certain to have a lasting effect.

“Any time you bring together so many youth leaders from around the world to share ideas and to learn from each other, it is a good thing,” said Mr. Perell, who is a representative of the BIC to the United Nations. “Connections of friendship and shared endeavor were made, and in this interconnected world, this will surely have an impact.”

In addition to issuing a statement to the Conference (at left), the BIC sponsored two side events that focused on the topic of empowerment.

Held on 7 and 8 May, the two events, which featured the same program, drew collectively some 80 participants. Designed to be highly interactive and participatory, the side events focused on the prerequisites of empowerment, and the need to place it in the context of service to the wider community.

“At the heart of the workshop was an exercise in which the youth were given a blank sheet of paper and asked to respond to the idea of empowerment,” said Mr. Perell, “We found that youth — regardless of their background — were able to articulate themes of empowerment, opportunity, and service in creative and profound ways. It was inspirational to all involved and, we hope, will stay with the participants as they continue their efforts to better their communities.”

Mr. Perell said the Bahá’í International Community felt it was important to be at the Colombo Conference because of the importance of young people in shaping humanity’s future — but also its present.

“The period of youth is increasingly recognized by the international community as a key time in people’s lives around the world, because of the forces they can release into their communities. History, recent and ancient, teaches us the impact of youth on their societies. How to channel the energy is a key question we must all grapple with,” said Mr. Perell.

Mr. Perell noted that the Bahá’ís around the world have organized a number of programs aimed at fostering among young people the importance of serving their communities and approaching life with an attitude of learning.

“Last year, for example, the worldwide Bahá’í community organized 114 youth conferences,” said Mr. Perell. “These drew more than 80,000 young people, both Bahá’ís and youth from other religions and no religion alike, where they discussed things like how they can contribute to the betterment of society and what it means to serve their communities.”