The world’s economy was put in the hands of just 120 young Arabs this week when they took part in a workshop to find the future leaders of tomorrow.
Representing 13 Arab countries, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, students and graduates discussed current issues from the global food crisis to natural disasters. Twenty have now been selected to represent the group at next month’s World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Middle East in Egypt. The winners from the Learning from the Future workshop will speak at WEF in May.
Noor Al Kamali, 19, a student at Al Ain Women’s College, was chosen out of six other young Emiratis to represent the UAE. “This event has made me more aware of global issues and what is needed in the UAE,” said the proud student council president.
“My message to the leaders is that UAE nationals and other nationals should hold on to their identities. They should do this not by going backwards but by participating in the world and by interacting and learning from others cultures.”
Fahad Alhammadi, 21, a civil engineering student at Dubai Men’s College, said he voted for Noor because “she was the most comprehensive in the talks and has very strong views. She will do well and will carry our message”.
Another winner was Gaith Mohamed, 22, from Baghdad, who was chosen to represent Iraq. He said: “I am so proud to have the chance to speak for my country.
“I want to tell Arab leaders and the rest of the world what is really happening in Iraq, especially unemployment among young people,” added Mohamed who works for Insan, a youth organisation based in his home country.
At this week’s event, issues such as climate change, sustainability and security were addressed, using future scenarios from 2025 such as sustainability and how today’s decisions affect the next generation.
Winkie Williamson, a facilitator at the workshop, said each individual voted for the person they thought would best represent their country at the upcoming conference. “There were 120 people to choose from and what struck us was the extraordinary knowledge they possessed. They were informed, engaged and confident and they have given me great hope for the future.
“Everybody voting was very clear on who they wanted to represent them and the youngsters should be very proud.” The four-day workshop is part of a three-year partnership between the Young Arab Leaders and the British Council, which aims to continue connecting people across the region.
At the event youngsters, ranging in age from 17 to their early 20s, participated in role play and made films as well as listened to speeches from international experts.
Organisers arranged the event, at the Sheraton Dubai Creek Hotel, to run like a normal conference with the delegates put through three gruelling two-and-a-half hour sessions each day, to acclimatise them for the concentration needed for the real thing.
Areen Kiresh, an English Literature and Translation student from the Birzeit University in Palestine, said the workshop was a fantastic opportunity to show what young people have to offer.
“I am here to represent Palestinian youth. I really want to take advantage of this opportunity and be a part of what’s happening in the Middle East and in my own country,” said the 19-year-old who attended the forum because of her work with the Massarat tourist programme in Jerusalem.
“This opportunity to come together with so many other people from the region and beyond does not happen very often and it is important to hear different opinions and learn from others.”
Verena Wiedmaler, 27, from Germany, a member of the Young Arab Leaders, said: “I believe there are some really smart individuals here who think out of the box and could someday be future leaders.”
Martin Davidson, Chief Executive Officer of the British Council, said the gathering offered a unique opportunity to the youngsters and hoped hundreds more would go through the programme over the next few years. “I congratulate them all for their involvement and commitment.
“This is just the start of a long- term networking project that aims to connect young people, offering them the opportunity to learn more about each other.”
The initiative comes under the Patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has supported the scheme from the early stages.
Assem Kabesh, the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) CEO, said: “I truly expect Learning from the Future to become one of the most established human development initiatives in the region.”
Speakers at the workshop included Dr Tarik Yousef Dean of Dubai School of Governance, Marwan Tarazi from the Birzeit University, Bill Wedeking CEO of the Mowada foundation and Peace Professor at Bradford University, Paul Rogers.
Rogers gave the youngsters pause for thought on day two when he played out two scenarios that he said could happen by 2025. Rogers said that decisions made this decade would have a profound affect on the prosperity and security of future generations.
His dark world envisaged a doomsday scenario where attacks on oil fields, a London railway station and the Capital building in the United States were carried out by those affected by the Iraq war and the Burj Dubai was blown up by people suffering from the current food crisis. Students were surprised at the thought of such a gloomy world but were then given an opposite scenario by the professor.
In Rogers’ light world there was a new US President in 2010 who began withdrawing troops from Iraq and signed up to the Kyoto Protocol and civil societies tackled the world food crisis.
“Although there may be natural disasters with severe floods in Europe and hurricanes and drought in Africa, the response will be immediate. The years 2010 to 2020 will became known as the green decade,” said Rogers. “You have to look at what you can do to create an even better world,” he told the group of youngsters.
He also predicted that climate change would dominate the world. “Climate change will impact on China, which is why they need to act now to reduce emissions.”
Ahmed Al Qasimi, a 17-year-old business student from Sharjah, said it was an honour to take part in the forum. “It’s been a experience that I will never forget.
“People often underestimate youngsters, but if this [Learning from the Future] goes the way it is planned there will be more youth addressing important issues.”
Umar Kankiya, London Regional Co-ordinator for the UK Youth Parliament, who headed a group of young British leaders, said he could not emphasise enough how important organisations such as the YAL and the workshop were.
“It really is a bit of a cliché but it’s our generation that will make the future leaders of tomorrow, and these events go some way to helping to make that happen.”
The future leaders of tomorrow