Appointed Special Envoy for Youth by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in January 2013, Ahmed Alhindawi, 29, has been involved in youth action on a local, regional and international level for a long time.
We caught up with him at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum to ask him a few questions.
What is your opinion on the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum?
I think that the forum is very important for young people around the world in general and for Arab youth in particular – we have witnessed the events of the last three years, led by Arab youth who were the main driving force behind the change in many Arab countries.
The Youth Forum brings together youth organizations from all over the world, with huge opportunities for Arab youth to put forward some of their agenda and some of the key issues that are important to them in the international arena. This will hopefully be reflected in the work of UNESCO through its plans to work with young people in the next 10 years.
The fact that the forum takes place just a week before the UNESCO General Conference – an event that is attended by representatives of all governments around the world – allows young people to submit their recommendations directly to government representatives. Young people have a clear vision for building a better world. Over 1300 youth-led action projects were submitted for the “UNESCO Youth Forum label” competition; 45 have qualified for the final stage, and of these, 15 projects will be selected with official support of UNESCO.
What do you think are the obstacles that hinder the integration of young people in the Arab world?
Youth sometimes make up over 70 per cent of the population in some Arab countries. I think that one of the main obstacles to their participation is the absence of mechanisms that could allow them to effectively participate in the decision-making process. We need to create these mechanisms to effectively bridge this gap for youth participation in public affairs.
We saw young people in many demonstrations in Arab countries, but perhaps the transition from the streets and squares to institutions and political and parliamentary action was not a smooth one in many cases.
Young people need to take the initiative and organize themselves, either through civil society organizations, or through political parties, and to regularly publish and promote their agenda. There are also some obstacles regarding the laws – sometimes there are laws that do not enhance the participation of young people, and to be here to discuss these kinds of laws is not only politically important, but also economically so for many young people, especially those wanting to open small businesses.
A final point, we need more of a culture of volunteerism and I urge young people to also play a role through volunteering.
Do you think that this culture of volunteerism exists in the Arab youth?
Social solidarity is a key tenet of Arab culture. The idea of volunteering exists in Arab culture and in Arab countries, such as work relief for the needy, but we need to encourage this for the overall development process and not only in emergency situations.
What skills do Arab youth need the most today?
The kinds of work available today require personal skills such as the ability to communicate effectively and take initiative. To open a small business, for example, you need the hard skill of writing a business plan, but also you need personal skills of leadership. Generally speaking, we need to enhance the skills of young people to establish small-scale projects I think this aspect is very important.
Finally, you are a young man, how do you see equality between boys and girls in Arab societies?
There are important steps achieved by the Arab region in promoting the participation of girls. In many Arab countries, there are more girls than boys enrolled in higher education, but this doesn’t transfer into the field of work. It’s important to note the level of male control that can exist in the labor market, especially in senior positions, and I think it's important to have an enhanced role for girls and women to take advantage of opportunities in education and at work.