The Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Albert Ramdin, today concluded the Second Conference of Youth in the Americas with an appeal to the governments of the region to make a special effort to create opportunities for new generations. The meeting, which took place at the headquarters of the Organization in Washington DC, opened a discussion forum for the youth of the Hemisphere on issues that affect this segment of society, including politics and new technologies.
The senior OAS official warned that "if we do not act as States, then we are running the risk of creating a major problem for the future." In every single country of our region, the majority of our people are young, under 35 years of age. Imagine a scenario where these young people do not have a job, but they still need to live, they still need a house, need transportation," he continued.
Assistant Secretary General Ramdin emphasized that "what we need in our countries is a productive workforce, made up of people who understand it is up to them to create jobs or to contribute in a positive way." Without that key fact, he added, "if they do not take care of their young people today, all member states will have a problem."
The second-in-command of the hemispheric Organization, whose office organized the Conference, concluded by warning that the danger increases because in addition to the lack of opportunities there are other threats such as crime, violence and drug trafficking, which "impact youth, and youth is involved in them. We don’t want that, we want new generations involved in productive activities, taking care of themselves and society."
For her part, the President of the Directing Council of the Inter-American Children’s Institute, a specialized agency of the OAS, Gloria Lozano, said the outcome of the Conference "will help to better understand the issues to be considered in public policies and initiatives that promote investment in the youth of the region." Listening to young people, she added, is "a priority, in that we can’t build policies without them, we cannot achieve representative democracies without them," and by working with them "we establish more just and inclusive societies."
Lozano added that, from the experience of the organization she leads, it is "necessary to establish, strengthen and promote the link between institutions and other national and international actors to promote the exchange of opinions and knowledge within the right to participation, as everyday practices in the areas of youth, the family, schools and the community."
Meanwhile, Luis Viguria, CEO of the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT) – an institution associated with the OAS, highlighted the role played by the Organization in "identifying the importance of working with young people, because they are the basis for competitiveness in our nations for economic development, and if we don’t unite our efforts to support them, we will not make much progress." He also stressed the importance of multisectoral partnerships "for the development of youth as a cornerstone for the growth of our countries."
Finally, Viguria called on those attending the meeting to follow the Organization through YABT to make public their concerns with a view to next year’s Conference, and "to tell us what we will do in the following days, months and years and how we can ensure that young people feel more invested in and more present in our societies."
Panel 1: "The Responsible Use of Technology: Democracy and Privacy in a Modern World"
The first panel, moderated by José Luis Piñar, International Expert on Data Protection from the San Pablo-CEU University in Madrid and former director of the Spanish Agency for Data Protection, focused on the "Responsible use of technology: democracy and privacy in a modern world." Upon introducing the panelists, Piñar said it is important to note that technology is not only faster than ever, but also "feeds back on itself," so that its development grows at an increasingly fast rate. In that environment, the responsible use of technology requires "clear rules, global or regional rules that are, neutral, reasonable, applicable, that are likely to be imposed, and that are developed with the joint participation of not only politicians but also of lawyers, technicians, stakeholders and above all, young people."
Pedro Less Andrade, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Google Latin America, said that "today the Internet is a fundamental part of our world," but it is important, said Less Andrade, to recognize the differences in perspective between the "digital migrants" - those who experienced the birth of the Internet and had to adjust to the new technologies, and the "digital natives." those born with the use of internet and mobile phones. Given that the "digital migrants" who generally make the rules that govern the use of the Internet, the best path to follow on regulation are forums for the exchange of views between the "digital natives" and "digital migrants," he said.
Marisol Pérez Tello, former President of the Justice Committee of the Congress of Peru, emphasized the importance for democracy of the freedom of expression, and the key role that technology plays in it. "The Internet, social networks, and the dialogues we can have on Facebook or Twitter now mean that freedom of expression is guaranteed through mechanisms other than traditional ones, and that the state's role is shrinking." But new technologies also bring new challenges, said Pérez Tello, such as the need to protect privacy; to have proportionality in terms of regulations that may be imposed by the state; and to establish self-regulation among people expressing opinions in the virtual space.
Daniel Diaz Leyva, Partner and Director of Business Development for "Infante Zumpano," said that "technology has had a profound positive impact on democracy" but also recognized that "it is clear that it is not without flaws." "Technology has been one of the most empowering resources we’ve had across the globe;" said Diaz Leyva, adding that "transparency has become paramount in the world of technology." As for the challenges, the leader of Infante Zumpano emphasized the need to "promote continued transparency." In all public policy debates on technology, said Diaz Leyva, "youth are at the core of the debate, and are at the forefront of technological advances," and their opinions have to be part of the process of policy formulation.
Juan David Hincapié Gómez, President and Founder of the Foreign Affairs Institute, said his organization decided to ally with the new technologies "because this allowed us to generate international forums and seminars, and to reach young people with new tools that allow them have the necessary conditions to participate in the social events of the future." He explained that the Institute conducts international conferences in which experts debate and discuss with young people through "chats" and interactive conferences, and has created a network of young leaders that allows new generations to interact and communicate with young people in other countries, "supporting strengthened community building."
Melvin Bouva, Member of the National Assembly of Suriname, said that "advances in information technology have revolutionized the way people communicate and learn." He explained that his government has used the Internet to encourage young people to share their ideas and opinions, but warned of challenges in privacy protection involving rapid technological changes in the world. In closing, he stressed that "we can’t deny that more than ever the time has come for global connections between people and their environment to shape the landscape and to determine our future.”
Panel 2: "Game Changers of the Americas: Making a Difference"
The second panel, moderated by Shelly Dass-Clarke, Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, focused on "Game Changers of the Americas: Making a Difference," and brought together a number of personalities from the Americas who achieved professional success at a young age.
Tomicah Tillemann, Senior Advisor on Civil Societies and Emerging Democracies at the United States State Department said that "it has never been easier or cheaper in all of human history to bring people together around common ideas and allow them to participate in political life or civil society." He stressed the importance that governments create conditions for innovation and creativity to flourish, but also highlighted the importance of the role to be played by the private sector and civil society. "To the extent we see meaningful change in the world these days, it almost always occurs at the intersection of government, civil society and the private sector. And you need all three sectors working together in order to bring about meaningful results," said Tillemann.
Gabriela de la Garza, Senior Sustainability Manager for PepsiCo Latin America Beverages also stressed the importance of good relations between the state and business. "I believe that public-private partnerships are key, and working together is the way to go," said De la Garza. The PepsiCo Manager pointed to the experience of her company in the Eco Challenge, sponsored by the OAS, in "inviting the young people of the Americas to create businesses that can solve environmental problems, and here our objective is twofold: first, to support entrepreneurship in the region, and second, to respond to the idea that companies and environmentalists cannot work together."
The Chairman of Blue Waters Limited, Dominic Hadeed, said that when he founded his company, "my age was both a hindrance and an opportunity." He urged the young people to "do the best you can with what you have," without waiting for help from their governments. "Sometimes governments are tailwinds, you’ll get a push from them in the right direction; and sometimes they are headwinds, they will stop you getting to where you would like to go. So don’t depend on them, just note when you have to push a little harder against them and note when they are in your favor, and make the most of the opportunity," Hadeed said.
For his part, Claude Zdanow, Founder and CEO of Stadiumred said that, in his opinion, "for young people, there are a lot of barriers to entry" into politics, which combined with a feeling they don’t have the ability to make changes, winds up discouraging many definitively. In terms of public-private partnerships, he said that "if there were certain things put into place to improve responsiveness and communication, there are a lot of things that could be done to support what most of us are trying to do to boost the economy or create new jobs and I think that’s where the focus should be. It should be on creating incentives and partnerships for those young entrepreneurs to be able to communicate effectively and have a partner that is responsive" to their needs.
Jason Jannati, Founder and CEO of GreeNEWit Energy, said his youth served as an advantage in starting his company, because it helped him attract mentors. For many young people, said Jannati, politics feels like an environment "in which the script has already been written," and decisions already taken. In terms of partnerships, Jannati said the most important thing is not to know the strengths of the partners, but their weaknesses, to see if the relationship can be complementary. He said he has learned from his experiences that "much of leadership is knowing where you want to go. The quality of answers is dictated by the quality of the questions."
Eduardo Guzzardi, Institutional Relations Manager for Walmart Brazil, said that "age matters as much as you allow it to matter." "If someone tells you you can’t do something because of your age, don’t believe that. If it's something you really want to do, it’s up to you to shape the conditions of your environment go after it." As for the relations between governments and society, he said that "the concept of shared responsibility between government, business and civil society in general is very important for solving the problems we face with youth in the 21st century. I don’t think any of the major problems we face can be solved by one sector alone. "
Following the panel discussions, government officials from Suriname, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis spoke briefly of the experience of youth in their countries. The Youth Conference of the Americas brings together youth organizations, students and stakeholders from across America to exchange views with business and government representatives on issues affecting the 534 million young people living in the Hemisphere. The 2012 Conference was held under the theme "Youth in Action for Democracy and Entrepreneurship."
A gallery of photos of the event is available here.
The B-roll of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.