The Organization of American States (OAS) opened today at its headquarters in Washington, DC, the Youth Conference of the Americas, with the participation of the OAS Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza; the Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin; and the First Lady of Panama, Marta Linares de Martinelli, all of whom recalled the important contribution that young people make to the development of the nations of the Hemisphere.
Secretary General Insulza welcomed the attendees and panelists, and stressed the importance of the meeting and the need for governments to provide the means to ensure that young people “truly are the future." He noted that "overall, it is said that the Americas are favored by the so-called 'demographic bonus,' which takes place when the proportion of the population that is of working age is growing faster than the dependent population of school age or retirement age." The advantage of the communities that experience this condition, he said, “lies on the fact that they have a higher proportion of their populations in conditions to save, invest, work and produce, while increasingly fewer people require investments in education and health. "
He cautioned, however, that the "demographic bonus" runs the risk of being wasted due to the precarious conditions and lack of access to opportunities facing the new generations of the Hemisphere. He recalled that "while our societies expect young people to contribute to the future, those same societies are offering them no future" and said that "right now between 20% and 25% of the young people in the world nor study nor work," a trend that has sometimes forced many of them to opt for the desperate path of crime, violence or drugs.
In this context, Secretary General Insulza expressed his hope that dialogues like the one held today at the OAS "serve to advance the search for ways to respond to these and other pressing questions that present themselves when we face the issue of youth."
The head of the hemispheric institution said the Organization has long been working on forging a future for new generations, and recalled that the thirty-eighth session of the General Assembly, held in Medellin, Colombia in June 2008, had the theme "Youth and Democratic Values." Along this line, Insulza stressed the importance of the Talent and Innovation Competition of the Americas, organized by the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT), an institution associated with the OAS that in the last eight years "has supported 24,301 young people from the Hemisphere and has allowed for the development of more than 8,400 business projects, of which 91% have been implemented."
The First Lady of Panama, for her part, stressed the importance of youth as agents of change and referred to the government initiatives taken in her country in the area of education "with the firm belief that knowledge is power." "If we want young generations to have critical minds, to propose policies and take an interest in the future of the country, the state’s responsibility must always be focused on strengthening important pillars such as education and health," she said.
The wife of the President of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, said that "stability of our nations and the prosperity and sustainability of our economies depends on the participation and contribution of young people, on taking advantage of their inventiveness and imagination." "It is in the stage of youth when we have the energy, passion, boldness and daring needed to make transformative changes," she said, and added that the great inventions and achievements of the last century were produced by young people.
In her address, the First Lady encouraged those attending the conference to continue participating, exploring and innovating to create solutions to the current problems of humanity. "Always remember that it is important to move from conceptualization to implementation of your ideas. We owe the advances that have improved our quality of life to the audacity and hard work of past generations, especially young people," she said, and concluded by noting that "this conference is an opportunity to expand your professional networks“, encouraging them to assume the responsibility to make their generation “a generation of peace, harmony and economic development."
In introducing the Conference, Assistant Secretary General Ramdin, who leads the OAS Interdepartmental Working Group on Youth Issues explained that the event aims to be a space for young people to present their views and thoughts on the challenges and opportunities surrounding the responsible use of technology, with a focus on democracy and privacy, and the potential for transformation that be generated by the agents of change in the Hemisphere. He also explained how the event would take place, and its conclusions will be presented at a special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council.
After the opening session, Secretary General Insulza presented an award to the First Lady in recognition of the project led by her office on early childhood development.
The Youth Conference of the Americas is an event that 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 gallery of photos of the dinner hosted by the OAS in honor of the First Lady is available here.
The B-roll of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.