Not Your Average Youth Conference – Matt’s Recap from this Morning’s Opening

The opening session of today’s Youth Employment Forum was anything but ordinary. As over 150 guests and participants shuttled into the ILO Library this morning, a few perplexed looks spread over many faces. The standard scene of formal seating and faceless placards was nowhere to be found. In its place, cups of colored pencils rested playfully on a dozen round tables, each dotted with balloons. It was easy enough to read their minds, “Am I in the right place?”

Fortunately for them, it was. Following a brief introduction, forum facilitators Emil Chireno and Elodie Goury jumped in to get things moving…literally. Guests were instructed to move to four different corners of the room, each representing north, south, east and west. As each person found his or her place, Emil and Elodie glided across the room like a pair of talk show hosts. With mic in hand, the two MCs for the morning put participants in the spotlight, introducing the audience to a host of new faces from the get-go.

While all that action certainly shaved off a few calories, conference organizers had more in mind than waistlines. In his opening remarks, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia explained to rows of eager eyes and ears that movement gives “a sense of what this meeting is all about.” By bringing together youth from all corners of the world, the forum aims to give young people the chance not just to listen, but also to be heard.

From the few stories shared over the course of the morning, participants illustrated the stark situation faced by young people worldwide. Professor Ola El-Taliawi of the American University in Cairo relayed some of the bleak figures covered in a recent ILO report, “The Youth Employment Crisis: Time for Action.”

99% of Zambian youth employed in the informal sector…4 out of 10 young people unemployed in Greece and Spain…26% of highly-educated youth in the Middle East unable to find work.

With such startling statistics, Somavia pointed out that today’s youth feel disconnected and disillusioned by a system that treats work “like a commodity.” Faced with the difficult choice to “swim against the current,” he urged participants to continue fighting for a world that includes decent work for all.

“Am I in the right place?” For those ready for change, the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”