Global Youth Assembly 2009: In Review

Over the past few days, I blogged about Craig Kielburger, the Apathy is Boring panel on politics, and Governor General Michaelle Jean at the Global Youth Assembly. I have also posted photos on Flickr and a video of the Governor General showing off her dance moves. Now, to wrap up, here are thoughts from sessions I haven’t already covered, as well as some general thoughts about the conference.

I attended a few excellent workshops, and a couple of less impressive ones. I’ll skip over the latter, and comment on the former.

On Thursday afternoon I attended a talk by John Siebert, Executive Director of Project Ploughshares. This was by far the most informative session I attended. Titled ‘Is Canada Still in the Peace Business?’, Siebert spoke about the changing nature of Canada’s foreign involvement from its latter 20th century tradition of peacekeeping to a practice he calls “peacebuilding”. Peacebuilding combines aspect of combat and peacekeeping, and reflects the nature of the conflicts we find our troops in.

The trend away from peacekeeping is prevalent throughout the west since 9/11. To put it in perspective, worldwide military spending in 2007 is estimated to be $1.3 trillion (US). The UN peacekeeping budget for that year was $6.8 billion, a fraction of what it was a decade ago.

On the Canadian front, our spending on UN peace operations has dropped an astonishing 90% this decade, from a high of $94 million in 2000/01 to $8.5 million in 2006/07 – Canada’s military spending in 2007 was $18.5 billion. Now, this is not to diminish our current contribution to the UN. We contribute a number of high-expertise personnel to UN operations on a regular basis.

Focusing on broader trends, Siebert also noted that the number of conflicts worldwide has dropped 40% since the mid-1990s. He attributes a lot of this to development aid, which he sees as reducing several of the factors that contribute to conflict. Overall, this was informative and engaging; I learned a lot about Canada’s current role in the world.

Delegates at the Global Youth Assembly 2009

Delegates at the Global Youth Assembly 2009

The first of two workshops on Saturday focused on campaign organizing. This was the most interactive of all the sessions I attended, which I greatly enjoyed. Led by Erin Harrison of the Canadian Labour Congress and Angelo Dicaro of the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the session intended to teach delegates the nuts and bolts of why and how we run campaigns. The crux of the workshop was a case study – the audience was given an issue, then split into groups. Each group was assigned a different aspect of the campaign, and asked to come up with a plan for how to handle it. While only given 10-15 minutes, it was an interesting exercise to come up with ideas, in particular because we didn’t know what the other groups were working on (this apparently happens regularly when organizing large-scale campaigns). This session was both informative and fun.

The second workshop, led by a Katherine Walhaven of TakingITGlobal, was about using Web 2.0 for social change. I’m familiar with the concepts of Web 2.0, and most of the material that was presented. It was, however, helpful to see a handful of successful Web 2.0 examples from the non-profit world, and to hear the ideas of the other delegates who were present, in particular how they use social media and some of the opportunities and downsides they see to it.

By and large I enjoyed the workshop sessions I participated in. There were a number of others I was interested in, but they unfortunately conflicted with these sessions. Ideally at future conferences, more sessions would be offered in more than one timeslot.

Keynote Sessions
I missed the Thursday and Friday morning keynote sessions on account of other commitments, but I caught all four keynote sessions on Saturday.

Josh Thome of 4Real and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society

Josh Thome of 4Real and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society

Saturday morning started with a session about 4Real, hosted by producer Josh Thome. 4Real is a television show that matches celebrities with community activists, taking them around the world to participate in the activists’ work. Thome talked about the show and showed clips from a few episodes, and covered his own history in activism as well. He was followed by two of the activists profiled on 4Real, Alyssa Dawamana Macy of NVision out of the United States and Liz Evans of the Portland Hotel Society in Vancouver, BC, who talked about their respective work. Aside from getting to watch clips of 4Real (which is a fantastic show, and likely a subject of a future blog post), I enjoyed Josh talking about the use of media to promote causes and involvement. He also promoted 4Real Flow, a tool to raise money for your favourite causes through the web.

After lunch, Dev Aujla spoke. Dev created his own non-profit, Dream Now, that helps other young leaders achieve their goals. Having seen him speak at a previous leadership conference, I was familiar with Dev’s work. On top of an overview of Dream Now, he provided a lot of valuable advice – in particular about the importance of asking questions, and about making a habit of working for change. His session had more of a “how-to” approach than the others, which made it incredibly valuable.

Ocean Robbins closed out Saturday afternoon. An activist since his teenage years, Ocean traced his (and his family’s) roots in various causes. Ocean has focused his work on environmental causes. He talked about what he sees as the biggest problem of our time, the notion that ‘we live separate from each other, and from the earth’. He also argued against materialism, saying that ‘by living more simply, we may find ourselves richer’.

Mariatu Kamara at the Global Youth Assembly 2009.

Mariatu Kamara at the Global Youth Assembly 2009.

Saturday night featured an Ethical Fashion Show. The real highlight, however, was a keynote address by Mariatu Kamara, a 23 year-old refugee from Sierra Leone. Kamara is an activist for peace, children, and women. She is also a victim of the diamond wards. At the age of 12, still living in her native country, she was kidnapped by rebel soldiers, who then cut off both her hands. She eventually escaped, found her way to Canada a few years later, and is now a college student, published author, and founder of a charitable foundation. Her incredible journey in overcoming hardship is inspiring.

Closing Thoughts
Overall, I had a great experience at the GYA; it has given me a lot to think about, and a lot of ideas and experiences to draw on going forward. I got to know some interesting people, I participated in some really engaging workshops, and I listened to some inspiring speakers. The speakers and presenters were awesome, and the delegates were as well – as evidenced by the talent they showed off at a couple of open mic sessions.

Global Youth Assembly 2009 delegates having fun in between sessions.

Global Youth Assembly 2009 delegates having fun in between sessions.

In my experience, the most valuable part of a conference is always the informal interaction with other delegates outside of the sessions. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a lot of this time. Since it was in Edmonton, I wasn’t staying at the hotel with most of the other delegates, and I had a few other commitments over the three days, which meant I didn’t have much time to spend at the conference outside of the sessions. I definitely missed being fully immersed in the conference, which for me is always one of the best parts. On top of this, much of the informal time during the days was taken up by sessions running over time.

The third installment of this conference is scheduled for 2011, and will be held in Winnipeg – the first time it’s outside of Edmonton. I’ll be right on the cusp of the advertised age range (depending on which days they pick for the conference), but I hope to be involved in some capacity. This is a great initiative, and I’ll continue to support it and be involved however I can; I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do so as well.


2 Responses

  1. Hi Alex,
    Thanks so much for your insightful blog posts. It was great to re-live the GYA along with you.
    I also enjoyed the GYA, and am looking forward to an even better one in Winnipeg in 2011.

  2. Thanks Elana! Glad you enjoyed the conference and my posts. Hopefully see you in Winnipeg in two years.

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