This was an opportunity for the voice of young South African leaders to be heard on current global challenges.
The year’s conference focused on the seventeen proposed United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which serve as the basis for the Post-2015 global development agenda. Learner delegates discussed and debated the cross-cutting issues, and hosted their own UN-style negotiation sessions in three thematic consultation committees: Economic, Environmental, and Social.
The SAIIA Young Leaders Conference (YLC) forms part of Youth@SAIIA’s programmes for high schools. Each learner delegate was assigned a research perspective to report on to the rest of his or her committee. Research perspectives were based on work learners had done throughout the year in SAIIA’s Environmental Sustainability Project, Model United Nations and Inter-schools quiz programmes. Their work reflected the multiple stakeholder groups that were connected to their committee theme. The negotiation process provided learners with a platform to produce workable and realistic solutions.
The negotiations, which were held on 1, 2 and 3 December at SAIIA, culminated in the handover of the 2014 SAIIA Young Leaders Declaration on 4 December at the Department of Environmental Affairs. Representatives of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, the Department of Basic Education, and the United Nations were also in attendance to formally receive the declaration.
Photos from the conference are now online.
During the handover ceremony the delegates described their journey to the YLC, gave their insights on the negotiation process, and provided key points from each of their committees. Jude Wells, of Claremont High School in the Western Cape, described the creation of the declaration as ‘a long and challenging journey.’
Discussing the negotiations, Phemelo Ndlovu, a delegate from Gauteng-based Orlando West High School in Soweto said: ‘Luckily through logical and diplomatic thinking we were able to make compromises to ensure that the issues being discussed were tackled to the best of our abilities. It is through compromise and consensus that we were then able to create the declaration being presented today.’
Some of the areas in which the delegates offered recommendations include: energy consumption, environmental sustainability, poverty eradication, unemployment, infrastructure, education, and the inclusion of children and youth in policy making.
Ms Helene Hoedl, Director of the United Nations Information Centre in South Africa, who received a copy of the declaration on the behalf of the UN, was impressed by the dedication and energy of the young delegates who negotiated at times through the night. She said their experiences during the negotiations resembled that of diplomats in the UN who also often spend nights negotiating text to ensure that they reach consensus.
‘It is always heart-warming when I get the opportunity to sneak out of the office and come join young people shaping the future,’ she added.
Receiving the declaration on behalf of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Chief Policy Advisor for Sustainable Development Mr Tlou Ramaru welcomed the youth’s input. Mr Ramaru described the declaration as a document of high quality, saying the department would incorporate the recommendations into South Africa’s work on the Sustainable Development Goals.
The work of this year’s delegates will now continue in SAIIA’s newly formed Youth Policy Committee.
The 2014 SAIIA Young Leaders Conference is made possible by the generous support of Sasol and Absa.