It was surreal standing on the stage in front of over 2000 participants and recounting an anecdote from my schooling years in Singapore when physical education lessons were cancelled because of the haze. I have been in the audience of so many environmental conferences, looking up to the people on the stage and assuming that only people who knew things were entitled to speak. Now, I was an MC at the Forests Asia Summit and I had a voice.
Being an MC at the Forests Asia Summit was huge because, being a young person myself, the Summit physically presented youth and adults as equals, sharing a space to co-produce ideas for the future. While youth usually appear on the sidelines of events, advocating for change, the youth voice was significantly louder at the Forests Asia Summit because youth were integrated into the agenda. From the youth session to Sarah Dickson-Hoyle’s speech at the closing plenary, we were empowered.
This sense of empowerment is important because youth are the main partakers of the future. As agents who will inherit the present and live with past mistakes, youth should be co-producers of decisions that affect our future. The roundtables at the youth sessions did precisely that by generating recommendations that were fed into the outcome document of the Summit. As a moderator for the roundtable on ‘Governance’, I saw the effectiveness of such co-production of knowledge.
Through the World Café style discussion — a technique that encourages contributions from every individual — the participants wrestled with the haze issue from multiple angles. A small-scale furniture producer related his difficulties of finding market demand for certified products. An American participant asked the Indonesian students in her group if her suggested method of establishing accountability would be feasible in Indonesia. Regardless of educational level and background, every participant had a unique area of expertise and wealth of experience that they brought to the recommendations that the group collectively produced.
The involvement of youth at the Summit served a further purpose: it built capacity. Unbeknownst to many there was a social media team of 80 young people, ninety percent of who were students from Indonesian universities, covering the conference through Twitter, Facebook, Storify and blog posts. Before the Summit, we went through a rigorous two-day training on how to utilize social media effectively. At the evaluation session the day after the Summit, many students excitedly stated that they would use the social media skills they had learnt, skills that are crucial in this 21st century, in their future campaigns and events.
When I realized the extensive efforts by a committed few to integrate youth into the agenda, I begged an explanation. The team replied, “Because you guys are a long-term investment.” Unlike many of the people I shared the stage with at the Forests Asia Summit, I do not have a PhD. But I do not need a PhD to know that commitment to youth is a long-term investment that pays off. Are you willing to make that investment?
Yi Ying Teh was a speaker and moderator at the Youth Session at the Forests Asia Summit. She moderated a roundtable discussion on key topics relating to the theme “Governance and legal frameworks to promote sustainable landscapes”.