The third edition of ‘Investing in Future’ (IIFMENA) conference has got off to an impactful start today (Wednesday) with comments from His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah; Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF); Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of TBHF; recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nadia Murad, and other senior dignitaries on how the international community must reintegrate efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the youth in the region, save them from becoming prey to violence and extremism, and offer them a real chance to participate in peacebuilding and community building efforts.
Addressing the 3,000 attendees at the opening ceremony, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Muhammad Al Qasimi said: “Dear participants, we are pleased to have you here at the third edition of the Investing in the Future conference, which dedicates itself to the challenges and opportunities of the youth in MENA region. Girls and boys are the pivots of development in the world. It is our duty to protect their rights, save them from the negative influences of extremist forces, and offer them an environment that supports their growth and allows them the right opportunities to build their futures. We can make peace and prosperity the reality for future generations.”
His Highness Sheikh Sultan added: “IIFMENA will explore the best ways to promote short-term and long-term rehabilitation and promotion of youth skills and opportunities in the region. Today’s world competes to acquire and use knowledge to further growth and prosperity. This conference seeks to do the same by focusing on protecting youth interests and find the best practicable solutions for their problems.”
Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi thanked and welcomed participants through a recorded message. She said: “It is time to invest more efforts to shape the youth’s potential, intellectual capabilities and, most of all, regain their confidence in us – the international community. This confidence can be furthered when we show them through our efforts that we are with them; when we believe in their ability to lead change and give them the right opportunities to do so.”
Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher added: “I pay special tribute to all young people here. This conference is your platform to express yourself freely, and Sharjah is your city. We call upon all of you to be our partners in decision-making. Tell us how you want to shape the future of your world because no one knows better how these wars and conflicts impact you. No one knows how to defend your rights better than you do.”
The floor was taken up next by the TBHF director who emphasised the UAE’s and Sharjah’s role in investing in people, especially the youth. She said: “Welcome to the UAE and to Sharjah, which harnesses all efforts and potential to serve and support people worldwide, and has established goodness as an identity – as an end and a mean. Inspired by the vision of our Ruler and with the support of his wife, we have furthered our determination to becoming an incubator of youth and their ambitions.
“We meet to translate TBHF’s vision to support victims of crises and poverty, and bring together the youth, decision-makers, international organisation and civil society representatives to make their challenges the foundation of this two-day dialogue. We are all here to develop the vision and insight that will serve as inputs to creating practical and tangible solutions, enabling governments and allied organisations to be more effective in handling the region’s crises by being more sensitive to the needs of its youngest victims.”
After Al Hammadi’s address, all heads turned towards Murad, the young Yazidi woman from the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, who was held as a sex slave by ISIS. IIFMENA 2018 is her first public appearance after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.
The 25-year-old activist said: “I share the Nobel Peace Prize not only with my co-recipient, Dr. Mukwege, but with the Yazidi community, Iraqis, Kurds, and all persecuted minorities and victims of sexual violence around the world. I recently committed to donating 100% of my Nobel Peace Prize money to the SAF, but a single prize, and a single person cannot accomplish these goals. I stand before you today to call on all governments and non-governmental organizations to join us in our efforts. If we are united in this fight, we can make a difference.
“Rebuilding and protecting minorities is a choice. The global community can make the right choice! Let humanity unite us. For hope and humanity is the choice we can give our children – it is what our children deserve.”
The high-level opening also heard from HE Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills; HE Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the Arab League; and HE Hessa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development.
Aboul Gheit highlighted the role of leveraging communication technologies to empower youth and equip them to take on future challenges and opportunities. He said: “The most important issue facing society today is the youth, and the biggest dangers are the gaps between generations, which leads to a separation between generations and hidden conflict. Today’s generation can’t imagine a world without instant communication; they have access to any amount of knowledge and information on their fingertips. Our children are becoming part of a workforce growing increasingly dependent on communication via digital technology. They will need to be better educated in the field.
“The education, culture and media institutions in the region have a duty to help youth to cope with and understand today’s era. They must arm them with information and awareness, and help them with ideas related to education. So many youth today are not ready for failure, they are not prepared to try more than once to overcome their challenges.”
Gheit spoke about the importance for more science programmes in the region, and the need for improved science literacy, for greater education relating to climate change and AI. He also said that education systems in the region need to do more in years of early education to build the youth’s patriotism.
“Knowing the Arabic language and history is key in our culture,” he added.
HE Hessa Buhumaid remarked: “The UAE’s National Committee’s strategy for 2030 focuses on youth; how to improve their lives and hand them better opportunities. The recent government summit has encouraged the youth to participate in decision-making activities. It has also opened the way for youth to take part in the government’s work. We need to be more open to issues that are of interest to the youth.”
Acknowledging the conference’s fitting venue in Sharjah, the ‘education destination’, Al Falasi said: “The efforts of the UAE in the education sector is based on international best practices; a great example of this is the recent e-learning initiative launched by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. The e-learning initiative allows 50 million Arabic students worldwide access to educational programmes in Arabic. Through education we will lay the foundation for a knowledge-based future where the youth in the region will be at the forefront of development.”
60 speakers, 600 senior officials, diplomats, rights advocates and experts, and young representatives of the SOS Children’s Villages and other youth organisations are partaking in IIFMENA 2018 organised by TBHF, a global humanitarian body dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide. Themed ‘Youth: Crisis Challenges and Development Opportunities’ the two-day conference will run its course at the Al Jawaher Reception & Convention Centre (JRCC) in Sharjah.
The opening ceremony today (Wednesday) was inaugurated with a video that encapsulated the achievements of the past two editions of the conference, which were dedicated to the protection of child refugees and to the empowering women in society and economy through equal opportunities.
The two-day IIFMENA 2018 conference is organised by The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), a global humanitarian body dedicated to helping refugees and people in need worldwide. It is being held in partnership with the United Nations and other local affiliates, under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, and his Wife, HH Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Chairperson of TBHF.