Looking Back at the Conference, and Looking Forward
It has been just over a month since the closing of the International Conference on Youth Volunteering and Dialogue. The participants have returned home, scattered to all corners of the world, yet the momentum that was generated that week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is still building. I believe Scouting has an important role to play in the developing plans.
The Final Declaration from the Conference, to which a lot of our Scouting representatives contributed, highlighted the need to cultivate an ethos for volunteering and dialogue that is rooted in solidarity, empathy, self‐confidence, critical thinking, respect and appreciation of diversity. It also emphasised the importance of the spirit of initiative and teamwork, disinterested action, patience, perseverance, the art of listening, and meaningful participation and recognition. In my opinion, this effectively sums up a lot of what our Scouting movement is about.
In his opening address, Mr Hans d'Orville, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Strategic Planning, spoke about the importance of giving youth-led movements a sense of agency, of enabling them to play their role as genuine partners instead of remaining as passive recipients. To quote him, “young people want to be part of the game, not only observers to it”. This emphasis on Youth Involvement echoes something which Scouting has been working towards since its foundation.
Mr d’Orville also outlined UNESCO’s new Operational Strategy for Youth, stressing the need for formal and non-formal education on active national and global citizenship, for the development of knowledge and technological skills across developed and developing countries, and – most importantly – for the elimination of social, cultural and economic factors that contribute to, and propel, oppression and inequalities. While Scouting cannot achieve this single-handedly, our models of non-formal education, of which volunteering and citizenship are such integral parts, have the potential to serve as templates for the rest of the world.
One thing which struck me during the course of the Conference was that volunteering was sometimes referred to as an external, almost stand-alone, idea – a problem was highlighted and then a plan was made to work towards fixing it. Volunteerism was talked about as something which needed to be promoted and cultivated. Here is one area in which Scouting excelled. To quote one of the Scouts participating in the conference “I don’t decide to spend a few hours every week volunteering, I’m a Scout, I’m a volunteer every day, it’s a part of what we do”. Dr d’Orville also spoke about volunteerism, saying that it is part and parcel of a world governed by a genuine feeling of belonging. Indeed, volunteering and service are integral parts of Scouting, which is exemplified in our Messengers of Peace initiative.
The other primary focus of the Conference was the importance of creating a new basis for dialogue. According to Mr d’Orville, “where words fail, violence begins”. He said that genuine dialogue implies active listening and a willingness to be challenged. It includes a multiplicity of voices and draws on respect for dissent. Only then can we achieve a truly collaborative argument in the pursuit of knowledge and maybe even of ‘truth’. Though not always explicitly, Scouting has a strong emphasis on the promotion and facilitation of dialogue. Intercultural and intergenerational dialogues are a primary focus of a lot of our work in recent years.
In the final paragraph of the Declaration of the Conference, participants reaffirmed their “commitment to creating open, welcoming spaces to improve the exchange of experiences and to establish new forms for sharing mutual learning, youth civic engagement and intercultural dialogue”. Our Scouting movement is committed to creating a better world. Sometimes we are become so caught up in our own projects that we forget to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. There are fantastic endeavours, projects, and initiatives of all kinds going on around us. It is important to step back and appreciate all of this great work, but most importantly we need to work to ensure that our Youth members are at the centre, enabled to be the driving force behind the inspiring work.
I will finish conclude with the final statement of the Declaration….We call upon the youth of the world to join us in our endeavour.