Due to this year’s pandemic, the 8th Global Youth Forum was held online via Zoom on 24-25 October 2020, assembling 36 participants from 18 different countries. The main subject Acting on the Earth Charter allowed a rich exchange between young people and experienced professors, creating solutions and sharing awareness about several risks we are facing as a community, like the climate crises or social disparities.

Acting on the Earth Charter

The Earth Charter agreed 20 years ago after a long and wide consultative process among many representatives of civil society from around the world, provides an essential consensus document on the basic principles and values that should underlie humanity’s relationship to nature. It has four pillars: respect and care for the community of life; ecology integrity; social and economic justice; and democracy, non-violence and peace. It is an ethical framework for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations. It is a vision of hope and a call to action.

Faced with the complex problems besetting the world today, it is easy to see what is wrong with society and the economy, and the failure of leaders to respond to the crises now upon us. It is much harder to propose solutions, since many do not yet exist, or only in embryonic forms. It may even be difficult to see in what direction to move forward. The Youth Forum provided a place to consider these questions, to listen to others, and to help us to make up our own minds (and hearts). It is our generation that is inheriting the world. Preceding generations have made a mess of it. Drawing on the Earth Charter as an inspirational text, we explored questions and considered how we might apply some of these principles in practical actions.

Introductory speeches

Prof. Dr. Federico Mayor, President of the ECPD Council motivated us in his inaugural speech to use our voices, our free will to express ourselves, taking responsibility and sharing awareness of current issues, to take action for common change. He called on young people to be protagonists, to fully participate in this new era of digitalization. He underlined his statements with a quote: “If I participate I exist”. Since we have our voices, since we are able to participate, it is up to us as human beings to use this opportunity to overcome our problems, to visualise that we exist. Prof. Mayor emphasized that everything is feasible if we act together. Also, we have to treat our planet with kindness and pay close attention to the Earth Charter. At the end of his speech, he paid tribute to the work of the University for Peace of the United Nations, with ECPD being part of it, taking action and creating a culture of peace, which is the ultimate goal.

Prof. Dr. Francisco Rojas Aravena, Rector of the University for Peace in Costa Rica, gave a speech on how creating peace, acting on peace can be a road full of obstacles. Especially in these times, we are facing a global pandemic, increasing nationalism, xenophobia, climate change and lack of tolerance. To overcome such obstacles Prof. Rojas emphasized the terms “multilateralism, cooperation and solidarity”, and also the importance of the United Nations to provide for a sustainable and peaceful world. Multilateralism, cooperation and solidarity are linked to progress, which are guided by the 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals. He stated that It is up to each and every one of us to live in harmony within our community and our planet. Leaders for positive and sustainable peace are crucial and inevitable to secure democracy.

Dr. Ouided Bouchamaoui, Vice President of the ECPD Council and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2015 referred to the present difficulties with Covid-19, how it affects everyone’s life, especially human relations and those who have less, requiring total lockdowns and containment. Mrs. Bouchamaoui referred to Principles 9b and 14 of the Earth Charter when talking about childcare and education. Human beings are responsible to empower one another with education, providing social security for those who cannot support themselves. She called on us to take action together to enhance a sustainable and just world.

Prof. Dr. Arthur Lyon Dahl, Chairman of the 8th ECPD Global Youth Forum, encouraged the youth from the point of view of a systems scientist by highlighting ethical principles: the importance of values we set for our life as well as our purpose as a human being. Prof. Dahl emphasized our need to take action on the two guiding documents with values that have been universally agreed upon, the Earth Charter and the Sustainable Development Goals. He urged us to set our own values, to be creative, to let words lead to deeds and to inspire others to follow us. It is always the right time to do the right thing. After a quick welcome from the Organizing Team of the Youth Forum, the participants answered a few “IceBreaker” questions to get to know each other.

  • Where are you from?
  • What is your field of study?
  • One-word association with the Earth Charter.
  • What are your expectations of the 8th Youth Forum?

The first official session was led by Prof. Dahl with a workshop on how to live based on the values of the Earth Charter. Initially, he outlined the foundations of the Earth Charter, from its origins through its official adoption to personal implementation.

For a better workspace four breakout sessions were created, where questions presented by Prof. Dahl were discussed. The groups chose to work on the following questions from the concept note. Each group presented their results in the main session.

  • How might we design a local project or community consultation to make environmental conservation and rehabilitation integral to all local development initiatives?
  • What further efforts can we make in our own lives to eliminate discrimination in all its forms, such as that based on race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, religion, language, and national, ethnic or social origin?
  • How can we help our generation to recognize that peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part?

Ana Krmar, PhD Candidate Research Fellow at ECPD in General-Management, presented her paper on how the Coronavirus Pandemic challenges our new reality. She stated that our global social situation has become more complicated and people have to adapt to their new reality concerning social distancing, working from home, teaching from home, being quarantined, being aware of one's mental health. Also, that globalization has never been more visible than it is now. Therefore it is more important to take care of one another, to be more empathic in these uncertain times. After the presentation, questions were answered and participants discussed vividly if strong corona-restrictions are a necessity or a violation of individual human rights.

After the lunch break, Professor Naresh Singh joined the meeting for his workshop on Youth Self-Empowerment for action on the Earth Charter. He explained to the participants how and why to mobilize people around you. It became clear that the main focus in our society should be on how people are connected and unified instead of concentrating on how we differentiate from one another. Participants discussed self-empowerment in groups, from “design thinking, scenario planning to gentle action and transformation” how change can be envisioned and implemented. Prof. Singh’s workshop gave significant insights that youth and change are coherent and are a crucial part of the solution. However, this is not the definitive answer for global change.

Prof. Dr. Jonathan Bradley, President of ECPD Executive Board, took the time to talk to us about how to maintain our peace and clear identity in the difficult times that we are facing. He focussed on how we can implement the Earth Charter in our everyday life in order to keep our balance, including the balance of democratic systems. In order to do so, it is significant to restore our faith in political systems to apply the values of the Earth Charter properly.

The last session of the first virtual Youth Forum day ended with a Brainstorming Session led by Mohamed Alyatem, a civil engineer doing his master's degree in political science, with great expertise on conflict and peace studies. An open, interactive workspace was created by preparing open questions to discuss in groups, where everyone’s opinion was valued and mattered.

The second day of the youth forum was introduced by Dr. Roberto Savio, Director of ECPD International Relations, prominent journalist and publisher of The Other News - Voices against the tide. Dr. Savio outlined that we are living in a time of transition, a time where globalisation has become the main economic engine, where capitalism defines the new liberalism, and that it is time for us to rethink our neoliberal capitalist development model, due to its many negative outcomes. Globalisation reinforces the gap between rich and poor. With the economic crisis in 2009, Prof. Savio continued, the phenomenon of immigration combined with unstable countries has caused a central fear of uncertainty. People began to vote for parties of the right rather than the left; nationalist, xenophobic values started to rise. “Fear and greed” marked the central values of humankind. The pandemic we are facing at the moment increases the same problems, with more people becoming poor, losing their jobs. Massive changes in technology are generating horizontal communication, possibly causing confirmation bias which is dangerous for democracy. He emphasized at the end of his speech three major challenges that people have to combat:

  • climate change
  • threats to global peace
  • artificial intelligence.

We have to start treating our planet kindly and tackle global warming together. We have to join the fight against the climate crisis so that we can ensure a better planet for future generations. Peace is the absence of war, it brings values of how to create a world of common ground and mutuality. It is the basis of international relations, which is indispensable in our globalized world. We have to acknowledge artificial intelligence as a huge change with positive as well as negative aspects, where humans become data and objects. Prof. Savio concluded that people have to come together as activists, not as consumers, to believe in strong peaceful values of humanity. It is crucial to push cultural exchanges, cultural peace in order to help and understand each other.

Dr. Venera Gudaci, Assistant Professor at ECPD, continued with her presentation about Challenges of the field of education during Covid-19 and the digitalization opportunities in developing countries. She outlined important issues in the Balkan area concerning inadequate educational materials at home since homeschooling became a new reality in 2020. Quality education is a fundamental human right and a necessity for everyone. Dr. Gudaci raised awareness of the disparities in the educational system in developing countries. “Education is a foundation of just, equal, inclusive peaceful societies, and contributes directly and/or indirectly to all 16 Earth Charter Principles and 17 SDGs”. In summary, she called to stop the transmission of the virus and reopen schools, to protect and invest in education, to build resilient educational systems for sustainable development and to accelerate change in teaching methods. She empowered participants to be part of the Earth Charter community, endorsing it and making the Earth Charter values part of one’s daily life to ensure justice, inclusivity, innovation as well as sustainable progress.

The following presentation was by Silvia Pascual Fontanilles together with Adriana Chiva, two students of global communication management and members of the Blanquerna Observatory on Religion, Communication and Culture in Barcelona. Their inspirational talk approached Youth, Faith and Leadership formation in Portugal and Spain. Since Covid-19 affected many areas of everyday life, Adriana and Silvia pointed to the challenges in religious celebrations due to quarantine. New initiatives emerged, with young people being part of their creation by implementing YouTube channels, Instagram live videos as well as using Zoom or other digital platforms for religious conferences. They have shown how the lack of youth empowerment to lead change produces inequality within initiatives, and proposed ideas for actions and initiatives with a shared world language and the importance of formation and resources destined to the training of laypeople. Adriana and Silvia empowered participants to take action, to create leadership towards change by engaging with the community.

Divya Sree Muppichetty, a social entrepreneur with a master's degree in public health, joined us from India with her contribution to Permaculture. She started with a definition of permaculture, what it is and how it works, by bringing out the 12 principles of permaculture. Permaculture is a more holistic approach of farming, creates a more sustainable and environmental-friendly agricultural design, focussing on whole systems thinking and simulating patterns from nature:

  • care for the earth, helping all life systems continue to exist and multiply
  • care for the people, allowing people to access resources they need to survive
  • fair share, only taking what one needs and reinvesting any surplus

Divya explained the main difference between organic farming and permaculture which lies in the energy cycle. “A farm is an energy source, whereas a permaculture site creates an energy loop”. She raised awareness in new ways of thinking and acting on agricultural systems, which continue generating high yields and maintaining a current level of productivity, being often even easier and just as profitable as conventional farming, due to the usage of the principles of permaculture “allowing nature to work for you, instead of trying to work against it”.

Christian Sanabria Gonzalez, a young student and member of the Red Cross from Costa Rica, took the chance at this year’s youth forum to talk about an eco-friendly lifestyle and why governments should take actions to preserve the environment. Climate change, due to massive emissions and cheap non-environmentally friendly production, challenges the planet. Christian outlined that people have to come together and treat challenges as a shared problem to find new ways of helping the planet. It is not only crucial to empower the government in taking action by implementing new laws, educating about these issues, to only take what is necessary from nature, but also to be personally involved. Christian showed in his presentation how everyone can help in fighting against climate change: decreasing the use of plastic, using eco-friendly fashion (second-hand clothes), buying local products from farmers, waste separation, own gardening and most importantly sharing awareness and knowledge with people around oneself. It is a difficult task, however, as in a community, every small change is going to create a big difference in time.

Another highly topical issue was discussed by Aisosa Erhahon, a social scientist with great expertise in migration processes. She took the time to talk about the ongoing youth protests in Nigeria #EndSars, combining the spirit and values of the Earth Charter to raise awareness about this issue. Aisosa started with background information about Nigeria having the largest population of youth in the world with 202 million people. Ongoing challenges like lack of job opportunities, high poverty levels, regional inequality, as well as social and political unrest are big dilemmas in Nigeria. SARS is the acronym for the Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigerian police force, intended to tackle issues of robbery, kidnapping and violent crimes. Although it should protect the people and tackle issues, crimes were committed by the force. An online campaign named #EndSars was created in 2017 to spread the news on SARS committing crimes against human rights and killing people. Since nothing has changed during the years, peaceful protests began to rise again in October 2020 around Nigeria and abroad. Young people continued to mobilize each other through social media along with peacefully protesting in the streets against corruption and bad governance. The reaction of the government to the protests was violent and cruel and ended up with murder. Soldiers organized by the government were allowed to shoot peaceful protesters. The outrage was huge. The main target of the SARS protest was to create change and awareness in Nigerian society. Aisosa linked this protest with the Earth Charter by asking what it means for the youth around the world, how we come together to have an impact on bad, unfair governance. A great, interactive discussion started concerning the conflicts and what actions are needed towards change.

Prof. Dr. Tauno Kekäle, Co-Organiser of the Youth Forum, member of the ECPD Council, joined the Forum also on the second day not only as a participant but also as a speaker taking the time to say a few words about Youth-Industry-Municipality: Together for the future from Finland. With regard to what Federico Mayor had said on the first day of the youth forum in the inaugural session, Prof. Kekäle referred to his speech saying that everybody has a voice now, that participation is always possible and an indicator for people showing their existence through action and involvement. Prof. Kekäle addressed and motivated young people on how to use our voices and how to take leadership and action together by speaking up in our own cities, municipalities or political assemblies. He outlined a few examples of youth formation in Vaasa, illustrating one model of youth participation which included the formation of a youth council in their city government, discussing the same topics as the city council. He emphasized to always remember our voices and to use our intellect and the ability to participate rather than using violence, harming others.

Maria Melnikova, an MBA student at ECPD who joined us from Moscow, created together with Prof. Mila G. Vukov, who is a mental health psychiatrist in California, a workshop about how to maintain positive thoughts during challenging times and how good is our hope for a better future. Maria introduced an important topic about self-care and how to manage stress by inaugurating a “self-care-model”.

She has also highlighted the hierarchy of mental health needs, with the hope being at the top of the pyramid, along with implementing daily habits of self-care.

Prof. Vukov continued with her workshop focusing on “goodness is our hope”. Starting with a definition of goodness, she further explained the difference between kindness and goodness: “Goodness refers to the quality of being virtuous and morally good. The key difference between kindness and goodness is that kindness mainly involves being generous and considerate, and helping others whereas goodness involves righteousness in action or doing what is right”. She made an important remark on how goodness is a great source for change. It can be implemented and improved through a secure environment for children, parents engaging their children in reasoning when children have done wrong, parents being role models in expressing elements of goodness: compassion, altruism, morality, justice. Also, change in the educational system can be developed when focusing on goodness and moral values, with teachers and professors mentoring these values. We need a supportive attitude in society in addressing, understanding and changing racism, ethnocentrism, gender inequality by comprehending and assimilating the importance of goodness for the whole society. Furthermore, she introduced many outstanding personalities from the past and present, referring to a quotation that in challenging times we turn to the brave people from our history to receive strength and inspiration. Just to name a few, the South-African revolutionary political leader Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid, survived 27 years in prison and still emphasized unity between the country’s racial groups and his government. Jacinda Ardern, the 41th Prime Minister of New Zealand supports indigenous people and same-sex marriages.

There was Raoul Gustaf Wallenberg, a Swedish architect and diplomat, who saved tens of thousands of Jews in German-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust in Germany.

Inspired by all these courageous personalities, Mila Vukov concluded her workshop by asking the participants how goodness qualities can be developed in our community and society as a whole.

Closing session

At the end of the youth forum, participants were invited to reflect on the spirit of the days of the youth forum and think about how or if their expectations were met. The outcome was very positive as the Word-Cloud shows. The organizers also asked for overall feedback on the youth forum, and the results of the evaluation can be seen at the end of this report.

On behalf of the organizing team many thanks to everyone who took part in this year’s Youth Forum, participating, engaging in the workshops and discussions with people all around the world facing global issues, spreading awareness and finding potential solutions in creating a better world by being conscious of our universal responsibility, internalizing the principles of the Earth Charter for common and personal values.

Special thanks to Prof. Dahl, Prof. Lefkoff, Prof. Redekop, Mohamed Alyatem for supporting us and providing us with ideas, as well as helping us to organize the conference. We are deeply grateful for your efforts and commitment, that you always find the time to be involved with us.

We are looking forward to seeing you at the next Youth Forum on 23-24 October 2021, hopefully in person at the City Hall in Belgrade, Serbia. We would be more than happy to further connect and work with all of you on future projects. Please feel free to join our LinkedIn Group, to keep in touch and to create further important dialogues. To keep yourself updated you can also follow us on Instagram or Facebook for additional information.

With best wishes from the ECPD Management and Organizing Team of the 8th Global Youth Forum: Prof. Dr. Federico Mayor, President of the ECPD Council; Prof. Dr. Negoslav Ostojić, ECPD Executive Director; Prof. Dr. Arthur Dahl, Chairman; Hannah Wahler, Coordinator of the ECPD Youth Forum; Guglielmo Rezza, Team; Ingrid Hartmann, Full-time Intern at ECPD; Clara Umstätter, Team; Joseph Ngwarai, Team; Saskia Saliou, Team; Marco Boccaletti, Team.