WCY2014: "You are not the policy makers of tomorrow, but of today"

Sarah Lindsay

Senior Technical Officer

World Youth Conference Opening

Streamed lived on Sri Lanka Television, the opening ceremony of the World Conference on Youth took place with plenty of pomp and circumstance today in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. Greeted by hundreds of traditional Sri Lankan dancers and musicians, over 1500 youth participants, aged 18-29, and 29 Ministers of Youth from around the world, gathered to celebrate the beginning of the conference with the goal to create an inclusive youth participation platform that reviews progress made on the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals and to share ideas, experiences, and innovative approaches for the post-2015 development agenda.  

The first time a World Youth Conference was held in Asia, this conference is of great significance to its host country. A country that emerged from three decades of conflict only five years ago and 26% of its population are below the age of 18.

“The experiences of the Sri Lanka conflict led to the realization that we should invest in young people,”  the first Sri Lanka Youth Delegate to the United Nations (UN), Jayathma Wickramanayake,  told the audience.  From the conflict there has come a paradigm shift, according to President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was on hand as the guest of honor.  “Youth were seen as beneficiaries, but now need to be seen as partners. The link needs to be made when it comes to policy making. Only by engaging youth will we understand their problems and their ideas, and ensure peace.”

However, the focus was on the future, not the past. Wickramanayake expressed enthusiasm for the goal of the conference saying, “How often do we get to decide the future?” Not being boxed in by the common saying that young people are the leaders of tomorrow, Wickramanayake stressed that, “You [young people] are not the policy makers of tomorrow, but of  today. You can lead the development goals of Post -2015.”

At the end of the conference, participants will produce the Colombo Youth Action Plan which will detail the priorities of youth in the Post-2015 development agenda which will be approved by the UN. The importance of this document to the UN was emphasized by John W. Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly. “It’s the future that belongs to you, not inherited by you. Your voices need to be heard,” Ashe told the youth delegates.

The Leadership, Management & Governance (LMG) Project is participating in a conference by hosting a side event with the International Planned Parenthood Federation and International Youth Alliance on Family Planning starting today, May 7th.