FRANK KANE NEW YORK: Economic development is a key factor in deterring young people in the Middle East and elsewhere from becoming involved in violent extremism, a gathering of world leaders heard in New York.
A one-day youth forum on tolerance — held under the joint auspices of the MiSK Foundation, the Saudi Arabian philanthropic organization headed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the UN Development Program — was told that economic advancement would encourage young people to participate in civil society and peaceful dialogue.
Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi ambassador to the UN, told the forum that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 strategy aligned with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“Both have not only economic parameters, but are also about the potential in society, the environment and in justice. The Saudi strategy describes a vision of how to move from dependence on one commodity and how to develop a more coherent society with integrity in its approach to social issues, which are also the goals of the UN,” Al-Mouallimi said.
He highlighted the role of young women in the transformation. “Saudi women comprise 60 percent of the college population in Saudi Arabia, and they are going to come to the workforce and make a dramatic difference,” Al-Mouallimi said.
Bader Al-Asaker, secretary-general of the MiSK Foundation, said: “Our aim is to shine a light on the transformative power of youth, to lift them up and prove a platform for young people to create positive change.”
Michael Bloomberg, the media entrepreneur and former mayor of New York, said that he was in partnership with MiSK in Saudi Arabia to train young citizens in economics and finance. He said that the growing number of young people who live in cities, both in the Middle East and the rest of the world, would help promote tolerance and peace.
“Some people call them the millennial generation, but I’d rather refer to them as the metropolitan generation. Now 50 percent of the world’s population live in cities, and nothing has done more than cities to spread tolerance and peace in the world. Cities also encourage innovation and sustainable development,” he added.
Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Program, also stressed the role of economic development in nurturing tolerance. “For young people, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals means the possibility of attending school, having access to health care, participating in their civic and political discourse, and living free from conflict. It means having hope and prosperity.”
The one-day MiSK event in New York consisted of high-level panel discussions, speeches and workshops, with more than 20 youth leaders from round the world.
A senior adviser to MiSK said the event was part of the Kingdom’s global outreach program, and that there would be further cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the UN on specific development initiatives.
“The younger generation is driven by the desire to create an impact, and if you don’t give them opportunities in entrepreneurship they’ll find another way to do that,” the adviser said.
The MiSK-UN event, which was attended by more than 400 people from 60 countries, coincided with the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
A panel moderated by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and featuring former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright focused on the information revolution and what she called the “disaggregation” of news. Albright advised the young audience to be skeptical about the information they encounter, especially on social media.
Two other panels discussed the challenges faced by refugees around the world and how best to counter violent extremists. Panelists on the latter panel stressed the importance of engaging with youth and offering them a sense of hope and purpose.
One memorable moment came when Saudi writer Kawthar Al-Arbash recounted the moment she learned that her son had been killed after he stopped a suicide bomber from carrying out an attack inside a mosque in the city of Dammam. Her moving, personal account was met with a standing ovation.