OIC Young Leaders Summit: Engaging and Empowering Youth

It is a truism to say that the youth define the future, but now more than ever the youth are defining the present as well. Never before in the course of human history have there been so many young people: there are approximately 1.8 billion people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey to deliver remarks at the first-ever Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Young Leaders Summit, and to lead the U.S. delegation to the OIC’s Heads of State Summit. During the OIC Young Leaders Summit, dynamic youth from OIC member countries critically assessed the state of affairs of the more than 300 million youth they represented, and they highlighted crucial issues of concern for OIC heads of state to consider. This inaugural, historic Summit came at a critical moment: a time when over half of the overall population of the 57 OIC member countries is under the age of 24. 

Panel discussion during the OIC Young Leaders' Summit. [Photo courtesy OIC Youth Forum Facebook]

The OIC Young Leaders Summit was more than just another gathering of talented and ambitious young people snapping selfies. It represented an acknowledgement from the OIC that it must help address the challenges that young people in their countries are facing and mobilize their creative energies in identifying solutions. The OIC must cooperate with youth on pressing issues of bridging the gender gap, promoting peace, and preventing radicalization. And they have a responsibility to help empower, encourage, and create an enabling environment for participation from young people who represent the future of their countries. 

While there are huge challenges with such a burgeoning youth population, there is also unprecedented potential of economic and social progress if governments take the right steps to empower the youth. Young people are often at the forefront of various efforts to effect social change, and the Young Leaders Summit sought to encourage youth to direct these efforts toward positive engagement with their home governments. 

Delegates chatting at the OIC Youth Forum. [Photo courtesy OIC Youth Forum Facebook]

I believe that it is the young men and women around the world who bring fresh energy, new perspectives, and innovative ideas, and who will define our common future. The OIC must ensure that there are educational, economic, and political opportunities for youth. But young leaders must also take up their roles as sustainable and reliable partners with their home governments and civil society to produce more tangible, constructive outcomes. They must free themselves of disempowering narratives that foment division and disengagement, and embrace the reality that they control their own future. They must also hold their governments accountable in meeting their obligations and commitments to promote and protect universal human rights, a point that was also stressed by Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman.

Special Envoy Suleman discusses human rights and democracy promotion with Nobel Peace Laureate Tawakkol Karman. [State Department photo]

I was impressed that the representatives at the OIC Youth Summit presented a list of final recommendations that were adopted and approved at the OIC Heads of State Summit.  This is only the beginning of what I anticipate will be a broader OIC dialogue with youth, and I look forward to following how the OIC continues to engage and empower the young people in its member countries.

About the Author: Arsalan Suleman serves as the Acting U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the U.S. Department of State.

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Robyn D.
United Kingdom
August 1, 2016
I believe that here in the UK there are great opportunities for your people post Brexit. Sadly some of my students think otherwise, and only 40 per cent of 18-24 year olds voted in the referendum.
Ibrahim M.
October 4, 2016
Congratulation OIC Youth
Attendees pose for a group photo during the OIC Young Leaders' Summit. [Photo courtesy OIC Youth Forum Facebook]
Posted by Arsalan Suleman
April 29, 2016


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