(By Mayowa Salu)
“As a community development and youth advocate, I suggested that meeting basic needs of people are central to driving any change message, that you cannot preach climate change message to me when I do not know what to eat tomorrow, it just won’t sink. I also suggested that people of the world needed to be Godlier and less religious. The response I got was shocking and humbling with a participant asking me why I needed God when I have everything? I quickly said I meant that religion back home was now a political tool.“
A GLOBAL think-tank organisation, the Club of Rome, brought together 60 young people in the fields of research, politics, economics, science and development for a three-day brainstorming session on present multi-dimensional challenges confronting the world, what they hold for the future, and the possibility of salvaging the situation.
The gathering, themed Change the Course Conference (CCC), was held from December 7 to 12 in Winterthur, Switzerland, inspired by the avoidable tragedy of the RMS Titanic Ship, which sank in the Atlantic Ocean 200 years ago. Six youths were selected from Africa, two of them from Nigeria – Esther Agbarakwe and I.
For quick information, RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton, United Kingdom, to New York City, the United States (U.S.). The sinking of Titanic caused the death of 1,502 people in one of the deadliest peace-time maritime disasters in modern history.
Under the command of Edward Smith, her passengers included some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe, seeking a new life in North America. Due to the outdated maritime safety regulations, it carried only enough lifeboats for 1,178 people – slightly over half of the number travelling on the maiden voyage, and one-third its total passenger and crew capacity.
A public event was held at Winterthur Theater to welcome us, announce our arrival and mission. The next day, the Secretary General of the Club of Rome, Ian Johnson, and Jorgen Randers discussed briefly the Introduction to Systems Thinking and 2052: A Global forecast for the Next 40 Years respectively. We were divided into five groups, given a broad framework and a few guidelines as well as the huge task of producing outputs on where and how we could achieve change.
Our group discussion varied from climate change issues, local development challenges, economic and political contents of our times, global governance, the individualistic nature of humans, which is killing communal cohesion, and a rigorous assessment of the role of government in our lives.
Our first duty was to analyze the current challenges in the world. One startling revelation during the early stages of the group discussion sessions was the clear pessimism of almost all participants that the world was really going to hit the rocks soon and that we could do little. We gave examples of how our careless and exploitative activities have made it difficult for nature to cope with our demands, giving rise to natural disasters.
We spoke about the recent revolutions in the Arab world and its implications, and about the rising GDP level of most countries and a corresponding rising poverty level. Is GDP still a useable factor to measure economic success or prosperity? Can we replace GDP with GDH (Gross Domestic Happiness) or GDC (Gross Domestic Contentment)? What about corruption? We spoke about the rising unemployment situation in every country, and the rate and cause of deaths in this year alone. In short, pessimism soon became a central theme until a Yale University graduate halted us, warning that the purpose of the gathering was defeated if we took on that kind of attitude.
We simmered, but she was countered during the daily feedback rapporteur session by an Ethiopian, who said they experienced same challenge in her group but felt it was healthy to be pessimistic about the challenges. I particularly asked a fellow of the Club, Graeme Maxton, if he thought Capt. Edward Smith of the Titanic, who did not see the icebergs on time, could still have saved the ship despite full speed towards them. He put it very clearly: we still have to try.
The second day began on a positive note. Despite the seeming pessimism of participants and glaring indifference of major global stakeholders, especially the politicians and business leaders, is it still possible to change the course of the world? Who will do it? What would they need to do it? How much time do they have? Moreover, are there real chances of survival? Will there be lifeboats for the rich and influential alone if we do not change course?
We all argued vigorously about what the world needed at the moment and we soon realised that despite our friendliness and acceptance of each other’s background, we could not yet shake off the fact that our local challenges appeared the most urgent to us. Some ideas were summarily dismissed as soon as they were pronounced while others were robustly and intellectually argued out and listed. Of all the things I argued for, one issue was dismissed – and may be, ridiculed.
As a community development and youth advocate, I suggested that meeting basic needs of people are central to driving any change message, that you cannot preach climate change message to me when I do not know what to eat tomorrow, it just won’t sink. I also suggested that people of the world needed to be Godlier and less religious. The response I got was shocking and humbling with a participant asking me why I needed God when I have everything? I quickly said I meant that religion back home was now a political tool.
Soon, we voted on all suggestions and my Godly suggestion came last. Meeting basic needs and climate change were tops, with a basic principle that people should feel ownership of their community.
On the third day, we drew mechanisms on how to change course of the ship of the world to avoid the ice bergs, how to meet basic needs of people and preach the gospel of climate change with an underlying principle of making people feel ownership of their community.
We came up with five suggestions that were presented at the School of Management and Law, Zurich, and streamed live on the internet – collaborative platform for all participants: to sustain and drive the process of change; Young voices in mainstream media: to drive the positive passion and energy of youths, and possibly reduce the selling of negative news in our media outlets; Global art exhibition: to unite global artists, create and travel the world with one big and effective artistic impression of what change is, what change we want and what change can be about; Nurture young thinkers and leaders who can change the course of the world; and Ensure availability of funds for change-driven local projects.
We changed the (Change the Course Conference) CCC acronym to Commit, Communicate and Cooperate. I got two things from the conference: In Africa, we have left our work for God to do and, the notion our leaders are trying to sell to Nigerian youths that we are unfit and not ready to take over is not true.
Obviously, the three-day session was inadequate to answer all the questions the world has been unable to answer. Generations to come will continue to face similar or even greater challenges, but the danger is to neglect them or wish them away. We must all do something.
• Salu is a community development and youth advocate and just returned from Winterthur Zurich, Switzerland.
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