Energizing. Powerful. Life-changing. No, I’m not describing the perfect caramel macchiato from Starbucks, but the One Young World (OYW) global summit that was held in Ottawa this past fall. Over 1,500 young people from around the world gathered together for four days to discuss health, peace and security, LGBTTQ* rights, education, and just about everything in between.
The Summit started off with a welcome event at Parliament Hill. There, we were introduced to the summit’s Counsellors – prominent global figures who led plenary sessions and encouraged us to think critically throughout the summit. This year, we were graced by the likes of Emma Watson, Kofi Annan, Sir Bob Geldof, and Cher (Cher!), among others.
My personal highlight of OYW 2016 was the plenary session on global extremism and terrorism. As a Global Political Economy major, I have a particular interest in these areas, especially when it comes to how affected individuals go on to affect their societies. Headed by Kofi Annan and Maajid Nawaz – a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir who is now co-founder and chairman of a counter-extremism think tank – we heard first-hand stories about what extremism and terrorism can do to a person. It was more than what you usually get on TV or in the news; these were personal stories of the pain, heartache, and confusion that can come with being a radicalist or the victim of one. Though I had spent years studying these topics as part of my degree, the session left me with another way of thinking about extremism, and showed me that rehabilitation is possible, even after a life of violence and terrorism.
Overall, One Young World 2016 was an eye opening experience. Could we have gotten more out of the Summit if we had more time to network and less rigid a schedule to follow? Yes. Could I have enjoyed a few more hours of sleep over the course of those four days? Absolutely. But what I came home with was invaluable: I was able to debate, create, and share ideas with people from all over the world. I got to watch fellow delegates publicly commit themselves to effect positive change in their communities. In the end, I was a part of a global movement led by youth who are tired of the status quo and ready to make a change. That is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.