Youth engagement and the future of sustainable development

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

As the airport’s sliding doors glided in opposite directions and I set foot on Saudi soil for the first time, the air overwhelmed my face with a dry warmth; a weather very different from the cool breeze I left behind in Toronto. For a brief moment, I thought about the fact that the weather was so warm despite it being 12 a.m. in the morning. My mind then drifted to my feelings of excitement and gratitude to be able to attend a UN Climate Week event. Through the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), I was able to attend the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Climate Week 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as a delegate for the youth summit.

The conference was very insightful and covered a wide array of topics related to sustainable development and climate action. The youth sessions were quite interactive and centered on the voices of young people and their engagement. A session that particularly stood out to me was a session hosted by YOUNGO where we discussed challenges and opportunities for the future of youth engagement in climate action. The room was filled with youth from around the world and private and public sector representatives. At the table I sat at, we were able to provide feedback on a project two private sector representatives shared. To experience firsthand the impact of the youth voice and our collective contributions was inspiring. 

I also had the opportunity to sit on a panel at the conference alongside notable individuals both in the private sector and in development practice-related fields. The panel was titled Ambitions for the Future of Sustainable Tourism: The Big Picture and I was able to share my perspective on how youth can be better engaged. My position on this panel was informed by the conversations I had at the hotel lobby with students from other countries on the first day of the conference. With the Malaysian students, I got the chance to revive my Bahasa language skills and reminisce about my experience living in Malaysia. We discussed what sustainable development meant to each of us in our respective fields of study, and what it would take for us young people to engage in practical action. After conversing with them and other student groups, I found that a common idea was that educational institutions have a role to play in this process. For example, they can provide resources for students to establish small-scale projects that target development challenges and leverage their networks so students can scale their projects to make the biggest impact. There is a need for youth to gain practical experience to grow into the strong leaders of tomorrow.

In addition to the educational learning that attending the conference provided, I was able to acquire an insight into Saudi Arabian culture through the evening cultural trips that were planned for us and try traditional cuisine. The last night in Riyadh was particularly striking for me, it was spent at Bujairi Terrace where we had dinner at a restaurant called Villa Mamas and I discovered a new favorite dessert – Umm Ali. That night, we also got to explore the At-Turaif District, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; for me this piece of history is indescribable.

Attending the summit was a great networking opportunity. To be in a setting surrounded by about 600 other youth from a wide range of educational and cultural backgrounds and meeting people in the field of development practice meant that I was engaged in peer learning all throughout the trip. The MENA Climate Week space has provided me with great educational, cultural, and networking experiences, and this has added immense value to my learning at the University of Waterloo. Attending the summit has placed me in the very context of discussion spaces that we often mention in class. It has put in perspective the contributions I want to make through my education and future career in development practice.

It is through such practical experiences that we can apply our education, gain practical experience and the skill set needed to be a global leader. To be a global leader and practice development around the world requires well-roundedness and the chance to attend Climate Week in Riyadh presented a wonderful opportunity for me to build on this skill. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to experience the conference as it is a great way to mark my first month in the Master of Development Practice (MDP) program. Many thanks to the SDSN for choosing me to be among their many delegates, and our Saudi hosts for their incredible hospitality.

Headshot of Nguénar Yacine Cissé

Nguénar Yacine Cissé, graduate student in the Master of Development Practice (MDP) program, attended the Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) UN Climate Week 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She reflects on her experience as a youth delegate and what she learned.  

Offering an opportunity to come together for delicious treats and good company, Environment held its second annual food truck social on September 28 at the EV3 Green. We know networking can be hard, but as Adrianna Hern, Harry Cheung, Dr. Chris Fletcher, and Dr. Simon Courteney remind us, being in the Environment community makes it easier, and there are tips that can help.

The University of Waterloo is remembering Ian MacNaughton (BA ‘68, MA ‘71), a remarkable force in Ontario’s urban planning sector, after his death on Saturday, October 7, 2023.

To honour his rich legacy UWaterloo, which awarded MacNaughton its 50th Anniversary Alumni Award in 2007, is inaugurating an award in his name, the Ian MacNaughton Memorial Award, and naming a space in his honor. With this award and space naming, MacNaughton will continue the impact he made in life by inspiring and supporting future environment students.