Earth Charter Young Leaders’ Reflections from UNESCO forum Youth and Social Impact in Saudi Arabia

Earth Charter Young Leaders Ana Karen Pro Rebolledo, Danelia Zuñiga Alvarado, Jorge Gracia López, Kelly Ngeti, Phat Nguyen, and Mohammed Ba-Aoum, who participated in the Leadership, Sustainability, and Ethics 10-week online training programme, had the opportunity to attend UNESCO’s seventh NGO Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Youth and their Social Impact. Below you can read some of their reflections from the forum!

“I was very fortunate to be one of representatives of Earth Charter International to participate in UNESCO’s seventh_DSC1821 NGO Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 3 and 4 May, 2017. The conference mainly focused on the topic of Youth and Their Social Impact and I learned a lot from it. One of my favorite speakers was Mr. Jacques Attali, Founder and President of Positive Planet organization, who stated that education helps learners to find out why they are here on this earth. I found this statement interesting in the sense that the role of education is more than giving learners a ticket to land at their profession. More importantly, education helps learners to reflect on the values, morality that they hold on. Being educated does not serve the benefit of an individual, but of a community, society, and the world. The fact of why being on the earth is also connected to the relationship between human beings and nature. This might sound obvious but in my own observation of what is happening around the world today, many well-educated politicians or business people make a decision in different issues, which affect the community and the world without considering other people’s lives. For instance: deforestation, industrialization, and corruption.

In addition to Mr. Attali, another inspirational speaker to me was Ms. Sara Minkara, Founder and President, SaudiaArabia ECYL PhotosEmpowerment Through Integration, Lebanon. Her presentation taught me how brave and resilient she is. She looks at her identity as a blind person, as a blessing. She strongly believes that when she cannot see a person, whom she communicates with, she has a chance to listen attentively to them without any judgement. This positive thinking really touched me. Moreover, she does not keep that positivity with her, but inspires other blind people through her organization. She also shared that being independent and seeing her potential makes her feel self-confident to get over challenges facing to her life.

On the other note, I had a great opportunity to explore and learn more about the culture of Saudi Arabia, which has many stereotypes. But prior to the conference, I prepared myself to let my curiosity lead my judgement rather than impose my way of thinking and perspective into the local culture. Consequently, everything was so new and interesting to me. For instance: men and women have to stand separately when taking a group picture because culturally speaking, women do not feel comfortable with mixing up men and women in a group.

In conclusion, I very much enjoyed the conference in both professional and social sense. It gave me a chance to get inspired by amazing speakers and broaden my connection and knowledge. Having said that, I feel very grateful to Earth Charter International, UNESCO, MiSK Foundation for allowing me to be a part of such interesting conference.

-Phat Nyugen, Vietnam


“I had a special experience attending the UNESCO NGO Forum 2017 in Riyadh since I was the only Saudi person attending the forum as a guest to represent Earth Charter International, an international organization.

My position as a guest and local -at the same time- gave me also the chance to engage in many discussions about the Saudi culture with non-Saudi guests, especially during the cultural programs. I like to participate in such discussion as it enables me to reflect on my culture, enrich my way of looking at things and enable me to understand how people look at my culture from outside. I found that people have stereotypes about Saudi people, but I was so pleased that most visitors I met showed respect to local culture and were willing to understand the Saudi society without superficial judging.  I learned a lot from their deep questions and reflections. We also realized that we share many common values that we can build on to make action for the common good. The national and international cultural diversity should be celebrated as a great source of knowledge rather than a source of conflict or arrogance._DSC1788

Respecting and protecting local cultures and identities is a critical part of protecting human dignity. This is one of the core principles in the Earth Charter, which calls for” upholding the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity.” These principles promote the culture of peace and respect which is highly needed in the current era.  As a delegate for Earth Charter International, I shared the Charter principles with many participants and all of them emphasized the importance of these principles on the local and global level.

I very much enjoyed the Educating for a Sustainable Future panel discussion. I was shocked to know that only 6% of people around the world go to higher education. Governments, corporations and NGO’s should collaborate to provide more opportunity for people, especially in developing countries, to access higher education and empower them through formal and informal education to contribute actively to sustainable development.

Throughout the forum, I heard speakers as well as participants mentioning several times the Earth Charter principles on peace, social and economic justice, respect and care for the community of life which convinced me more of the critical role that the Earth Charter could play in creating a shared vision to foster sustainable development.” -Mohammed Ba-Aoum, Saudi Arabia


“Participating in this forum was a unique experience and unlike any other. I really enjoyed living for a few days in a _DSC1706country with a culture totally different from my country. Saudi Arabia is distinguished by being a country totally closed to tourism and being one of the strictest Muslim countries. Despite the extreme cultural clash, traveling to this wonderful country allowed me to have a broader view of the people who inhabit it and their customs and to understand from the depths the reason of each one of them and the perspective of the people that inhabit it.

What surprised me most was the separation between men and women and how men see women, with so many rules and many restrictions, however it was very interesting to talk to the locals and to openly ask questions about their culture and exchange information about my culture allowing me to discover that many times the world’s perceptions about this culture is wrong. Everyone is very kind, intelligent and above all peaceful, attached to their religion and beliefs, always very courteous, and above all accessible.

On the other hand, it was very gratifying to share the experience with people from other countries of the world and of all ages, representatives of various organizations dedicated to solve all kinds of problems. It was enriching to exchange all these actions, ideas, advice, and suggestions, opening the way and carrying out various activities when returning to our countries.

I found the project competition organized by Misk Fundation to be excellent because it provided great economic support to projects around the world dedicated to improving the situation of their respective countries. This left a great message in me about the excellent quality of panels they organized and how they supported this forum. No matter where you come from, or your beliefs, it is always good to help to put a grain of sand in any part of the world, because whatever country you come from we all live on the same planet.

It was simply an unforgettable experience and completely full of teaching and I am totally grateful to the locals who went to great lengths so that we all live their culture- from the traditional way of eating to the way they dress. Everything that was lived in two days in the forum were examples of Earth Charter principles that were fulfilled, this means that to adopt and to apply the Earth Charter and its principles is truly possible, feasible and above all useful.” – Ana Karen Proa Rebolledo, Mexico


From left to right Earth Charter Young Leaders: Mohammed Ba-Aoum (Saudi Arabia), Kelly Ngeti (Kenya), Ana Karen Pro Rebolledo (Mexico), Danelia Zuñiga Alvarado (Costa Rica), Jorge Gracia López (Spain), Phat Nguyen (Vietnam)