By Nasim Kullab and Ahmed Mortaja
We know that young people, such as university students and fresh graduates, rarely attend conferences and participate in only a few activities. This has led to shrinking civic spaces for youth in Palestinian society. However, INSPIRE has always seen the potential in youth to be the masterminds of and dynamic actors in successful activities, community initiatives, and high-quality conferences. Since 2019, the INSPIRE conferences have been led and engineered by hardworking youth from Al Fakhoora Scholarship and Empowerment Programme and their peers from the local community. The themes, topics, and activities of these INSPIRE gatherings have all been designed, planned, and implemented by civic-minded youth.
The activities of the conferences focus on building upon the civic engagement skills that Al Fakhoora Scholars have acquired, empowering youth towards positive change and playing an impactful role in their communities, and developing their soft skills. INSPIRE is also a stimulating environment in which Al Fakhoora scholars can share knowledge, experiences, and skills with other active, participating peers from the local community.
“The INSPIRE’22 Conference created an interactive space for everyone to share ideas, overcome fears, and look for a prosperous future,” notes Lina Siam. INSPIRE’22 aimed to inspire civic-minded citizens and individuals who foster a “give back” attitude and those who actively seek to act in the broader interests of their communities and inspire others to act beyond through their actions. INSPIRE’22 activities included a series of inspiring hybrid events that were attended by thousands of participants from Palestine and the MENA region. This version of INSPIRE stood out from previous versions, as it exemplified a results-centric event and a space for youth to engage with a wide-ranging network of national and international professionals, academics, and experts. The theme of INSPIRE’22 arose in a post-pandemic world in which the certainty and stability of our futures have become equivocal.
The INSPIRE’22 topics chosen by youth included:
Higher Education: An Engine for Development or a Decorative Step?
Who’s Hired? Certificates or Skills-Based Employees?
Entrepreneurship Aura: Between New Horizons and Missing Links
Cryptocurrencies: How Does Palestinian Society Address This Global Trend?
What Matters More: Psychological and Mental Safety or Productivity in a Workplace?
The leading youth committee came up with the INSPIRE’22 theme “From Confusion to Clarity: Preparing for Uncertain Futures.” Youth also designed five INSPIRE’22 focus areas, namely, education, employment, innovation, technology, and mental health. We live in an environment of ambiguity where most of the time we need to choose among available options. Within this context, the youth decided that INSPIRE’22 should reflect this fact and ask, “What matters more?” Youth engaged in discussions on each of the chosen areas, which eventually resulted in the topics outlined below.
These topics matched the needs assessment of the local context. Hundreds of graduates remain confused on whether to take the step of pursuing higher education degrees, whereas others question the new employment criteria that have emerged since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of young, passionate graduates and students are still unaware of the challenges and opportunities that entrepreneurship has in store. Many tech companies and amateurs are still unsure about cryptocurrencies as a global trend, and employees are concerned that employers do not consider mental health in the workplace. Although these issues may seem challenging, they are interesting areas of research for thoughtful youth. Thus, all pre-conference activities, including film screenings, policy-paper development, roundtable discussions, capacity-building training courses, and inspirational webinars have triggered constructive discussions between the youth and experts. Moreover, the activities relied on the questions of how and what inspires people’s minds and hearts and how inspiration can be translated into action.
To organize INSPIRE’22, Al Nayzak called upon active youth to become the leading team for the event, and three youth committees were formed to liaise in teams, share ideas, and inspire each other. Not only did the teams find space to deepen their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, but they also received special capacity-building training entitled “Power to Inspire” that supported them and refined their skills in three specific areas: panel discussion facilitation, conference organizing and management, and social media and marketing skills.
“Every one of us has a success story that becomes visible to all when we work together,” explained Zayed Al Akkad, from the Social Media Youth Committee. Al Nayzak believes that youth themselves are the driving force for positive change in local and international communities and that they should be given the chance to participate actively in their societies. The teams, which consisted of more than 50 volunteers, also assisted researchers in producing five policy papers on the targeted topics. The results of these papers led to policy recommendations and alternatives to the intractable issues encountered in Palestinian society. With the hope that these recommendations would be taken into consideration by policymakers, they were stressed during the conference day.
Thousands of youth, organizations, academics, professionals, and employers applied to attend the hybrid conference day. Due to our commitment to the COVID-19 precautionary measures, only 600 individuals were invited to attend the conference in person, whereas over a thousand attendees joined virtually. INSPIRE’22 also attracted around 40 national and international experts as speakers in different activities that were conducted in response to the questions arising from the conference topics. These activities shed light on lessons learned from entrepreneurs, success stories, necessary pillars of education, the significance of mental stability for productivity in workplaces, the perspectives of youth regarding academic qualifications and skills when it comes to employment, and the views of experts on higher education and development.
In addition, the conference included an inspirational component that brought together artists and photographers in an art-oriented corner, entrepreneurs from the Gaza Strip that have pitched their innovative small businesses, inspirational games such as the SDGs game that taught the attendees about the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030, the mental health game that guided everyone through a meditation exercise, and the “We Are the Solution” game that presented the seven survival skills and five socio-emotional spheres, among other interactive games. As part of this inspirational component, educational advisers and a number of successful young people were invited to participate.
Al Nayzak Organization for Supportive Education and Scientific Innovation, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme/Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP/PAPP), and with the support of Al Fakhoora Scholarship and Empowerment Programme, a program of the Education Above All Foundation (EAA) – Qatar, has successfully created a space for young people to innovatively think, lead, and act.
All article photos courtesy of Al-Nayzak Organization.