Reflections on the OAS youth symposium and a presentation on Education and IT

Posted in The Gnovis Blog

On October 16 — two weeks from now — I turn twenty-six years old. So it is awkward to think that just a month earlier I participated in a youth symposium on “Empowering the Future Leaders of the Americas.” The symposium was sponsored and hosted by the Organization of American States (OAS) and brought 200-plus students from around the Western Hemisphere together in Washington, DC, to start a dialogue with our elected government leaders and appointed foreign ambassadors. The dialogue focused on five key themes, those being:

  • Responsible Citizenship and Participation in Democratic Governance;
  • Employment, Entrepreneurship and Innovation for Young People;
  • Opportunities and Programs for Youth Development;
  • Undeserved Young People and Youth at Risk; and
  • Education and Information Technologies.

For those unfamiliar with OAS, it is the region’s principal multilateral forum for strengthening democracy, promoting human rights, and confronting shared problems such as poverty, terrorism, illegal drugs, and corruption.

Speakers and Hosts at OAS
Speakers and Hosts at the OAS Youth Symposium with
Amb. Deborah Mae Lovell, Chair, Permanent Council.

I was first introduced to OAS last year. Nicholas Negroponte, the head of the One-Laptop-Per-Child program, came to speak and promote his program to ambassadors of the countries of North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. I virtually attended Mr. Negroponte’s presentation via webcast and requested that they keep me informed of future OAS activities related to youth entrepreneurship and development. From this request, I received information on the symposium and took the initiative to apply.The first day of the symposium was Wednesday, September 19, 2007, and it was broken into two sessions. The first part of the program included remarks and a panel from various ambassadors, foreign government officials, and NGOs. His Excellency Eduardo Stein, the Vice-President of Guatemala, delivered my favorite presentation of the symposium that morning. He was charismatic, funny, but most importantly very informative. The second-half of the day involved the 200-plus student leaders breaking into five groups to formulate recommendations that would be delivered the following day to the entire permanent council of OAS on the topics discussed above.I have a deep personal and academic interest in how states can apply information and communication technologies (ICT) to advance their agendas, therefore I applied to participate in the Education and Information Technologies break-out. The group consisted of U.S. students from American University, Lehigh University, the University of Michigan, and several others; in addition to international students from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.After some dialogue and discussion, we decided to make our recommendation on creating a public-private partnership that could be managed by OAS to decrease the digital divide between the region and the world; between the countries with-in the Western Hemisphere; and the division that exists intra-country, which relate to the urban and rural divide. After formulating the objectives, creating our recommendations, and condensing our notes; the group was tasked with electing a representative which would deliver the message. I was selected.Day two began with a much needed coffee/networking reception. After spending all day on the 19th at the symposium, I took a cab to Georgetown University for my night class which ended at 8:15 PM, then I started to transcribe our group’s notes into the Microsoft PowerPoint slides needed for the presentation, and to prepare my remarks. I didn’t get to sleep until after 2 AM that night and worst yet, I didn’t even get to watch the Daily Show or Conan. Oh, I had never tasted coffee so sweet as the two cups I had the morning of the 20th. Slightly after the caffeine hit my system, the program began. The ambassadors sat in a large trapezoid and I was told that I would be presenting from the chair of the secretariat of the permanent council.

Hall of the Americas
Hall of the Americas
The Hall of the Americas at the Organization of American States.

I was the fifth and last student speaker. We were tasked with summarizing our group’s recommendations into a presentation that could last between five to seven minutes. The first two speakers spoke in Spanish and the last three of us spoke in English. Our words reverberated out of the speakers across the Hall of the Americas with a slight echo but were also being translated into all of the languages of the region and broadcast to the non-native speaking ambassadors through headsets (sans-echo). I was slightly nervous going up to the microphone to present in front of 34 ambassadors and a hall full of foreign dignitaries, but I knew that I was prepared (and sufficiently caffeinated). I have had several public speaking engagements in front of large audiences before, but none with as distinguished of an audience.The presentation went very well. I directly received great praise by several of the ambassadors during their formal remarks and in the luncheon reception afterwards. I was honored by their comments and as the only student quoted in the OAS press release on the event. Ambassador Deborah Mae Lovell of Antigua and Barbuda, the Chair of the Permanent Council of OAS, thanked the five of us for our hard work and welcomed our participation as she formally called for the creation of a youth ministerial meeting to consider youth empowerment and other youth-centered strategic investments in the Americas.

Although I may still mix Captain Crunch, Cookie Crisp, and Lucky Charms into my daily breakfast cereal it is hard to see myself as a youth. But as a member of Generation Y, I definitely feel that I have a unique perspective and philosophy of life that bridges the cultures of youth and adulthood. As the title of this symposium alluded, opportunities such as this are certainly “empowering” for the individuals participating but beyond the personal growth that I received I do hope that my words to the ambassadors start the necessary dialogue needed in reducing the digital divide within many of the developing nations of the Western Hemisphere.