IIFMENA to Explore the Role of Youth Engagement in Regional Development

At the core of Sharjah’s and TBHF’s developmental objectives is improving youth protection, education and employability regionally and globally, and investing in their unlimited potential. The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), organiser of the third edition of the Investing in the Future, Middle East and North Africa (IIFMENA) conference, has announced its key partners: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and UN Women.

The conference is held every two years to tackle a specific humanitarian and developmental challenge in the region in line with Sharjah’s vision and strategy to sustainably develop social and economic landscapes of the UAE and the region. This year, the unique two-day international event, themed “Youth:Crisis Challenges and Development Opportunities” is dedicated to throwing the spotlight on how governments, civil society, international organisations, academia, and private sector can collaborate and engage the region’s youth more effectively in consultative, policy and decision-making processes, enabling a more inclusive and participatory approach to tackling challenges and offering practical, scalable solutions.

Mariam Al Hammadi, Director of The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), said, “The MENA region’s youth still face considerable obstacles in becoming a driving force for social and economic development in their countries. At the core of Sharjah’s and TBHF’s developmental objectives is improving youth protection, education and employability regionally and globally, and investing in their unlimited potential. Therefore, IIFMENA 2018 is convening leading international advocates, influencers and policymakers on one platform to focus on strategising practical solutions that can be applied across the MENA region to tackle existing challenges, leaving no one behind. With our key partners at this edition, IIFMENA will host important discussions, which will hopefully lead to concrete steps that will further the objectives of the United Nations Youth Strategy 2030 and achieve greater participation of youth in the march towards a better future.”

Each of IIFMENA’s partners will be hosting key discussions and debates during the two-day event, on 24–25 October in Sharjah, on a range of pertinent issues like conflict and peacebuilding, education, economic empowerment, citizenship, social media, climate change, and so on, with the aim of devising region-specific solutions and influencing youth policy decision-making.

The UNHCR will be leading a discussion on ‘Youth in Conflict and Peacebuilding’. Among the many communities in the MENA region that are disrupted by conflict or impoverishment, opportunities for youth can be severely limited. Recent political and demographic factors have exposed the vulnerability of many segments of the civilian population in the MENA region.  . This platform will highlight UNHCR’s core principles which include protection, diversity, equity, access, and sustainability that are utilised to work with youth in areas affected by conflict or displacement.

This is in line with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), which focuses on easing pressure on host countries, enhancing refugee self-reliance, expanding options to third country solutions, and supporting solutions in the country of origin. UNICEF will be discussing ‘Life Skills and Citizenship Education as a New Learning Agenda’. This panel highlights the learning paradox that hampers the region’s youth; from having highly educated youth as well as high youth unemployment, increased inequities, and multiple challenges to social cohesion.

Clearly, the education system isn’t catering to the real needs of the world where it should prepare youth to garner the needed skills towards developing their full civic potential and improving the well-being of their communities.. This panel will not only provide a UNICEF perspective but bring to attention what life skills mean and how education systems can implement them at the core of learning.

Organised by the UNDP and titled ‘Youth Entrepreneurship as a Catalyst for Growth and Employment’, this session highlights the need to create conditions which are conducive to youth entrepreneurs. If the right investments and decisions are made, the youth population can be a powerful and transformative force for a better world. Youth entrepreneurship is an imperative force of socio-economic and sustainable development that will have beneficial effects for people of all ages, across societies, and economies.

UN Women and Sharjah based NAMA will organize, ‘Opportunities and challenges of young women in the MENA region.’ The panel highlights social norms and practices that hinder women in the community while emphasizing the importance of building a collective enabling environment and ecosystem involving men and women.

With the rapid change in labour markets and the openness of the world, many practices, norms and customs threaten young women’s progress, and limit their accessibility to opportunities. Working with males in male dominant decision-making communities would be an effective tool to increase male support to females within their families and communities.

IIFMENA is organised by the UAE-based global humanitarian organisation, The Big Heart Foundation (TBHF), which was established in 2015 by Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the UAE Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.


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