The European Development Days is Europe's leading forum on development since 2006, and was held this year in Brussels, Belgium on June 5 and 6. Organised by the European Commission, the EDD brings the development community together to share ideas and experiences which inspires new partnerships and innovative solution to the world's most pressing challenges. For the past few editions, the European Commission has been inviting a selected group of youth leaders to pitch their voices and opinions in front of world leaders and policymakers. I was chosen as one of the sixteen young leaders for this year's summit to discuss on the importance of closing the gender gap in order to adapt and mitigate the effects of Climate Change.
I was extremely excited about this incredible experience, as the EDD was not only giving us the platform to directly engage with world leaders and development experts, but also the opportunity to get to know fifteen other young people who were doing extraordinary work in their home countries.
Although the summit was set to begin in early June, I was flying to Brussels on May 29 to prepare extensively for my high-level panel discussion and press interviews during the summit. I was hit hard with reality once the plane touched down in Brussels; just thinking about the magnitude of the event was quite intimidating. However, this feeling soon went away once I was able to meet the other young leaders and our youth facilitators at our hotel. I was amazed and awestruck meeting each of the other young leaders; they were humbly and passionately doing incredible work addressing some of the most complex issues in the world today. Taffan Arko, who was from both Sweden and Kurdistan, works with victims of ISIS and ensures that they do not turn towards hatred and extremism; Lais from Brazil is an urban planner who builds houses for the Favela (slum) community; Ernesto from El Salvador is a middle school teacher who helps girls overcome their fear of coding whereas Shwetal from India has been working on a video game which teaches people how to code. And these are just four of the incredible people I’ve had the blessing of knowing through my EDD experience.
Throughout the ten days of our stay in Brussels, we were kept busy with multiple trainings, meetings and other activities; we were taken to the European Commission DEVCO headquarters, UN Women, Plan International and many more to strategise with key policymakers within such institutions on how they can partner with our initiatives in order to increase the impact we were making in our respective communities. Extensive trainings were arranged to prepare us for our panel discussions and media interviews which were going to take place during the event. The entire process was exhilarating and exhausting, yet the excitement for the experience gave us quite a bit of energy to push ourselves.
On the day of the event, we grasped on how big of a platform we were getting to share our voices and our work. The event was being attended by over eight thousand people, which consisted of not only policymakers and development experts but also heads of states and dignitaries from around the world. And it turned out that they all wanted to meet us! After the opening ceremony I had the pleasure of introducing the young leaders programme to Her Majesty Mathilde the Queen of Belgium and share my viewpoints on community development scenario in Bangladesh with both Her Majesties Letizia (Queen of Spain) and Mary (Crown Princess of Belgium).
Since this event provided me a great platform to engage with global decision makers, I stressed on the fact on how important it was to support youth-based organisations who were working at the grassroot level; such organisations have engaged directly with people facing social problems such as environmental disasters and gender discrimination, and it is vital to provide support to such working groups in order to achieve true results in terms of effective community development.
My panel discussion was based on the topic ‘Putting Women at the centre of Conservation and Climate Action’. I had the honour of sharing this panel with the Vice President of European Investment Bank Jonathan Taylor, World Conservation Union’s Director for Governance Lorena Aguilera and UNDP’s Gender Director Randy Davis in front of over a hundred governmental and non-governmental officials. During the discussion, I talked on the importance of empowering rural women to utilise environmental technology such as portable water filtration systems to convert flooding into an entrepreneurial opportunity and shared the story of Project Trishna (Footsteps’ water accessibility project) with the entire audience. The discussion was immensely productive as we not only talked about high level policies such as the Paris Climate Treaty, but also what support needs to be given to grassroot organisations in order to help more climate vulnerable people adapt to environmental calamities.
The event itself was a tremendous achievement for me as I was able to share my opinion as well as learn immensely from people working on various projects all around the globe. Such a high-level event had actually opened a lot of doors for me; I met distinguished personalities, discussed on potential partnerships with large INGOs like Plan International and UNDP, and most importantly made friends that would last a lifetime. Such experiences are the best educational materials that one can receive, and I strongly believe that I will be able to use this amazing EDD experience in order to bring more positive changes in communities all over Bangladesh.
The writer is Co-Founder and President of Footsteps Foundation, a social enterprise based in Dhaka.