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YouthSpeak Forum 2020: A virtual event with AIESEC in NL

Giving voice to the youth and spreading the positive impact of sustainable development goals.



Sustainability has been a rising theme throughout the world. Governments, multinational companies, and associations have begun emphasizing an ecologically balanced civilization to establish longevity in our society. AIESEC in the Netherlands has annually held a YouthSpeak Forum aiming to empower students to voice their opinions on things they believe in and take action for global issues. AIESEC does this by connecting students and young professionals with the private sector to discuss, for example, sustainable development goals (SDGs). On June 26th, the 2020 event went off without a hitch. Representatives of The Punchy Pack, Unilever, PwC, SeDGe, and the UN Global Impact Network were present and eager to connect with the delegates on the topics discussed. However, the nature of the conference itself changed this year. Due to the unexpected turn of COVID-19, the conference had to be held online for the first time. Some challenges were faced but overall led to a successful and informative event. 


What happened? 

Led by Chantal Inen, CEO of The Punchy Pack, delegates were able to voice their opinions and learn what SDGs have been put in place to ensure sustainable changes occur. Chantal opened the conference by discussing topics such as inequality, UN sustainability goals, and the Dutch perspective. She emphasized the importance of the coming generations and delving into individual passions to transform them into actions. Delegates were then asked to create certain goals of which would be reflected upon at the end of the conference. 


The youth is the key to the future. Strive to develop youth leaders.” 


Chantal then introduced the keynote speakers: Unilever and PwC. Both had introduced the organizations themselves and detailed the challenges and goals they face moving forward. Anniek Mauser, the Sustainability Director for Unilever Benelux, described how the Unilever brand is moving from “Make cleanliness commonplace” to “Make sustainable living commonplace”. Representing PwC, Mila Harmelik, a member of the Data Analytics Consulting Team, discussed the Responsible Business Simulator as an example of PwC’s integration of sustainability in its client services; Tom Kroes, member of the Corporate Sustainability department, described PwC’s work and initiatives for SDGs from a business operations and people perspective. Both company representatives described smaller business targets that contribute to the larger sustainability brand they want to achieve. 


The targets are a means to the end, and the end is the overall target.” 

The conference then moved to small workshops run by Unilever, PwC, SeDGe, and the UN Global Impact Network. Our representatives were able to attend two of the four workshops: Unilever and SeDGe. From Unilever, representatives Fedde van Wegen and Paola Vuijk ran a case where delegates were to create and deliver a marketing presentation promoting recycling in the Netherlands. The delegates were encouraged to factor in a consumer mindset, EU policies, and certain partnerships to promote the Unilever brand Calve. After the presentations were completed, Fedde and Paola gave feedback to each group and chose a winning presentation. It was clear that those with a business or marketing-oriented background would benefit, but even those from other fields were able to take away key skills benefiting them in any career - teamwork, presentation skills, and creativity. 


Held by Mirjam van Laarhove, the SeDGE workshop took a more personal and philosophical approach. The aim was to help individuals find their personal drive and connect it with the UN SDG goals. Mirjam proposed techniques to answer larger-than-life questions. Questions targeting occupational time, leisure time, significant others, upsetting topics, and personal drive and values. She also asked what contribution the delegates wanted to make to the world. This further probed the attendees to think of their own solution to their answers - how might they achieve these goals. Other techniques such as thinking of the next small step or having a mentor/role model can also make a difference in personal drive. The accumulation of these small steps bring people closer to their goal. What was stressed the most is that individuals should always know their own drive, what is important to us, and what upsets us. In order to do so, note that small steps in this process does matter. Delegates left with more understanding of themselves, but also greater questions to answer within their own lives. 


Always ask ‘why?’ five times before being satisfied with your answer.


Organization of Event

COVID-19 had many unforeseen consequences. One of them forced AIESEC NL to spring this event online almost last minute. Juliette Sastrojiwoto, one of the head organizers, recounted her experience of the organizational change. She believes the YouthSpeak Forum is far more relevant now than in previous years. Because of the uncertainty surrounding our current society, it is now the time to “bundle our forces, speak up, and be the leaders the world needs.” Juliette’s experience hosting the event was generally positive. When discussing the move to a virtual event, the partners had similar hands-on mentalities and were willing to take on the challenge together with AIESEC to ensure a successful and meaningful event - something the organizers really valued and appreciated. 

Nonetheless, some hurdles were inevitable. The AIESEC team had been arranging this event for more than half a year. Organizers like Juliette and the partners had many ideas in place for the physical event. Given this was no longer an option, the planning went back to a clean slate and began the whole creative process again. In addition, experience in arranging virtual events was lacking, so the small team had to quickly learn within a short period of time how to create something successful. Luckily, the eager AIESEC mindset of “If we can’t do it, we will learn it.”  was beneficial enough to meet, coordinate, and divide necessary tasks. Juliette describes how they had to set up all organizational details, organize dry runs with every partner, create new agendas, and set up the marketing campaigns. Regardless of the technicalities for the event itself, Juliette and the team overcame their challenges by creating a personalized event with the AIESEC feel to it. It truly comes down to creating a positive impact for all partners and delegates that were present in the YouthSpeak Forum. 

“All this, we had to do in approximately one month, so time was not on our side.”

Takeaways

Sustainability is a topic that has become a vital necessity in our society. Those who recognize this and move to align themselves with the SDGs are contributing to a larger purpose. Educating ourselves in this way and connecting with those who are making a larger impact can promise a brighter future. The purpose of this virtual conference was to learn and create tangible action steps for individuals to contribute to the SDGs. The attendees were not only able to learn about the sustainable agenda from large organizations, but were also able to use the opportunity to partner with these organizations and hone their skills to develop as individuals. Although the AIESEC team faced difficulties in moving the event last minute online, it still was a successful event regardless. This proves the adaptive and efficient skills individuals can have when put in a challenging position - one that COVID-19 has done for all of us. The adjustment individuals, associations, and organizations have to make can be stressful given there are no guidelines on how to move forward. However, with the same attitude AIESEC in NL has shown, it appears nothing is too challenging for us. I highly recommend anyone with the passion for learning and creating a longer-lasting society consider the opportunities the YouthSpeak Forum and AIESEC in NL has to offer.



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