Biennial Summit Empowers Youth To Address Global Food Insecurity

Whoever said “youth is wasted on the young” never met Youth Ag Summit (YAS) participants.

YAS provides a unique setting to empower the next generation of agricultural change-makers. Every two years, it brings together 100 young leaders from around the world for networking, debates, skills training and project development.

One priority of YAS is to help participants take their ideas and put them into action. As such, YAS has partnered with the United Nations, and aligned these efforts with the international organization’s sustainable development goals. These goals were adopted by the UN in 2015 and are aimed at ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring prosperity and peace for all by 2030.

EYES ON THE PRIZE

A prime example of how this YAS-UN partnership empowers youth is Cassandra Hayward, a resident of Halifax, NS, and a delegate at YAS 2017 in Belgium. She and her group won the top prize of €10,000 for their proposal, Agrikua, which focused on creating an online platform that would provide free agricultural education for young people.

By November 2019, Hayward and her group were in Rome to speak before the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) about this project. “Bayer sponsored our participation in that committee, and it was an incredible experience,” says Hayward. “It is composed of UN ambassadors, NGOs, charities and private sector players, so we were able to meet with a range of stakeholders, including farmers from around the world.”

Agrikua began by concentrating on young women and girls, as they tend to have less access to education than males. Since two members of the group had ties to Kenya, Hayward’s group piloted the project there, partnering with 4-H Kenya and a local university to put their plan into action.

Though Agrikua is on hold for the moment as Hayward and her colleagues try to balance education and careers, their experience working through the UN’s Rome-based agencies was invaluable in their drive to empower young people like themselves.

NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED

During that initial session at the Committee on World Food Security, there were numerous young people represented at the committee for the first time from the private sector, as the session had a specific focus on youth. Hayward and a number of her colleagues felt there was more they could do to ensure a more permanent solution for youth attendance at the CFS.

“To that end, a number of young people who had attended the CFS for the first time helped develop the youth alliance, an initiative to increase participation by young people with the committee,” she says.

“We felt youth needed to be accessed through different avenues (other than the private sector), so I worked quite a bit with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),” added Hayward. The FAO is a specialized agency of the UN that leads international efforts to defeat hunger.

The CFS’ programs are very limited in scope while other Rome-based agencies, including the FAO, play a much larger role in facilitating and developing programming in the food space, which, of course, was Hayward and her colleagues’ major area of interest.

Along the way, Hayward has gained valuable experience and knowledge that she readily shares with the next generation of game-changers. “The UN is a massive organization, so you need to really hone in on your purpose: What kind of work do you want to do? Would you like to be consulted on something the UN is doing or attend events?

“When I first appeared before the CFS and FAO, I wanted to tell my story and emphasize my background growing up with extreme food insecurity. Challenges like that in developed countries such as Canada are not often talked about, and the UN gave me a platform to really humanize the experience for my audience.”

Once you’ve settled on what you want to achieve, the next step is deciding how to get there. According to Hayward, the easiest path is using your networks and connections to join an organization that is already engaging with the UN.

KNOWLEDGE IS POWERFUL

“The CFS is an incredible place to learn,” says Hayward. “The members of the CFS are amazing people doing extraordinary work around the world as they strive for food security on a national and international level.”


“I was 20 years old when I first went to YAS, and to have such an opportunity at that age was mindblowing”
Cassandra Hayward

She has some advice, too. “If you are interested in getting involved with the CFS or any UN agency, it can be difficult to access the space as an individual. Participating with an organization that actively works within the United Nations can serve as a much better mechanism to access these spaces. For example, if you are a 4-H member or alumni, the UN has had open calls for participants to engage with the CFS. You could also join the youth alliance, as it is always looking for people to help out.”

For some, YAS can be a gateway to getting the UN’s attention. “If you have been to YAS, one avenue you can take is to leverage your relationship with Bayer,” says Hayward. “(The company) has a seat at the CFS table, and it provides that link to the UN for our group. Everyone we met at Bayer was extremely kind and encouraging, and I would urge people to make friends with those you meet and gain knowledge from them. Being funded through Bayer gave us credibility and got people interested in what we had to say.”

For those seeking connections for their project, the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, slated for this fall, can help get your foot in the door and focus the spotlight on your idea. “The idea of the summit is to create game changing solutions for global agricultural problems,” she says. “It is a one-of-a-kind event where you can promote yourself, network and get attention from folks at the UN.”

FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS

Today, Hayward is a policy analyst with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. While the pandemic and work on a master’s degree have cut into her involvement with YAS and the UN, Hayward’s experience in “changing the planet” left an indelible mark on her own world view and helps inform her current work.

“I was 20 years old when I first went to YAS, and to have such an opportunity at that age was mind-blowing. To be in the same room as 99 people who are passionate about the same things you are is indescribable, and the networks you create can last a lifetime. I had no education or practical experience in agriculture before YAS, but it opened my mind to ways of getting involved in food systems that weren’t farming related. YAS is one of the most unique spaces in the world; there is truly nothing like it.”

When they say, “the only constant is change”, they could well be referring to Bayer’s Youth Ag Summit (YAS). Though COVID-19 has moved YAS 2021 from China to an online space from November 16-17, there are some exciting firsts at this year’s event.

Non-delegate attendance.

Seeing an opportunity in the online format, YAS is looking to open the Summit to others who want to take part in a different way.

“We hope to allow for some non-delegate attendance at YAS 2021 so that more people can observe the event and enjoy the benefits,” says Kate Hayes, head of advocacy communications with Bayer AG in St. Louis, MO. “There will be great speakers, discussions and fireside chats, and those watching would be able to see and feel the excitement from these young leaders who have amazing ideas to offer.”

Bayer is still deciding on a platform for the event, and will publish more information on non-delegate attendance in the months to come.

YAS University/Thrive for Change Awards

The 100 delegates selected to attend this year’s Summit, based in large part on their “Thrive for Change” project ideas for improving food security or sustainability challenges, will also participate in a new 10-week YAS University program starting in January 2022. It is a virtual idea incubator provided by Bayer in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solution Network and Babele.

The Sustainable Development Solution Network was set up in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. Its mission is to “promote integrated approaches to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, through education, research, policy analysis, and global cooperation.”

Babele is a technology and consulting company that brings together universities, companies and NGOs from all over the world to find solutions to mitigate climate change and support adaptations to its effects.

“The digital YAS University networking platform will offer some exciting new benefits to the 2021 cohort,” says Hayes. “For one, delegates will be able to get to know each other and their mentors even before the Summit. A key feature of the Youth Ag Summit has always been building lifelong connections with a network of like-minded peers around the world, and we don’t want to lose that just because the event is virtual,” she says.

“Then, following the Summit, the delegates will spend another 10 weeks going through YAS University together, where they will gain more knowledge and tools for taking action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals through their Thrive for Change projects.

“They will receive communication and business coaching on topics like prototyping and finding investors, complete weekly assignments to develop a concrete project implementation plan and meet weekly in small groups with mentors for discussion and feedback.”

At the end of YAS University, delegates will pitch to each other to determine the finalists, who then pitch to a panel of judges. A select number of projects that are judged most viable, with the potential to be launched in the near future, will receive a Thrive for Change award.

“We will have more information out soon, but for now, we just want people to know about the new offering and how it will teach delegates valuable real-world skills to aid in launching their startups or excelling in a different ag-related career,” says Hayes. “To get the latest details, we encourage people to visit youthagsummit.com or our @youthagsummit Instagram channel