12 August 2021 marks the International Youth Day that is celebrated annually to celebrate young people’s voices, actions and spark meaningful engagement from youths across the globe. In line with this year’s official theme from the UN, “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, the Mahathir Science Award Foundation, the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the International Science Council Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has organised the 13th webinar in the “Future Belongs to the Tropics” series, titled “Youth Innovation For Human And Planetary Health” as one of the pre-conference events for the International Conference of Tropical Sciences (TropSc 2021).
To mark the occasion, the webinar featured a line-up of young change-makers who have been dedicating their efforts to address issues ranging from mental wellbeing to wildlife conservation in the tropics. Dr Daniel Mahadzir from Global Shapers KL, Ms Shubhangi Rana from Pad2Go, Nepal, Mr Rodgers Kirwa (a.k.a. Mr Agriculture) from iAgriBizAfrica, Kenya and Ms Trang Nguyen from WildAct, Vietnam, all contributed to a wonderful panel discussion that brought attention to how youth could provide solutions for a healthy planet and society.
The moderator of the webinar, Jasmin Irisha from UNICEF Malaysia, kickstarted the event by sharing some key points from the recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Her sharing emphasised that communities in the Tropics will be highly impacted from climate impacts in the next decades, especially the young people. She urged that it is crucial for us to move forward and take necessary action on climate change.
The webinar proceeded with the introduction of each panellist and their successful initiatives, starting with Dr Daniel. He shared Global Shapers KL’s initiative that focuses on the mental wellbeing of young people called Project Heads Up! Dr Daniel highlighted the importance of advocating for mental health and helping youth deal with education-to-workplace anxiety through awareness and action programs. Following that, Ms Shubhangi shed light on menstrual health issues in Nepal, especially the need for a holistic approach in health, sanitation, education, and awareness. She shared how her social enterprise Pad2Go helped provide access to feminine sanitary products to the poorest communities. Next, Mr Rodgers provided insights on the importance of engaging youth in agriculture for the country’s development in the sustainability agenda. He highlighted how agriculture could be both a lucrative and impactful career for the youth. Ms Trang subsequently shared her wildlife conservation journey that started from passion and eventually transitioned towards a long-term career that focuses on illegal wildlife poaching and trading.
During the panel discussion, several interesting takeaways were shared by the respective panellists. In addition to his advocacy of mental health, Dr Daniel talked about the deterioration of planetary health due to the overconsumption of natural resources over the past decades. He shared the actions that he was personally taking to contribute to better planetary health. Ms Shubhangi shared her viewpoint on the challenges faced by women and young girls due to menstruation being a taboo topic in most traditional communities. Following this, she highlighted that education would create the biggest change in this issue. Mr Rodgers then shared his advice for youth to be involved in agriculture as a profitable career path that could be done sustainably and help to ensure global food security. Lastly, Ms Trang shared lessons learnt through her journey in conservation. She said, “You cannot work alone when it comes to conservation, always look for opportunities to collaborate, get support from people around you and never give up on your passion.”.
The webinar had a global audience with attendees coming from Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, UK, USA, and Vietnam. To learn more about the audience’s perspectives, several polls were conducted during the webinar. The outcomes of the polls showed that the audience think that the most pressing global issues that youth need to focus on is youth employment, followed consecutively by climate change, education, health, and environmental conservation. The final poll asked the audience what the best way to push the youth agenda is. Most of the audience voted for the inclusion of youth voice in policymaking as the way to go, followed by job creation by youths through entrepreneurship.