Young ambassadors of change from the MENA region in Lugano

Fatima Zahra, Amin, Myssa and Zakaria have come to Lugano to attend the Middle East Mediterranean Summer Summit (21–28 August 2021). Organised by the Università della Svizzera italiana with support from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the event provides a platform for many young men and women from the Middle East and North Africa region to share and flesh out ideas. Insights from the participants.

Young participants of the MEM Summer Summit sitting on chairs in a circle and discussing a topic..

Supporting young people in the MENA region is a priority for Switzerland, which is also reflected in the MENA Strategy adopted by the Federal Council in 2020. © USI, Vincent Blondeau

Fatima Zahra from Morocco, Amin from Iran, Myssa from Oman and Zakaria from Syria. Together with about 30 other young people in Lugano and another hundred participating online from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, they are part of the group of young change-makers. They are central figures at the fourth MEM Summer Summit, where exchange – of ideas, projects and initiatives – is the watchword.

Their vision and ideas are also the reason why Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, attaches such importance to the MEM Summer Summit. Cassis met the young change-makers together with Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi. Speaking at the event, he reaffirmed the potential of the young demographic: "In the MENA region, about 45% of the population is under 25. To me, that's synonymous with new beginnings and optimism. During my trip to Oman last spring, I had the opportunity to meet a number of motivated young men and women and I was very impressed by their inspiring ideas".

Young participants of the MEM Summer Summit

Supporting young people in the MENA region is a priority for Switzerland, which is also reflected in the MENA Strategy adopted by the Federal Council in 2020. Peace, security, sustainable development and digitalisation are among the central fields of action. Priorities that are also reflected in the words of the young people interviewed. 

"Young people understand the power of collaboration beyond small communities"

Close-up of Fatima Zahra Outaiss.
The young change maker Fatima Zahra Outaiss, from Morocco. © USI, Boryana Stratieva

In Morocco, Fatima Zahra works on projects concerning the inclusion of youth in the processes of policy-making. It is precisely among her peers that she identifies great potential. "Young people understand the power of collaboration beyond small communities; therefore, they are seizing collaboration opportunities with their peers across different regions", says Fatima Zahra.

Education, innovation and new technologies are key issues in the Swiss strategy for the MENA region, including with regard to Morocco. A trained engineer, Fatima Zahra has seen the growth in recent years of innovative youth-led initiatives with a focus on advancing formal and informal education using new technology. "To boost the impact of these initiatives, exchange and collaboration streams with other countries in the region have been opened to connect and join forces", Fatima Zahra explains. 

"I am driven by the passion for solving global challenges in food systems"

Close-up of Mohammad Amin Emadi.
The young change maker Mohammad Amin Emadi from Iran. © USI, Boryana Stratieva

Amin works as a technical consultant for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. What drives him? Solving global challenges and complexities in food systems. In fact, he took part in the Swiss project "Bites of Transfoodmation2, which was launched by the Swiss permanent mission to the UN in Rome, the Swiss embassy in Italy, the Istituto Svizzero, the Università della Svizzera italiana, and Presence Switzerland.

This project seeks to encourage debate amongst young people on how the transition to sustainable and crisis-resilient food systems for everyone can be achieved. "We have managed to produce a manifesto projecting our collective commitments to the future of sustainable food systems", explains Amin. "I believe we can transform the future of food systems at the political, social and most importantly at individual levels effectively with such collaborations", he concludes. 

"Young people can bring about change through the power of knowledge"

Close-up of Myssa Al Hinai.
The young change maker Myssa Al Hinai, from Oman. © USI, Boryana Stratieva

Myssa works in communications and social media and has just set up her own business in this field. Communication and the sharing of knowledge play a key role for her: "I believe in the power of knowledge. Young people, coming from different sectors of work, can enable change by sharing knowledge and by working hard together".

Switzerland and Oman work together closely in mediation and peacebuilding. Myssa underlines that there can be no change in the MENA region without stability. "The stability of Oman allows the people to be more united and more able to focus on developing and strengthening expertise in the areas that contribute to the growth of the country and of its people". 

"Civil society plays a central role in rebuilding trust between Syrians as well as with their MEM neighbours"

Close-up of Zakaria Al Shmaly.
The young change maker Zakaria Al Shmaly, from Syria. © USI, Boryana Stratieva

Zakaria is a researcher at the European University Institute’s School of Transnational Governance and a trainee at the European Parliament’s Secretariat of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. He strongly believes in the role of young people to enable change and stability in the MEM region. Meeting in Lugano confirmed his point of view. "Stability comes from understanding, but understanding requires having difficult conversations in a safe environment", he affirms. Encouraging freedom of movement in the MEM region as well as promoting large-scale academic and cultural exchanges are for Zakaria examples of how it is possible to create virtuous cycles that lead to change.

Switzerland supports the Syrian peace process in Geneva and ensures that civil society is involved. "I believe that we should learn from Europe’s post-war experience in rebuilding both society and the country. Significant investments in civil society are required to rebuild trust between Syrians as well as with their MEM neighbours, which can lead to economic interdependence and ensure political stability", adds Zakaria. In his opinion, cooperation in the field of renewable energy at the regional level and encouraging regional trade can be a starting point for regional stability. 

The MEM Forum, featuring Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis and Oman's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi.
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