• SDSN Youth

Vatican Youth Symposium 2020: Human Rights, Dignity and Fratelli Tutti

Updated: Jan 18

The Vatican Youth Symposium continued on day two with three back-to-back sessions on Human Rights, Sustainable Cities, and Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Technology. The day started with a keynote speech from Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of UNICEF. Fore discussed human rights and specifically children’s rights that are at the heart of all UNICEF programs and missions.

Ms Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF


Ms. Fore discussed UNICEF’s call to action for the rest of the globe. This consists of a six point plan to support children in accessing nutritional services, health services, and education, as well as protecting children and families living in disaster, conflict, and displacement. She emphasized the importance of keeping children safe while using the internet during the pandemic and the future ahead. For doing so, Ms. Fore discussed the importance of providing children with digital literacy and trusted resources, especially with information regarding vaccines. She highlighted UNICEF's work in creating innovation through global development to engage with young people. Also, she encouraged everyone to engage with UNICEF through U-report, sharing their experiences, and sharing what's happening in global communities.


Session 4: Human Rights continued with a panel discussion with Ms Kerry Kennedy, President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; Mr Antonio Zappulla, CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation; Mr Felipe Beliz, Coordinator, Nuevos Dirigentes - New Leaders: Justice Peace & Human Development Argentina; Ms Hindou Ibrahim, UN Secretary-General’s SDG Advocate & Indigenous Rights Advocate; Ms Alejandra Acosta, President, Break the Silence.


''Kindness and truth shall meet and justice and peace shall kiss''.


Kerry Kennedy highlighted the importance of working in human rights with marginalized people. In her own words, the people who are closest to the problem are the closest to the solution. She also mentioned the importance of working with investors and corporations to ensure they treat everyone with dignity.

Ms Kerry Kennedy, President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights


Antonio Zappulla spoke on promoting human rights in a unique way by combining the power of journalism and law. He believes it’s beneficial for the people who don't know about their rights, as they receive a lot of information, many times polarizing, inaccurate, and hateful. He emphasized the importance of covering society’s stories when others don't, training journalists to give accurate information fairly, facilitating free legal assistance in research to support human rights organizations, and influencing policy change through partnerships. For Mr. Zapulla, it’s essential to bring the media to the legal sector, civil society organizations, government, and other institutions.

Mr Antonio Zappulla, CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation


Felipe Beliz touched on his work bringing religious and non-religious people to the business chamber to involve them in politics and to discuss diverse political approaches. Felipe offers young leaders political formation cycles around Pope Francis. He highlighted the importance of embracing Target 4.7, which promotes three global citizenship values in young leaders: practicing dialogue and social friendships, spreading hope, and feeling political love.

Mr Felipe Beliz, Coordinator, Nuevos Dirigentes -

New Leaders: Justice Peace & Human Development Argentina


Advocate Hindou Ibrahim discussed how we have to first fight for our rights to be accepted by others. Second, we have to fight for our community and environments to create a better world for our people. For Ms. Ibrahim, fighting for human rights is the best approach to keep growing. She also spoke about her work on creating an organization to fight for indigenous people’s rights and environmental protection. She touched upon developing traditional knowledge for men and women to help find the right solution to manage resources and her work promoting this initiative to the national government for policy consideration.


Ms Hindou Ibrahim, UN Secretary-General’s SDG Advocate

& Indigenous Rights Advocate


Alejandra Acosta emphasized the importance of understanding how Covid-19 has a double impact on marginalized groups. She explained how hundreds of girls targeted through the internet (over Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, etc.) were forced into prostitution to feed their families during the pandemic. To resolve this issue, Ms. Acosta highlighted the importance of developing technology tools that predict how victims were trafficked on different platforms on the internet. She believes in the power of working with artificial intelligence to illuminate patterns on the internet in order to impede smugglers. She called for action on the need to work across all sectors of society to end slavery.


Ms Alejandra Acosta, President, Break the Silence


Session 5: Sustainable Cities and Communities centered around innovative and scalable solutions, recent movements, and measures needed to address sustainable development from an urban perspective. The speakers included: Professor Yanis Varoufaki: Co-founder of The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025; Mr Eric Garctetti: Mayor of Los Angeles & Chair of C40; Mr Ellie Kallab: Deputy Project Lead, Local Pathways Fellowship SDSN Youth; Mr Christopher Castro: Director of Sustainability & Resilience, City of Orlando; Professor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco: Chancellor, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Alexandra Villaseñor: Founder, Break the Silence and Youth Climate Activist. All the speakers gave a holistic look at the innovations in technology and infrastructures that are making cities and the peripheries of surrounding communities more liveable, equitable and sustainable.


Professor Yanis Varoufakis discussed the challenges surrounding the implementation of the European Green Deal, one of them being the large financial investment required, as the project estimates about $1 trillion. He highlighted the role of education, self-education and internal drive needed for the kind of transformation that would accelerate the green deal and the Sustainable Development Goals. In his final statements, he called for a redistribution of wealth not income, in tackling inequality.


Professor Yanis Varoufakis,

Co-founder of The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025


Mayor Eric Garcetti touched on issues affecting climate change such as: wildfires and emissions. He talked about the Cities race to zero climate agreement which is focused on addressing climate devastation and will bring 1,000 cities together to take bold action to bring together the Paris Climate Agreement. He also highlighted collaboration with youth climate movements as a key element in addressing climate change in cutting emissions by 2030; a Global Mayor’s Youth forum will be convened to engage youth in climate leadership


Mr Eric Garcetti, Mayor, Los Angeles


Alexandra Viallseñor, a climate activist, briefed the audience on the protest she led on September 25, 2020, to raise awareness of the global climate crisis. She highlighted her campaigns calling out defaulting governments and companies on climate change and the future of US President Elect, Joe Biden in bringing innovative solutions on climate change.


Ms Alexandra Viallseñor, a climate activist


Christopher Castro, a clean energy enthusiast, highlighted practical strategies in cities and communities that he has been working on to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, tackle climate change, and find balance and harmony between people and nature. He highlighted Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals, as a means of establishing a culture of collaborations and partnerships with regional governments, local clergy, businesses, non-profits, and agencies in mitigating the worst impact of the global pandemic whilst addressing the city’s greatest needs. Also, he highlighted the use of electric buses to cut down the use of fossil fuels and creation of green jobs in creating sustainable cities and communities.

Mr Christopher Castro, Director of Sustainability & Resilience, City of Orlando


Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, highlighted three wicked pandemics the world is facing: Covid-19, racism, and climate change. While there is a vaccine to combat Covid-19, there are no vaccines to combat racism and climate change. He mentioned SDG Target 4.7 and Pope Francis’s Global Compact on Education as key elements in tackling climate change and racism. He also addressed education on mental health as a means to combating high suicide rates.

Professor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Chancellor, University of Massachusetts


Ellie Kallab highlighted the Local Pathways Fellowship program run by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network - Youth (SDSN Youth). The Local Pathways Fellows program seeks to provide young leaders with the tools, platforms, and guiding frameworks for action towards Goal 11 of the SDGs: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The program also connects them with leading urban development experts and practitioners. Each fellow passes through a training program, picks one issue pertinent to their city, and an area of interest connected to one of the indicators of SDG 11. Moving forward, the Local Pathways Fellowship program seeks to address specific aspects of SDG 11: stronger partnerships, more webinars, networking opportunities and mentorship programs.


Mr Elie Kallab, Deputy Project Lead, Local Pathways Fellowship, SDSN Youth


Session 6: Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology was moderated by Mr. Sam Loni, Director of Global Schools, and began with a conversation with Noble Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus. He discussed the urgency due to the pandemic of redirecting our energies and driving initiatives in new directions. Currently, there is a vast concentration of people at the bottom level of income as well as a global climate crisis, and innovation and technology must be used in the right way to create a new world. Yunus spoke about how the global system has pushed people below the poverty line and today everything is driven by self-interests. He told youth that they are the future and must save the planet; youth have the ability to take action, and they should focus on making changes on a local level.


Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate & Founder of Grameen Bank


The rest of the session continued with a panel discussion with: Ms Mayra Bravo, Project Lead, Solutions Program, SDSN Youth; Ms Racheal Jarosh, President and CEO, Enactus; Mr Johnmary Kavuma, CEO, Upcycle Africa; Mr Stuart Davis, Executive Vice President, Global Head, Financial Crimes Risk Management at Scotiabank.


Ms. Bravo launched the Youth Solutions Report, the flagship report of SDSN Youth’s Solutions Program. The Youth Solutions report features the top 50 solutions worldwide that are tracking the SDGs. This year the report features solutions that are addressing: digital inequality, mental health, and access to finance. Bravo also discussed the common challenges that are often faced in the entrepreneurial community, including financial support and the lack of funding focused on young people and the SDGs. She advised the audience to work on creating meaningful partnerships through the solutions hubs in order to support young entrepreneurs.


Ms Mayra Bravo, Project Lead, Solutions Program, SDSN Youth


Rachel Jarosh, the CEO of Enactus talked about how the community can accelerate the path to a more sustainable world if they reflect on the most important changes that have occurred. She also gave a variety of advice on how to achieve sustainable development. Her points included using: 1. interwoven thinking on the links between health, access, and economic inequity 2. technology and the importance of democratizing access to entrepreneurial training 3. connection and the value of human collaboration in accelerating the advancement to a more sustainable future. She also detailed that at Enactus they are carrying out sustainable development challenges and leveraging the power of social entrepreneurship for good.


Ms Racheal Jarosh, President and CEO, Enactus


Johnmary Kavuma, the CEO and Founder of UpCycle Africa discussed his work as a Ugandan entrepreneur. UpCycle Africa constructs houses and schools out of plastic waste in Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria. The purpose is to change people’s mindset towards using plastic and empower students by giving them the entrepreneurship skills to create more sustainable community housing. The organization also has a focus on women’s empowerment.


Mr Johnmary Kavuma, CEO, Upcycle Africa


Finally, Mr. Stuart Davis, Executive Vice President, Global Head, Financial Crimes Risk Management at Scotiabank discussed Project Shadow, a public partnership based in Canada to help banks identify financial indicators of child exploitation. The goals of the project are to raise awareness of child exploitation, report potential crimes, and disrupt illicit finance. So far, 40 indicators have been created and Scotia is providing funding to government organizations. Mr. Davis discussed the importance of collective commitment and working together to build a better future for our world.


Mr Stuart Davis, Executive Vice President,

Global Head, Financial Crimes Risk Management at Scotiabank


The Vatican Youth Symposium closed with a final session featuring the UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake. She spoke on a wide variety of topics, including promoting inclusive education in an increasingly digitized world. School closures have affected more than 1.6 billion children and 9-months later, these children remain unable to access distance learning. She reflected on the fact that COVID-19 is severely affecting young people and preventing a generation from reaching their full potential. In the future, it is important to raise youth voices so that there is more youth presence when it comes to decision making during pandemics. Only inclusive education will help students and youth eliminate poverty, tackle climate change, promote peace, fight climate change, and achieve sustainable development.


Watch the Vatican Symposium 2020 - Day 2 below.