A way forward from the Coronavirus.

By Shaima Hamidaddin

First of all, I hope all of you, your families, and friends are safe. We’re living through unprecedented events, it’s no wonder some people are scared. But if things seem dark, there’s one thing we can rely on that’s NOT unprecedented – our common humanity. Some truly heart-warming stories have begun to emerge of people reaching out (not physically of course!) to each other and the most vulnerable in society now facing loneliness and isolation.


Indeed, it’s widely acknowledged that the long-term impact on economics and society is going to be huge and the measures needed to combat the spread of Coronavirus are going to touch us all in some way: The need to work remotely, social isolation, and travel restrictions. And how we respond over the coming weeks – maybe months – is going to be a huge test in itself.


We’ve often heard (and said) how we’re now the most globally connected generation ever. How we can talk to friends, colleagues and strangers around the world from the comfort of home. But what happens when that doesn’t become a choice, but a necessity – not just for a few, but for many? Can the technology handle it? Can we handle it?


Even in my own home we had a sudden challenge when my sons’ school closed. I’ve been trying to limit their screen time, but suddenly they needed screens just to join their lessons and we realised we didn’t have enough for them. It’s not just at home either, in Misk and at other companies around the world we’ve suddenly had to make sure colleagues have laptops to work from home. Fortunately, we’ve been able to get solve both problems but… we’re lucky to have resources. There are many who don’t.


And it’s not just on a resource level that there are challenges. The technology itself has sometimes struggled. We’ve heard about mobile and WIFI networks and VOIP platforms all faltering with the sudden surge in demand. But even assuming those challenges can be surmounted, there’s debate whether technology can truly replace face-to-face human contact.


Given the situation, at Misk we’re pivoting many of our events planned for this year to be online. We planned Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC) national finals, Misk 500 Startups workshops, and Y20 working groups to be actual physical events. Those clearly aren’t going to be possible and a key question for us now is: How can we make sure the benefits are the same? All these events were originally to be designed to be as interactive as possible – hands-on and face-to-face – there’s a real risk something will be lost online.  


But maybe instead of worrying about losing something, we should think about what we could gain. Are there ways to improve the experience? And, asking an even bigger question, will bringing more events like these online improve more than just the interactions? For a start, a free, user-friendly, virtual platform can extend opportunities to young people in less developed countries, who can (sometimes with justification) see access to programs like EWC as the preserve of richer countries.


Another side-effect of the various lockdowns around the world has been a massive reduction in pollution. Maybe that’s the key opportunity from this challenge. With climate change a major issue, what if this is an opportunity to turn a solution to one problem into a solution for another? Can we learn to live in new ways for the benefit of not just ourselves, but the whole planet?


I know this blog has posed a lot of questions, but I hope we’ll have some answers in the coming weeks and months. At Misk we’re going to be doing our bit to try new things. With the young leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators we bring together, I’m confident we’ll hear some spectacular ideas. For instance, last year;s EWC had two health focused startups in the finals, Koniku and NERv Technology – the eventual winner. Perhaps this year’s competition will give us a solution to the dangers of global flu pandemics. Or perhaps the Y20 will follow the lead of the G20 and begin brainstorming solutions among young people online, potentially bringing together far more people than we could have dreamed of doing in an actual location.


As horrifying as the situation is, and we must never forget the human cost, we might now have a real opportunity to improve the way we use technology to live, work, and communicate. At Misk we’re going to be trying to find our own way and I hope you’ll join us.



Y20 – The coolest G20 engagement group

By Shaima Hamidaddin

In my previous blog I discussed global citizenship – what it means to be a global citizen and what it means for us at Misk to encourage people to embrace that identity. In this blog, I’m going to look at one of our major projects for 2020, one that is a real opportunity for you to put into practice the ideals of global citizenship: The Y20.


First of all, let’s get the obvious out the way. What is the Y20? As the Y20 leader from Misk’s side, Othman Almoamar, put it when we launched here last Sunday, it’s “the coolest G20 engagement group,” but it’s also the “only officially recognised platform for young people to engage with the wider G20.” What that means is, if you’ve got something you want to say to the leaders of the G20 nations, engaging with us on the Y20 is the way to do it. It’s a real, impactful way to influence global policy making – to have your voice heard at the very top table of international decision making. And it’s all starting this month.


But, why should you engage? It all seems so distant, elite, and disconnected, right? Even more so for non-G20 country members! In reality, the G20 leaders and indeed world leaders in general aren’t that distant and we’re not that disconnected. What happens in a G20 country, effects other G20 countries, effects non-G20 countries, effects individuals wherever they are. The issues the G20 is wrestling with this year, and the issues we’re focusing on in the Y20 I noted above, affect countries and people all over the world. If we can develop solutions within the G20 framework, they can benefit any country, community, or person anywhere. With the Y20 we’re giving you a real way to get involved in that process.


So, if that’s given you cause, how do you get involved? We’re creating a thousands-strong community of young people across the world and – in keeping with the defining technology of our time – we’re starting online, but (Coronavirus permitting) planning some face-to-face meetings later in the year. Joining this community will be your way to discuss the points and ideas you want put before the G20 leaders at their summit November this year. And this isn’t just some one-and-done, send in an idea and forget about it/be forgotten deal. We’re going to have weekly webinars with Y20 members and monthly online meetups – both completely open to the general public; G20 countries and beyond. More details will be announced soon on our social media, so keep an eye out.  


But, it’s not just discussions to inform this year’s recommendations (as important as those will be). We’re also going to offer the chance for you to compete to influence next year’s Y20 too (to be hosted by Italy). We’ll announce more information on this competition soon, but I’ll spoil it for you a little – you’ll be asked to make a video about the issues that are really on your mind and some suggestions for the global community on how to solve them. An international jury and this year’s Y20 delegates will select the best and invite their makers to the summit in October… the outcomes will then be shared with the Italian delegation for 2021.


In fact, that we’re thinking of not just the Y20 for 2020 but Y20’s beyond is another key part of what we’re trying to achieve. The issues we’re addressing aren’t going to be solved this year, or even next year. We need something that’s long-running to address long-standing issues. So, for the Y20’s tenth birthday, let’s make this a Y20 with a legacy. We’re telling world leaders to listen, so it’s up to you to speak-up. Misk is ready to amplify your voice. Join us, join your global Y20 community for this year, next year and beyond.



Riyadh, 2 March 2020

  • Saudi Y20 team to bring the voices of young people to the G20.
  • Launch event brought young people together with government and UN officials.
  • In a Y20 first, a ‘Y20 Community’ will be built for grass roots engagement and to channel
  • ideas to the top table of international diplomacy.

Riyadh, 2 March 2020 – The Misk Foundation, in partnership with Ithra, the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, yesterday launched Y20 at an evening event at its Riyadh headquarters attended by young leaders, UN and government officials, and the Kingdom’s G20 Sherpa. 

The Y20 is the most influential international diplomatic forum for young leaders, and the only officially recognised platform for young people to engage with the wider G20. It is one of eight official engagements under the G20 umbrella. 

At the inception day, the Y20 team set out its plans to make the Y20 an active and impactful channel between young leaders and the leadership of the G20 throughout the year. 

Saudi Arabia’s Y20 team have chosen to focus their activities around three key themes that complement the broader G20 goals: 

Future fit – preparing for the future of work and entrepreneurship; Empowerment – developing agile and dynamic future leaders; and Global citizens – promoting proactive, culturally sensitive problem solvers. 


The Y20 team also announced plans for a youth-led network, comprising young delegates from G20 countries and stakeholders from the private sector, academia and civil society, to develop a series of policy recommendations – to be delivered in the form of a communiqué – for consideration, approval and activation at the G20 heads of state summit. 

They explained how these discussions will be informed by new research by Misk and actionable White Papers developed with knowledge partners as well as a new database, planned as Saudi Y20’s legacy contribution to future Y20s. 

The inception event began with a ‘fireside’ discussion between the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms Henrietta Fore, and young attendees. They discussed how young people can shape a better future, and the support UNICEF was investing into the youth of today. 

In her welcome remarks, Sarah Alkhedheiri, the Y20 Sherpa and Initiatives Manager at the Misk Foundation, said: “This is an amazing opportunity for young people to engage with global leaders on the most pressing issues of our time, and also to engage with each other as responsible global citizens. I’m calling on young people, wherever you are, to get involved: The Y20’s now open. World leaders are ready to listen, it’s now up to us, our delegates, and young people around the world to speak up and make their ideas heard.” 

Building on these themes, Othman Almoamar, Y20 Chair, and Research Manager at the Misk Foundation, said: “Young people are an important demographic – they account for 50% of the world’s population, about 90% of whom live in developing countries. And while research that we have done at Misk points to youth being optimistic in general, they still face challenges in the education, employment, and global citizenship domains. In 2020 the G20 priority areas coincide with these challenges and they are working to address some of the most pressing issues faced today. At the Y20, we will bring young people’s voice from G20 countries and beyond to ensure that their ideas, solutions, and ambition are delivered to the G20.” 

The evening’s keynote speeches by H.E. Fahad Almubarak, Saudi Arabia’s G20 Sherpa; Ms Henrietta Fore of UNICEF; and Mr Toily Kurbanov, Deputy Executive Coordinator of UN Volunteers, showed how Y20 is already bringing the voices of young people to the top table of international decision-making. 

Saudi Arabia’s G20 Sherpa, H.E. Fahad Almubarak, set out the importance with which the G20 regards the Y20 this year. Dr Almubarak said: “Meeting the Y20 cohort and hearing the solutions to 21st century challenges remains a highlight of any G20 presidency. In 2020, the Saudi G20 presidency is committed to engage with a broad range of civil society representatives.” 

Dr Almubarak spoke about how the G20’s priorities relate to young people, such as tackling the challenges associated with new patterns of work to ensure “future ready youth”. He added that the G20 would focus on financial inclusion. Dr Almubarak emphasized the role of financial inclusion in empowerment, saying: “access to financial services is a prerequisite for unlocking economic opportunities. The G20 agenda in 2020 will therefore focus on financial inclusion for youth, women and SMEs, complementing past presidencies’ efforts in this regard.” 

Dr Almubarak concluded by addressing the Y20, and wider global youth, by saying: “You are amongst the most educated, determined and inter-connected generation in human history, and you can impact change in the G20 and beyond. Over the next days and months, you have the unique privilege of representing your generation. In doing so you will help shape a global agenda to realize opportunities of the 21st century for all.” 

Addressing the young attendees, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said: “We believe there is simply no better investment in the future than an investment in today’s children and young people. After all, you’re tomorrow’s employees, employers, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders.” 

Abdullah Al-Rashid, Ithra’s Programs Director, announced a first in the history of the Y20 – the building of a ‘Y20 Community’ of around 2,000 young people aged 18-30 from across the G20 countries with the aim of ensuring an impactful two-way communications channel between young people, the Y20 and the wider G20. 

He said: “This is an initiative designed to bring decision-making closer to the people, especially to young people. We intend to involve thousands of young people from across the G20. We want to create a vibrant online community which can discuss the most pressing issues and move us towards robust, workable, solutions and policies, or at the very minimum present foundations for coherent future policies.” 

The Y20 Community will be formally launched with an open call to young people on social media, followed by three tracks of engagement: an awareness-raising track with online content generated by Y20 community members; priority areas discussions in the form of weekly webinars and monthly meetups open to the public; and a youth priorities initiative – an open call for young people to share a 1 minute video setting out the most pressing issues and suggestions relevant to them. The outcomes of this process will be passed on to the Italian delegation for consideration in next year’s Y20. Mr. 

Toily Kurbanov, Deputy Executive Coordinator of UN Volunteers, spoke of the importance of volunteering and emphasised that today’s youth have an important role in shaping the future. Speaking to the young people in attendance, he said: “Stop listening and agreeing that youth is the future, because youth is the present. No decision should be made without you. Do not wait for others to create an agenda for you.” 

The Y20 team is planning further activities during 2020, culminating in the Y20 2020 Summit in Riyadh from 12-18 October at which the Y20 Communiqué will be finalised for consideration at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in November.