From 10 to 12 November 2021, the RISING Global Peace Forum was back in Coventry, the historical city of peace and reconciliation and currently city of culture. The Youth Futures Algeria project was present alongside Sustainability Leadership Kosovo (SLK) to engage and interact in a panel on “Youth Leadership for sustainability and Peace in Kosovo and Algeria,” facilitated by Dr Jessica Northey
The first part of the panel was led by Rina Fetahaj and Indira Kartallozi focusing on the Kosovo experience. The second part was led by Latefa Guemar and Sami Mehiaoui focusing on the Algerian case.
The Panel of Speakers on Youth Leadership
RISING Global Peace forum
RISING is an annual forum organised in partnership between the magnificent Coventry Cathedral and the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations (CTPSR) at Coventry University. Professor Mike Hardy, Chairman of the RISING Board and Founder of CTPSR, opened the Forum stating:
We need new leadership that will help make sense of the potentials and realities of our complex world, as well as bring positive changes Professor Mike Hardy, CTPSR
RISING aims to promote a new way of provoking dialogue around peace worldwide. The priority axis for 2021 is Leadership for Peace, a topical subject for our Youth Futures project. Our latest workshops have focused on leadership for sustainability. These were delivered by SLK and saw great interest from the Algerian doctoral students in the UK and Algeria.
Global RISING Peace Forum in Coventry Cathedral
Youth leadership for Peace and Sustainability
The panel aimed to answer crucial questions such as what are key developments in the area of leadership for peace and sustainability? What role have young people played in these developments? How can they connect internationally? How can they help Mediterranean countries that are facing challenges going forward after a history of conflicts? And how can they strive for more sustainable societies?
Sustainability and leadership toward a better protection of nature in Kosovo
Indira Kartallozi opened the panel describing the history behind Sustainability Leadership Kosovo. She spoke of her own personal journey as a refugee in the UK and then her 30 years of experience as an educator. She told us of her desire to use her own personal transformation to inspire hope and change-makers back home in Kosovo.
For a country battered by war, struggling with poor leadership and lack of opportunity, I wanted to reignite hope. We wanted to educate for sustainability, build transformative leadership and empower youth to protect their environment. Indira Kartallozi, SLK
Rina Fetahaj, herself one of Indira’s mentees, then spoke about her own journey having studied in the UK and US. Returning to Kosovo, she wanted to tackle social and environmental challenges the country is riddled with. Her experience seeing the transition from conflict to the state-building process in the last 2 decades, has shaped her academic and career choices. As a young person in Kosovo, she argued,
We had a duty to make our country better... Rina Fetahaj, SLK
Kosovans struggle due to the highest level of unemployment in the EU, especially among youth who comprise more than half the population. They also suffer from failing social services. Rina spoke of how environmental issues have finally started receiving the attention they urgently need, due to increasing biodiversity loss and serious waste problems. In a highly politicized society, with struggles she increasingly feels to be ones that are shared around the Mediterranean, she also felt that
We owe it to nature to solve the problem and empower changemakers! Rina Fetahaj, SLK
Rina and Indira of SLK
Supporting young women’s leadership in Algeria
Turning to Algeria, Latefa Guemar then spoke about a most cherished topic: the importance of promoting women’s leadership. Although the last 20 years have seen dramatic improvements in women’s participation in politics and economic life, much more progress is needed. For instance, in 2013 Algeria adopted a quota system to improve women’s representation in parliament. This granted women a minimum of 30% of seats, making Algeria the leading country in the Middle East and North Africa. Unfortunately, in June 2021, the percentage of women in the newly elected parliament dropped to 8% as the quota was largely ignored. One way to address this is to promote women’s leadership and equal access, in line with the Algerian Constitution, across all sectors.
Her own fieldwork for PhD revealed a strong network of highly skilled Algerian women living and working outside Algeria. This diaspora network mobilised during the recent Hirak social movement, supporting their peers back home. Equally important is that among the 500 Algerian PhD students currently in the UK on Algerian government scholarships, around 80% are young women. Most have chosen research topics on education, feminism and or tackling neo-colonialism. For them, the future of Algeria is promising, if freed from patriarchy, corruption and bureaucracy.
Sustainability, venture creation and youth empowerment
Sami then spoke about the importance of youth engagement to achieve the sustainable development goals, through initiatives such as small businesses, associations, student clubs and events. Sami shared his experience as founder of a tech-based social enterprise that aimed to reduce 30% of food waste in staff canteens.
Sami’s online app to reduce food waste in company canteens
Facing multiple challenges Sami, presented valuable insights into how the ecosystem of support to sustainable SMEs is not working and opened the horizon to collaborate, cooperate and co-create through innovative solutions.
The positive side of having major problems in a country, related to poverty, education, health care, environment and women’s equality, is that it pushes us to work on meaningful projects and this is what we as humans aspire to do. Sami Mehiaoui, Algerian social entrepreneur
Jessica, Sami and Latefa speak about Youth Leadership
Challenges and opportunities for youth leadership
The panellists discussed major challenges facing youth and women today in both contexts, noting similarities, particularly in the need to create opportunities, livelihoods and hope. They raised questions around societal norms, expectations and the importance of a systemic approach to building skills, confidence and innovation.
New forms of activism are emerging and youth have a strong desire to create. SLK has launched initiatives such as CreAct which can inspire and empower in Kosovo and similar contexts. Their movement called #MoseMerrMalin (do not take the mountain) influences action to protect and regenerate loss of forest.
The need to move away from seed funding to lasting sustainable businesses was another challenge. Whereas international finance existed in Kosovo, this had been a double-edged sword. Dependency on that prevented some organizations taking up more ambitious projects.
The panel ended by giving the opportunity to Professor Matt Qvortrupp to launch his book Winners or Losers: Which countries are successful and why? Exploring what makes a country a “better place to live” Professor Qvortrupp’s findings will be of interest to social scientists across borders and policy makers thinking about how we can create transformation and incentivize positive change.
Sami with Prof Matt Qvortrupp