Speech: Responsible Leadership (2013)


I was asked to present a short speech to the United Nations Alliance of Civilisation's Global Forum in Vienna this year, as the Youth Representative. The theme this year was "Responsible Leadership".

Tightness of the schedule meant that I was unable to share this entire speech, but here it is in its entirety nonetheless.


When I was at the wise old age of 16, I attended a youth forum in my home town of Brisbane - not dissimilar to yesterday's session - and my eyes were opened up to what existed in my region.  That particular session, had brought together 100 young people from around the Asia Pacific to talk about their projects and initiatives and essentially share experiences.  Very cool and inspiring... but for my idealistic 16 year old self, something was missing.

At home after the third night, I was lamenting to my supportive mother about the fact that there were all these amazing young people working on fantastic projects, but there seemed to be this disconnect between the organisations - a constant dog fight for funding, excessive replication of work that was already being done well, inefficient use of resources... The work that was being done was amazing and inspiring yes, I said to my mother.  But why can't they all collaborate and work together as a pose to seeing it as a constant competition?

My mother, being used to my tirades, said something to me that day, and that simple line has really changed the course of my life.

'Well, instead of just talking... why don't you do something about it?'

Sitting there, I just thought. Hmm, touche.

So the next day, I returned to the conference to convince three other young people that we should start an organisation called Youth Without Borders.  An organisation focused on empowering young people to implement positive change in their communities yes, but also an organisation that is focused on encouraging young people to work together on projects and learn from one another... and alhamdulilah, here is where it led.

The true learning from that experience however, isn't that we should always listen to our mothers - even though that is also very true - but it is that the impetuousness of youth, the willingness to just go out there and do something, to take risks those with different responsibilities might not take... that is one of our true strengths as a demographic.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an absolute honour to be standing in front of you here today, and I thank UNAOC for the opportunity to address you.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied at the United Nations AOC Global Forum with fellow Delegates

Firstly, it should be said that the young people present yesterday at the forum and sitting amongst you at the moment, are a group of some of the most inspiring, intelligent and creative young people from around the world.  It is a privilege to have worked alongside them, and I urge and encourage you as participants of this Global Forum to meet and have a chat to one - I should warn you however, you may find yourself in awe.

The forum yesterday was a key example of how the collective hive mind of young people can produce true gold.  Recommendations such including ethical religious education from the primary school level up, highlighting the importance of social media as a medium of communication and essential for media plurality, the proposal of an online, open source language resource for migrants and a long term perspective to ensure minorities are engaged in the political process... these are all recommendations that could concretely and realistically impact countless lives in a positive manner. I truly hope that you as a forum consider them with due consideration and see what can be made a reality.

On the topic of responsible leadership however...Oh, how it can be found in the strangest of places.  I could tell you the story of how my high school principal demonstrated Responsible leadership in diversity by admitting the first Hijabed female to a strongly Christian school, disregarding vitriol from other parents.  Or the story of countless individuals in community - or even my father - who sacrificed their particular personal goals in order to provide better futures for their family; a micro version of responsible leadership. Or even perhaps the example of Abraham Lincoln, who, despite all odds and expectations, abolished slavery at a time that it was unthinkable.

I asked my friends this exact question on facebook, and within 15 mins I had responses such as "to lead for the greater good of the group", "to guide people to their own directions and goals without personal benefit", "to be transparent and accountable", and "to expect more of yourself than the people you lead".

Responsible leadership is about transparency, yes. It is about accountability, yes.  It is about ensuring that your duty as a leader to your people is respected and carried out to the utmost best of your capacity, yes.

At the end of the day, Ladies and Gentlemen, Responsible Leadership is about doing what is right, driven by the Universal Values - of Human Rights, of Respect, of Dignity and of selflessness.  Respecting your duty as a leader and in the case of diversity and dialogue, that means that all are equally represented and given equal consideration, that dialogue is open and free.

Doing what is right.

A simple sentiment perhaps...

But sometimes, those simple sentiments are the most difficult to adhere to.

Adhering to them, in the face of that difficulty, is then truly, responsible leadership. 

However, I do not doubt that these are all aspects of leadership that you are well aware of.

From our perspective as young people however, responsible leadership is also about truly respecting the agency of young people and the capacity they bring to the table.

Time and time again, I have been awed and inspired by the work done by young people throughout the globe. Young people that not only smash the stereotype, but render it almost unthinkable.

Responsible leadership for us perhaps, is about making sure that we have a seat at the table - and not the kiddies table - but the table on which our perspectives are heard with equal resonance.  It is about being responsible enough to accept the fact that by young people, for young people is the most effective way of working with, or improving the lives of and empowering young people.

I leave you then, with this challenge.  There are over 1000 of you, and around 150 young people.  I challenge to you, over the course of this forum, to truly engage with at least one participant from the youth forum.  Find out what they are passionate about and working on, and see if that does not inspire you to think about leadership in a little bit of a different way.


Day 1 of UNAOC Global Forum: Youth!

The Global Youth Forum took place on the 26th of February at the MuseumsQuartier and brought together 150 young people from around the world to come up with a list of recommendations to present to the 5th Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilisations.

This post will give a brief overview, followed by post or two about particular interesting issues that came up over the jam packed day.

(Photos Source)


The day started with keynote speeches from a very young State Secretary and various other dignitaries.  The dignitary of the morning however, was without a doubt, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon.

His visit was welcome and quite interesting. Interesting in that the paparazzi trailing him was enormous, and the dialogue that was had with young people largely tokenistic (simply due to the nature of the visit and the time available). However the Secretary General should be lauded for his personal commitment to youth, and the excitement brought to the room!  It would seem that the next stage is moving from this visual acknowledgment to true engagement with our ideas and concerns. 

The group were then split up into various groups based on the three themes. 

This is all around the central theme of ”Responsible Leadership”.

The recommendations that were produced were comprehensive and far reaching.  These included...

Freedom of media and diversity:

  1. Use social media to “transform media from monologue to a dialogue” and use this dialogue to prompt people to participate in more debates.
  2. In regards to the freedom of speech, The UNAOC needs to establish a legal basis for the exchange of ideas.
  3. Need to cultivate plural society through culturally diverse art.
  4. Need to create training programs for minority professionals in media.

Migration and integration:

  1. Must create policy law with an aim to enhance minorities in political society.
  2. Must strive for successful inclusion by providing children with education in mother tongue.
  3. Need to make the path to citizenship for migrants easier.
  4. Must create a taskforce.

Religious diversity and freedom of religion:

  1. States should invest in formal and informal education systems.
  2. Need to define relationships between youth and stakeholders so that stakeholders will listen to youth members of the population.
  3. Must enforce cooperation of various forms of ethical religious education in early childhood years.
  4. Need to ensure the right to freedom of religion.

Naturally the wording was slightly more detailed, but the sentiment remains. (Press Release)

**Personal comments – the wording of integration itself is slightly problematic, but that is for another post.  Furthermore, this abbreviated version that has been published on the UNAOC website should be, must be replaced by the full versions as these do not give the actual recommendations justice at all.


The day was wrapped up by a fantastic and inspiring presentation of the Intercultural Innovation Awards and some true Viennese Music.  The Alliance of Civilisations was truly epitomised in the 10s of different nationalities waltzing and dancing to melancholy Viennese music as well as Greek hybrid jigs. 

So, day 1 down... The next day bringing the big event.   Let's see how it pans out...!

Follow the proceedings and get involved by following the hashtag #UNAOC2013 on twitter!


***Note that the full topics were -

  • Promotion, protection and full enjoyment of the right to religious freedom in a context of religious pluralism which consists not only of greater diversity, but also of perceptions of that diversity and new patterns of interaction among religious groups;
  • Media pluralism and diversity of media content and their contribution to fostering public debate, democracy and awareness of diverse opinions;
  • Shaping a new narrative for migration, integration and mobility in the global economy.

Reporting to you from #Wien!

Guten Tag from Vienna!

Just landed in the beautiful Austrian capital city, and seeing, for the first time in my life, SNOW! (Allow me a reflective moment of pure bliss...)


Ah, now then, a little exciting news!

The reason for being in this delightful cultural city? The most humbling honour of attending the United Nation's Alliance of Civilisation's (UNAOC) Annual Global Forum, as well as the preceeding Youth Event.


The UNAOC is a political initiative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, its primary aim being to improve understanding and relations among people throughout the world and by doing so, hopefully counter polarisation and extremism. The global forum is the main event of the year where issues of importance to UNAOC's agenda (youth, media, education and migration) are discussed and presented, to then inform activities and initiatives globally as well as potentially be implemented by UNAOC itself.

The Youth Forum is designed to ensure that the youth perspective is communicated; young people aged 18-35 from around the world come together for a day or two to discuss the relevant topics and present a communique to the larger global forum.

The topic this year is quite interesting - 'Responsible Leadership in Diversity and Dialogue'.

Given the times we are living in, the question of what exactly 'Responsible Leadership' is, is an apt question indeed...


As a representative of Youth Without Borders, I look forward to the experience being a productive, challenging and inspiring few days and hopefully one with outcomes which we can action and use to empower others. Whether through the UNAOC framework or through our own organisations, it is important that activities such as these produce viable and tangible benefits for communities.

I will be keeping you all updated via my twitter (@yassmin_a) and this very blog, so stay tuned to learn all about all the latest, including interesting ideas, discussions and people at the event! It will almost feel like you were there...

Bye for now.... or Auf Wiedersehen!