EMPOWER 2015, a youth conference in Doha hosted by Qatar-based NGO Reach Out To Asia (ROTA), a member of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF), concluded its 7th summit in Doha on 14 March 2015. At the closing ceremony, young leaders from across the Middle East and Asia vowed to make a difference in their communities by urging for peace in the midst of turbulent times across the region.

Through ROTA, the event supported QF’s commitment to building strong, sustainable communities in Qatar and the region.  EMPOWER 2015 was held at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Centre in Education City from 12 – 14 March and was held under the auspices of Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of ROTA.

As a member of QF, ROTA believes in the importance of unlocking human potential as well as the development and power of human capacities. The summit helped fulfill this important mission, which ROTA supports to foster a progressive society and address immediate social needs.

EMPOWER 2015, organised and led entirely by young people for young people,  gathered up to 450 youth leaders between the ages of 16-27 from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Cambodia, Malaysia, Azerbaijan, UK, Netherlands, Greece, Ethiopia, Canada, US, Kirgizstan, Bolivia and Sri Lanka.

Now in its seventh year, the three-day conference aimed to give young people a voice and empower them with the skills, knowledge, values and ethics needed to move their communities toward realising the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals related to peaceful societies and education. In February, EMPOWER’s Youth Planning Committee unveiled ‘Peaceful Societies’ as the theme of this year’s summit. This theme pervaded each of the summit’s three core segments: personal leadership, service learning and global citizenship.

#EMPOWER2015, EMPOWER’s official Twitter hashtag, became the number one trending topic in Qatar, with an online conversation generating around 12,000 tweets by young people from the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, Asia and North America who came to Doha for the event. The hashtag also ranked among top Twitter trends worldwide.

At the close of the conference, youth delegates announced the formation of a special task force to give young people a more prominent voice in building ‘peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development’ across the region. The task force of 20 youth leaders convened a special session to begin identifying a list of recommendations that support the Post-2015 Development Agenda of the United Nations. It included those objectives related to youth, access to education and promoting peace. The recommendations of the task force will be the cornerstone of a Global Advocacy Campaign that will seek to create links with key youth forums, conferences and meetings around the world including the World Humanitarian Youth Summit, which Doha will host in September 2015.

Youth delegate Lowjain Al Mubarak of Saudi Arabia, said:

It is my first time taking part in the EMPOWER conference. I was a member of Saudi delegation who participated in this event. Over the past three days, I have learned a lot and am fully charged with energy and positive thinking that strongly convinced me that we can make a difference and positive change. The conference introduced me to many young people from different nationalities and backgrounds. The thing that I liked the most is we integrated and familiarised ourselves with each other quickly – overcoming all geographical and cultural barriers.’

Tariq bin Abdul Aziz Al Nuaimi from United Arab Emirates, said:

It is my first time to take part in this conference. The conference was packed with insightful workshops that were conducted by international trainers and high-calibre professionals. Workshops covered a wide variety of topics from different areas. What I liked the most in the conference was the various topics raised at the discussion table; giving young people the opportunity to follow discussions based on their interests. The conference helped me to make new friends from different nationalities and learn more about various cultures and different opinions.’

Tunisian participant Ahmed Alratibi, stated:

I attended EMPOWER 2015 as Head of the Tunisian delegation, representing Tunisia Charity Association. Personally, it is my first time to take part in this conference. However, it is not the first time for Tunisia, especially for Tunisia Charity Association, which sends four young, active and ambitious participants on yearly basis to take part in this event. The gathering discussed several topics through its workshops, meetings and activities that have enhanced our capabilities to build peaceful societies, which is the main theme of the year. I have benefited a lot from this event. It helped me learn about various cultures, nationalities and backgrounds such as Egypt, Gulf States, United Kingdom, and Netherlands. I had the chance to familiarise myself with Qataris and Qatari culture. I wish from the bottom of my heart, for EMPOWER to keep its resounding success. The conference was well-organised and well-planned. It was not only at the level of the conference, but at the level of state as well. Qatar is planning very well for the future and for hosting the World Cup 2022, which indicates that the country is planning for generations to come with a clear vision and aware youth.”

Aisha Al Joudi, a Bahraini participant, said:

We have learned the principles of peaceful coexistence through our interaction and discussion with many young people who came from the East and the West. We may not have the same opinions, but we have learned here that disagreement does not damage amicability. We have also learned a lot from inspired speakers and workshops. The conference was really a wonderful experience.’

Beth Hat, from the United Kingdom delegation, said:

Thanks to Empower conference, I have seen how the cooperation between East and West youth can make a difference and positive change globally. Our interaction and cooperation will not be only limited to Empower, we have already formed networking groups to share our projects with each other after Empower conference. I would like to thank Empower for giving us this amazing chance.’

The strong presence of the Turkish delegation was in part a celebration of the Qatar-Turkey 2015 Year of Culture. Suhad Touch of the Turkish delegation commented:

In my capacity as a Political Science assistant researcher, I can reiterate that Turkey has a strong and longstanding bilateral relationship with Qatar and we hope to develop this relationship to be more prosperous and stronger in the future. As part of celebrating the cultural year, Qatar-Turkey 2015, we received a special invitation from the youth of Reach Out to Asia to attend the EMPOWER conference, which was an extremely well-organised, efficient, and valuable event. On this occasion, I would like to extend my sincerest thanks to Qatar Foundation for this great event. I have attended many international conferences but EMPOWER was so special and different from all similar conferences that I have attended.’

Sudanese participant Farah Naz said:

EMPOWER gathered young people from around the world in one place. This gave me the chance to learn a lot about the world’s youth, their power and capability to change the world. In addition, the conference was a great opportunity to learn more about human rights and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. This will definitely help me to benefit my country Sudan. I hope to see more Sudanese youth at EMPOWER 2016.’

Participant Muhannad Al Bahari from Libya, said:

ROTA’s conference is a fantastic experience that gathered young people from around the world. We have learned a lot from EMPOWER workshops aiming to enhance youth skills for achieving peaceful societies. The best thing I have learned from this conference is that we are dealing with a person as a human being and not based on his or her nationality.  I hope I can benefit my country Libya and my people in the field of community development with what I have learned here.’

ROTA’s Executive Director Essa Al Mannai said:

Current events around the world, especially in this region, have challenged our notions of peaceful societies and forced a rethink of what we can do to improve human security, prosperity and happiness. EMPOWER is about walking the walk – providing the skills, knowledge and inspiration to tackle pressing issues like peace and encouraging youth to take a more active role in promoting peace within their societies. The enthusiasm, cross-border connections made, and discussions at this year’s edition of EMPOWER took the event to new heights and I am excited to see EMPOWER continue to grow each year.’

ROTA is committed to providing high quality primary and secondary education by encouraging relationships among communities, creating safe learning environments and restoring education in crisis-affected areas across the Arab world and Asia. Furthermore, ROTA assumes a leading role in supporting low-income workers in Qatar and providing educational opportunities through innovative local and global projects.