Northern Ireland

Young leaders at Belfast summit urged to ‘pass on a better world’

Queen Rania of Jordan addresses the One Young World summit opening ceremony (Mark Marlow/PA)
Queen Rania of Jordan addresses the One Young World summit opening ceremony (Mark Marlow/PA) Queen Rania of Jordan addresses the One Young World summit opening ceremony (Mark Marlow/PA)

Queen Rania of Jordan has urged young leaders in Belfast to “pass on a better world” to those who follow in her keynote address to open a global summit.

The One Young World summit has brought 2,000 future leaders from across the world to Belfast to discuss some of the biggest issues facing the world and how to accelerate social impact.

Cultural group ArtsEkta played traditional drums as the crowds filed into the SSE arena for the opening ceremony on Monday evening.

Sustainable fashion pieces from Junk Kouture were shown as delegates watched a video detailing some of the biggest global problems facing Gen Z, including climate change, lack of educational opportunity and mental health struggles.

Radio DJs Pete Snodden and Rebecca McKinney opened the ceremony, which included music and dance performances between speakers.

Greenisland performer Benji Mobeeky and Belfast based Herstory poet-in-residence Niamh McNally gave a spoken word performance while Jordan Adetunji performed his song Riot.

Queen Rania of Jordan received a standing ovation for her keynote speech at the opening ceremony.

The summit has been recognised by the City of Belfast and the UK Government as being part of the official celebrations for the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

She said it was a “privilege” to be in Belfast celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and told the audience how her father-in-law King Hussein of Jordan reacted on hearing the news of the historic peace deal.

“I distinctly remember when the Good Friday Agreement was signed,” she said.

“I happened to be with his majesty that day, having a casual conversation over dinner with the TV in the background. I remember how his face just lit up at the news, ‘if they can do it in Northern Ireland, then we in the Middle East can too’, he said.”

Queen Rania said issues such as climate change and the increasing number of refugees were increasing problems for young activists to tackle.

She said: “Young activists feel the weight of the urgency more than most. Everywhere we turn, the warning lights on the dashboard are flashing red.

“Polarised politics, old and new conflicts, global corridors overflowing with refugees, glaciers slipping into the sea.

“Meanwhile, age-old challenges refuse to give way, even in the world’s greatest democracies.”

One young world opening ceremony
One young world opening ceremony Young people arrive at the SSE Arena, Belfast, as they attend the One Young World summit opening ceremony (Mark Marlow/PA)

Queen Rania also said the peace processes took time, despite the urgency of the problems at hand.

“You cannot secure peace with the stroke of a pen any more than heal a bullet with a band-aid,” she said.

She added: “Yes, our time is finite. But how do we spend it? That’s up to us. When we’re putting it to good use it appears to expand before us. But when we’re chasing every new distraction, we never seem to have enough and it contracts to nothingness.”

The One Young World delegates will attend conferences over three days discussing a range of global issues.

Queen Rania said she was “inspired” by the young leaders.

“This is why I’m so inspired to be here. Young people like you already understand the power of collective action,” she said.

“The work you are doing as One Young World ambassadors is proof that determined people can have impact. Every project you undertake, in a way, is its own peace process.

Queen Rania concluded by telling delegates to aim to “pass on a better world” through the leadership work they have been undertaking in their countries.

“We all may sometimes feel weary, and sometimes we may feel that however far we travel all we see is the long road ahead,” she said.

“But look around you and remember you will never be alone.

Young people in the audience at the SSE Arena in Belfast
Young people in the audience at the SSE Arena in Belfast Young people in the audience at the SSE Arena in Belfast (Mark Marlow/PA)

“What binds us is that we are all inhabiting this time, this moment. This is our lap to run.

“There are those who came before us and others who will come after us, for right now, as long as we live and breathe, we’ve been entrusted with humanity’s time.

“And if we apply every ounce of our time, we can push through every headwind, finish our race and pass on a better world to those who follow.”

Jayne Brady, head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, said: “It is said that we are a people of stories, perhaps because there are few places where the connection between the past and the present is so tangible.

“You are now part of that story and I want to invite you to join us in writing the next chapter of our future together.”

Kate Robertson and David Jones, the founders of One Young World, addressed the delegates gathered from across the world.

Ms Robertson said: “We have to work for peace in the spirit of peacemakers, in the giant spirit that we find here in this place, and the work it did for its 25 years of peace.”

Musician Stephen Loughran also performed at the opening before multifunctional Irish dancing entertainment company, Unity Irish Dance.

Delegates were welcomed to Belfast City Airport on Sunday evening with a Riverdance-style line-up of dancers from the Causeway Coast and an award-winning brass band from Co Down performing on arrival.

Tourism NI director of marketing Naomi Waite said the summit is an exciting opportunity for Northern Ireland to showcase itself to the world.

Dancers perform on stage at the opening ceremony
Dancers perform on stage at the opening ceremony Dancers perform on stage at the opening ceremony (Mark Marlow/PA)

“Thousands of young people from all over the planet will be in Northern Ireland this week and what better opportunity for us to really put on a show and highlight what a world-class destination we are,” she said.

“They have just experienced a giant local welcome at the airport today and I know this is just the beginning for these delegates.

“These young people will be our future leaders and we know they will leave Northern Ireland having had four of the most incredible days of their lives.

“This summit has the power to leave a true legacy here, which will be felt for years to come.”

One Young World managing director Ella Robertson McKay said the team have been blown away by the welcome they have received in Northern Ireland.

She said: “There is a real energy about this wonderful diverse city and we are so thrilled to be bringing the One Young World summit to Belfast.

“The next four days will be truly transformative for the young leaders attending. This is an opportunity for a global delegation to come together to shape the future of our world.

“We have some of the most influential people in the world gathered here in Belfast, to inspire, share learnings, and connect with a truly international delegation.

The delegates will be counselled by political, business, and humanitarian leaders such as former Irish president Mary Robinson, Queen Rania of Jordan and Didier Drogba.

Additional counsellors include footballer Rio Ferdinand, Rugby World Cup winner Francois Pienaar and British-Iranian journalist and author Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The One Young World Summit has named its Journalist of the Year Award 2023 the Lyra McKee Award for Bravery, in honour of the Belfast journalist who was killed during riots in Derry in 2019.