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Young People Debate Democracy and Entrepreneurship at the OAS

  December 4, 2012

The Organization of American States (OAS) today held three discussion panels as part of the OAS Youth Conference 2012 that, presided over by the Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, and the Assistant Secretary General, Albert Ramdin, heard the views of the young people of the region on democracy and entrepreneurship during the event which took place at the headquarters of the organization in Washington, DC.

Lenore Yaffee Garcia, Director of the Office of Education and Culture of the OAS, moderated the first panel and presented the conclusions of the Virtual Forum on Democracy. The internet consultation, which opened on November 12, "had 49 participants and received more than 2,820 visits from all the Member states of the OAS." Among its findings, it recommends the strengthening of training programs for young people "with the objective of providing tools to participate actively," "involve young people in decision-making processes" and "capacitate and promote the use of new technologies to increase citizens’ access to information."

Introducing the panel entitled "Youth, Democracy and the Future of the Hemisphere," Garcia recalled that the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS said that "the peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it." The panel, composed of four young entrepreneurs, started with Anacristina Benavente, leader of the project "Joe the Rabbit and the Family of the Future," who explained that her goal in starting the program was to ensure that "adolescents and young people could be the ones who will find a best way to resolve conflicts within their own homes." Benavente spoke of the challenges she faced in her efforts, including lack of resources and initial obstacles to convincing people of the value of the project.

Boni Guerrero Canto, "Outstanding Youth" Winner of the National Youth Award in the Dominican Republic, defended the need to give young people educational options to prevent crime or too much idle time. Mariela Ortiz Suarez, from the Argentinian Foundation SES, recounted her experiences with the "Week for the Rights of Youth," among which she emphasized the importance of teaching young people to view and use politics, not necessarily in a partisan way, as a tool. Valeria Castillo Salazar, President-elect of the Model OAS General Assembly 2013, emphasized that, in addition to seeking better opportunities, young people must take responsibility: "Young people cannot just criticize, we must also contribute."

The second panel, moderated by Shelly Dass-Clarke, Advisor in the Office of the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, covered the theme "Youth in Action for Democracy and Entrepreneurship: the Way Forward." Pedro Less Andrade, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Latin America at Google, highlighted how the Internet presents opportunities for new adults, including early access to their first job, because of their capabilities in the area. Glenn Phillip, Minister of Youth Empowerment, Sports, Information Technology and Telecommunications and Post of Saint Kitts and Nevis, started his address with the global economic crisis, which has in his opinion "exacerbated the situation facing young people in terms of unemployment." Diego Ruiz, Vice President of Global Public Policy and Government Affairs for PepsiCo, highlighted the need for companies to keep in mind the growing influence of this sector of the population in the Americas, which as consumers is constantly growing in number and increasingly has more purchasing power. In addition, he told the participants, "you are entering an age in which the ability to be nimble, to adapt, to be creative based on changing circumstances is probably one of the most prized qualities that you can have."

Before the last panel began, the conclusions of the Virtual Forum on Entrepreneurship were presented, whose main objective was to present a space for new leaders and entrepreneurs to sustain a dialogue to exchange views, ideas, experiences, commitments, and good practices. Among the findings, it recommended an emphasis on investment in innovation and entrepreneurial education as key to the success of new businesses, and the need to improve access to entrepreneurship courses.

Moderated by Valerie Lorena, Executive Director of the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT), the final panel discussion was titled "Expanding Youth Enterprises in the Americas." Atieno Okelo-Williams, CEO of the real estate firm DC Home Buzz, spoke of her "entrepreneurial journey," which began when she lost her first job. In her address, she said what looked like a catastrophic event turned out to be "the best thing that has happened in my life," she said, because it compelled her to take the risk of launching her own business, which ended up being successful. Juan Pablo Gutiérrez, Director of "Make it Work," a company that supports young entrepreneurs in their projects, talked about the main lessons he learned in his work to achieve a viable business: the need to sustain the energy and drive for the project, to define what it entails, having a close support group, to clearly outline the business model, and to have the necessary confidence to take the "leap of faith." Tevin Shepard, a member of Youth Think Tank of the Caribbean, and Second Vice President of the Youth Council of Santa Lucia, spoke of his experiences with the project "Youth Talk Through Arts," associated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), used to "give a voice to young people on issues that affect them" in the Caribbean.

The OAS Youth Conference 2012, which was opened by the Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, comprises three activities: a virtual forum, the conference itself and an exhibition. The event's goal is to develop key recommendations for the OAS on issues specifically related to the youth of the Americas. Such recommendations will be presented to the Secretary General and the Permanent Representatives of the OAS Member States at a special meeting of the Permanent Council tomorrow, Wednesday December 5. The agenda for that meeting is available here.

A gallery of photos of the event is available here.

The video of the event is available here.

For more information, please visit the OAS Website at

Reference: E-447/12