Twenty students from nineteen Alliance campuses traveled to Athens, Greece to participate in the 2019 Athens Democracy Forum. In addition to the roles they played in Forum sessions, the students had the crucial role of providing a youth perspective on new models for democracy in our changing world. Alongside senior New York Times journalists, heads of government, international business leaders, activists, and experts, the students discussed the state of democracy around the world and explored questions around the rule of law, freedom, education, human rights, and civil society.
The theme of the 2019 Forum, “Reinventing Democracy – New Models for a Changing World”, was examined through Forum sessions focused on five topics:
We and Them: The tectonic plates of nationalism and multiculturalism
The Echo Chamber and the Agora: The use and abuse of new and social media
The Cost of Inequality: Where has all the money gone?
Back to Basics: What must be done to restore faith in Democracy?
The Collapse of the Traditional Party: Why have political parties been weakened?
Preparation for the Forum began over the summer with students working in small groups. They were asked to share their views of the state of democracy in their countries and the extent to which youth are involved in democratic processes. Preparation continued in person when the student gathered on the campus of American College of Greece October 6 to 9. In small group and plenary sessions, the students engaged in discussions and presentations on the five Forum topics. These discussions modeled practices laid out in a Dialogue Toolkit prepared over the summer and shared with students.
To prepare them for their roles as recorders at workshops on four UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 4-Quality Education; SDG 10-Reduced Inequalities; SDG 13-Climate Action; and SDG 16-Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions), the students met with representatives of the Greek chapter of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The students also met with Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, to talk about UN efforts to engage youth globally.
The opening reception was held at the Acropolis Museum with the lighted Acropolis serving as backdrop, followed by two full days of Forum sessions. Alliance students were invited to ask the first question following the panel sessions that addressed the five Forum topics, as well as the first two questions for the Talk with the Time session on the last day of the Forum. Students were scribes for the two symposia, Business for Purpose and Electoral Integrity, and produced two reports summarizing key points made during the discussions. Four SDG reports summarized recommendations collected from the SDG workshop. Finally, students were invited to write a Youth Viewpoint essay a topic raised during the Forum. The essay by Demetrio Iannone (John Cabot University, Rome, Italy) was published in the English edition of Kathimerini.
Our time together closed with a trip to Schinias Beach for lunch, swimming, and relaxing. Students have since returned to their busy academic schedules. and have been encouraged to find ways to share their experiences with their peers and faculty, and to continue their conversations through dialogues, panels, or other programming.