YouthQuake 2021: A cross-cultural youth platform for  understanding and responding to Covid-19 

While Covid-19 is by far one of the most unifying events the world has seen for at least a generation, it’s important to realise that we are all also experiencing the pandemic uniquely on an individual level as well, from our individual experiences of it as people, to our individual experiences as nations within the greater global whole. 

This diversity in experiencing and dealing with the pandemic is an opportunity for us to learn from and collaborate with one another, and it is with this spirit that AIESEC Sri Lanka organised YouthQuake 2021, a global youth forum for youth across the world to connect and share their individual and collective experiences of the pandemic. 

AIESEC Sri Lanka is the local arm of AIESEC, a non-political, independent, not-for-profit global network of young leaders under the age of 30 who strive to better themselves and the communities around them through leadership development, cultural understanding and experiential learning. The organisation spans 126 countries and territories, and every aspect of AIESEC’s operations is managed by students and recent graduates. 

YouthQuake 2021 took place on 17 and 18 May and was conducted with the endorsement of the Ministry of Youth and Sports, with Minister of Youth and Sports Namal Rajapaksa delivering the opening keynote address at the event, which was held virtually. 

The two-day forum was held with each day focusing on specific themes. Day One concentrated on the theme of the Covid-19 response strategy and Day Two focused on inclusive and sustainable recovery. The forum included keynote addresses from Clootrack President and CEO Dr. Rohantha Athukorala, AIESEC International Eva Dutary, Stax Inc. Managing Director Ruwindu Peiris, AIESEC International Finance Manager and AIESEC Sri Lanka President (2019-2020) Navodya Jayasinghe, and 12 other Country Presidents of AIESEC, who shared their message and experience throughout the forum. 

AIESEC Sri Lanka National Director of Public Relations Sapna Panditha shared with Brunch that the key focus of YouthQuake was connecting youth and discussing how the pandemic has affected different youth in different countries. 

“We wanted to create this platform for youth and facilitate discussion on what is happening in the world at the time of Covid-19 – to be aware of the actual scenario and to gain knowledge that is not influenced or biased by the media,” Panditha said, explaining that what we see on the news and in social media is not always the actual context, and this is why it was important to create a platform where youth could engage with each directly on a personal level. “We did this by connecting a diverse audience of 546 delegates representing 41 countries.” 

YouthQuake 2021 also focused heavily on cross-cultural understanding, with AIESEC facilitating pre-discussions between the delegates prior to the formal forum itself to encourage greater cultural understanding and knowledge exchange, as well as to host quizzes and mini research projects. 

Panditha shared that YouthQuake shed a lot of light on how other countries are battling the pandemic, especially in terms of innovation and technology, with some notable examples like robots delivering food in hospitals, the Ministry of Education of Singapore launching a new rap for the Covid-19 outbreak as a part of a Total Defence Day campaign calling for students to be mindful of hygiene, and other innovations like facial recognition cameras (CCTV) being used to record temperatures of people. 

Another key highlight of YouthQuake, Panditha shared, was the outlook and mindset that youth needs to take moving forward while also encouraging media to provide unbiased information and be responsible in the delivery of this information. 

“We are seeing only the negative impact of Covid-19 from media and social media,” Panditha said. “What we wanted to show was even if we can’t stop Covid-19 right now, with a positive attitude we can still see the opportunities that it creates, and how we can recover in a better way.”