Reflections on the 2019 GLOBSEC Young Leaders Forum

CAPT Zach Lambert, Department of Defence

The 2019 GLOBSEC Bratislava Young Leaders Forum (GYLF) provided an amazing opportunity to engage with young leaders, professionals and experts at the top of their field, and experience the high-octane transfer of ideas that occurs at a world class security conference. It was a chance to share some fresh and innovative ideas and make connections that will last a lifetime. By participating in GYLF, the Global Voices’ Defence delegation got the opportunity to broaden their Australian perspective on security; there was almost no talk of the Pacific region, and the focus on European Union internal dynamics was an eye-opening departure from standard Australian security considerations.

As soon as we arrived, the lessons were thick and fast – sessions on ‘Weaponising Islam in Europe’ and ‘The Future of War—Still a Human Affair’ were delivered by guests such as the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, Admiral Manfred Neilson. This set the tone for GLOBSEC, with a constant barrage of topics that challenged, intrigued and developed the participants. There was not a moment free – if a session wasn’t being conducted, connections were being made in the hallways, or on the way to the next session.

The Global Voices delegation was granted the opportunity to attend a closed session on the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative, with the chance to speak with senior members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the European Parliament and some world leading think-tanks, such as the Atlantic Council, on the intricacies of making PESCO work. In this session, there was also room to speak about some of the tensions that PESCO generates between the EU and the United States of America, as well as a rare opportunity to ask some hard questions. The principal question that came to us—why was Australia interested in an EU agreement? This was a rare opportunity to discuss how EU intellectual property (IP) rights and the decisions surrounding PESCO would affect how Australia negotiates our IP agreements with the EU throughout the rest of the year.

In the evenings, our delegation had the chance to attend various functions with the Forbes Global ‘30 Under 30’ event, which was going on at the same time. This was an amazing opportunity to meet with some of the top young entrepreneurs in the world, who were pitching projects as varied as the next killer transport app to satellite imagery designed to spot submarines under the surface of the ocean. The Forbes entrepreneurs lived up to their reputation of working hard and playing hard, and as the drinks flowed while we overlooked Bratislava, new networks were developed in every conversation.

After a long three days, the Global Voices delegation came together to celebrate a successful conference with a debriefing dinner at the UFO, a famous restaurant in Bratislava. This was a wonderful opportunity to get a final look at the beautiful city, share some world class food and discuss the outcomes of what we had learned. After such an intense period, it was a great chance to unwind and get ready to come back to Australia to put our new learning into practice back at work.

Please note, the views expressed within the policy paper are Zach’s own and do not reflect those of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

Future of Democracy: technology is changing our lives more than you might think

Elena Broekman, Department of Defence

Wow – what a whirlwind this week has been. It has been a huge pleasure to be a Global Voices Scholar attending the 2019 GLOBSEC Bratislava Forum. Not only did I get to participate in one of the leading conferences on global security, but I also got to meet the most brilliant and inspiring young professionals from around the world, as part of the GLOBSEC Young Leaders Forum.

This conference was a fantastic opportunity to engage with leading experts on global security challenges facing the world. A recurring theme during the conference was the impact of technology on democracy. We had the opportunity to hear General John Allen, President of the Brookings Institute, talk about technology and the future of governance and liberal democracy.

Allen discussed how tech giants have the capacity to influence large segments of the population in ways that far exceed the capacity of a traditional democratic governments. He talked about the increase of ‘digital citizens’ - a term that refers to how people’s relationship with technology, like Facebook or Instagram, is becoming more consequential in their immediate lives than their government. For this reason, there is tension and competition between liberal democracies and technology.

On the other side of the coin, authoritarian states are harnessing this technology to control the population in a way that has never previously been available to them. For example, China’s social credit system. A panel on ‘big data’ discussed the social credit system and the broader geopolitical implications of aggregating data. Big data refers to the ability to pool together previously siloed information, like personal, commercial and/or scientific data.

The panel explained how big data could potentially make autocratic regimes more successful and attractive. The speakers described how in the 20th century, one of the reasons the communist model was economically unsuccessful was because centralised governments were trying to control and make decisions for the farms and provinces. This was an area they didn’t have knowledge or experience in and so they got it wrong. In this century, there can be data attached to every row of crops. Aggregation of this data could allow autocratic regimes to provide more attractive services to the population than was previously possible.

Emerging tech giants and big data were just two of many examples used throughout the conference to explain how technology is challenging liberal democracies. Some others include: artificial intelligence, drones, 5G and cyber attacks. In all these cases, the speed of technology development is outstripping political institutions’ ability to understand what the issues are and respond.

Finally, Admiral Manfred Nielson, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Transformation NATO, discussed how we can respond to these challenges. We need to focus on partnerships and cooperation between liberal democracies, greater information sharing on common challenges and collaborating with private sector like technology companies to regulate technology but also innovate together. The future of liberal democracies depends on its ability to adapt and use these technologies, along with being able to operate and defend itself in the cyber domain.

Please note, the views expressed within the policy paper are Elena’s own and do not reflect those of the Australian Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

Y20 Summit 2019- Negotiating policy solutions with young people from across the world

Rose-Anna Selhorst, Global Voices Y20 National Scholar

It was an honour to represent Australian youth at the Y20 Summit this year in Tokyo, Japan, as one of two Australian delegates. The Y20 Summit is one of several engagement groups of the G20 and is one of the only officially (and internationally) recognised ways for young people to make policy recommendations that are presented to leaders through the Y20 Communiqué document. Leaders of the G20 countries, which together represent around 86% of the world economy and two thirds of the global population, gather each year to discuss pressing global issues and agree to actions and priorities.

This year, we Y20 youth representatives were tasked with negotiating and agreeing to policy recommendation for three topics:

  1. Future of Work

  2. Business and Environment, and

  3. International Trade.

Representatives from each country had already submitted their proposed recommendations before arriving in Japan, which gave us all an idea of the different national priorities and what each delegation was hoping to achieve during the Y20 Summit discussions.

Before we dived into the policy negotiations, we gathered together for the first time on Sunday 26 May for the G20 Youth Dialogue event at Rikkyo University. We heard from dignitaries including H.E. Hiroshige Seko (Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry) and H.E. Koji Tomita (G20 Sherpa, Japan), and experienced a Wadaiko performance (Japanese drums) which energised us as we then separated into workshops. The workshops were an opportunity for the Y20 delegates to engage with high school and university students, in order to further develop one of our policy proposals that we would be advocating for in the Y20 discussions. I attended the workshop run by representatives from BRITA, a company with the vision of changing how people drink water sustainably. I was deeply impressed by the students I worked with on further developing Australia’s proposal for the Business and Environment discussion, which identified ways that G20 countries could reduce plastic production and consumption. The students had some unique ideas, for example that governments could partner with young people to be ambassadors for plastic reduction on social media and use hashtags to promote clean ups.

As we entered the week, we immersed ourselves into the policy debates and negotiations. A highlight for me was representing Australian youth in the Business and Environment discussion. We began with a presentation from Alona Kazantseva, a representative from the World Bank Group. Climate change was one of the main issues discussed by representatives in this session. We debated ideas for how to involve businesses in reducing carbon emissions and move towards a circular economy. The Saudi Arabian representative and I advocated strongly for the inclusion of the issue of avoidable single-use plastic. Research shows that nations are unable to handle the amount of plastic waste they have already generated, with around 79% of plastic ever produced now in landfill or in the broader environment. What is even more concerning is that the production of new plastic is set to skyrocket over the next 10 to 15 years. Reassuringly, avoidable single-use plastic was included as a broader recommendation around waste management in the final Y20 Communiqué. Even better, Prime Minister Shinzō Abe noted the issue of marine plastic litter in his remarks to the Y20 delegates when we presented him with the final policy recommendations!

Reflecting back on my experience at the Y20 Summit, I was deeply moved by how young people passionately discussed and debated significant policy issues we are all facing, but without political barriers. What stands out to me is the importance of humour. Whether it was late night karaoke or enjoying a Kyogen performance (traditional Japanese comic theatre), laughter brings us together. As young people, I think we are able to connect with each other in a way that other senior leaders can often find challenging. We also bring creativity and bold ideas to the most pressing and complex global challenges. Most importantly, we want to change the world.  

The biggest thing I note when I reflect back on the Y20 Summit is how we grappled with framing our ideas in a way that would ensure that political leaders would actually listen to what we have to say, and not dismiss our ideas as being too ambitious. It is encouraging to see leaders are increasingly recognising the importance and value of engaging young people in policy-making, but at the end of the day we are not the ones sitting in the driver’s seat. It is ultimately up to our leaders to make bold decisions and change the direction we are going in. We need to continue to explore how to make youth engagement meaningful and how to empower young voices when it comes to solving complex global challenges.

Day 4 - Let's distinguish health from health care: what factors truly determine our wellbeing?

James Leigh, Curtin University

Let me set the scene for you: the sun was back after days of clouds, the mountains were clear. I’d eaten my wholesome, ritualistic French breakfast consisting of croissants, Nutella, milk bread and yoghurt cake; and I’d dusted off a coffee. I was ready.

Today marked the fourth official day of the 72nd World Health Assembly (WHA72) in Geneva. Having reached the back end of the week, I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was extremely excited about the upcoming meetings with civil societies, non-government organisations and World Health Organisation (WHO) staff to further enhance both the breadth and depth of my understanding of global health priorities. On the other hand, I felt a strong sense of bewilderment and sadness as the time in Geneva flew by, and I tried to absorb each opportunity without it escaping me.

My Thursday consisted of three predominating events, coupled with a range of meetings and exploration to fill the time in between. Beginning with a breakfast at the Restaurant Vieux-Bois, sponsored by NCD Child, I was involved in discussions to promote youth-led efforts in addressing non-communicable diseases (NCDs). I was especially touched by the young speakers from Indonesia, South Africa and Kenya who discussed their advocacy in the fields of tobacco control, mental health and access to medicines, respectively. This event was critical in its empowerment of myself and fellow youth delegates from other countries, to voice and act on our public and global health concerns. The event also provided an ideal environment to network with fellow delegates with similar interests from all over the world – newbies and veterans – whom I’m hoping to reach out to going forward with the Assembly and my policy proposal.

The subsequent two events occurred after lunch and just prior to dinner; discussing the equities, innovations and financing of universal health coverage (UHC), and community engagement in the facilitation of health, respectively. Instead of boring you with a chronological recollection of these events and their major takeaways, I instead want to expand on the overarching lessons of my time at the WHA72 and how it has influenced my malleable perception of the vast breadth of issues at large in our world.

UHC has been the central theme of WHA72 and is an all-encompassing concept that applies to every country regardless of wealth, environment, climate or culture. Although targeted at impoverished, developing nations, UHC can be contextualised to Australia and other developed nations. With respect to our homeland, universal health coverage is necessary for our marginalised and vulnerable populations; namely, our Indigenous and refugee and asylum seeker populations.

Another key theme of WHA72, has been the inter-relationship between climate change and health, which gained a lot of traction with multiple events delving into the issue, and will only increase in significance at the Assembly. Though traditionally being labelled as an environmental issue, climate change is now acknowledged as a problem for everyone and every sector – health being no exception. Issues such as disaster response, extreme weather events, and rising sea levels affecting agriculture, are but a few of the examples where our planet’s changing climate is disabling health security. For myself, with no exceptional understanding of climate change, it was highly confronting to discuss the health catastrophes due to climate change and to hear from people directly impacted by such events, such as Fijians. I feel privileged to have had this revelation, as I can now better appreciate the extent of the climate’s impact on health and utilise this knowledge in my everyday life and future as a medical practitioner.

Synthesising these two key areas of action, I have developed a profound appreciation for the concept of “health” and how it differs from “health care”. Health incorporates every aspect of life – be it diet, exercise, safety, culture, spirituality, education, hygiene, etc. Health care, on the other hand, refers to the specific reaction to an abnormality in health. Proactive measures target the health of people, whilst the reactive measures come under the health care umbrella. WHO Director General Tedros’ mission of universal health coverage assumes the proactive approach – investing in primary health care and infrastructure and education to prevent health abnormalities. This then reduces strain on healthcare and more expensive practices. This distinction has been my key take-home message from the week so far.

Having learnt so much already, I'm very eager to see what tomorrow brings as my final day at the Assembly.

Day 3 - It's health, not mental health

Melissa Speed, Central Queensland University

The third day of the 72nd World Health Assembly started off as busy as ever! Greta, Wills and Billi were off to a breakfast side-event on Ebola, Pandemics and Biological Weapons at the Intercontinental, Geneva. Meanwhile, James and Ali headed to the Palais des Nations, with James meeting with a few experts in the field of child and adolescent obesity. My schedule for the day was focused on my passion area: mental health. While there were only two official events scheduled for the week that were focusing on this issue, I was extremely excited as a result of the anticipation.

This first event ‘Harnessing Global Momentum in Mental Health’ was coordinated by the World Economic Forum. This event booked out so quickly that I was placed on the waiting list, but luck was on my side, as there was a spare seat available when I went along anyway in the morning. Score!

The event was themed around positive mental health within the workforce, destigmatising mental health, and some of the innovative technology that is being implemented in this space. The panel was filled with knowledgeable and passionate people, which made it the most engaging side-event I had been to so far. It was great to see the event filled with high-level attendees who were all so passionate about mental health, which highlighted for me the importance of this issue and the need for more urgent coverage globally.

One of the highlights was the moderator, Poppy Jaman - CEO and founding member of Mental Health First Aid England, who is heavily involved in the Mental Health Alliance UK. She touched on ‘This is Me’, a business-led campaign aimed at supporting organisations and employees to talk about mental health. As one in six employees suffer from mental illness in workplaces, it helps to bridge the gap and encourage workers to share and unite about their experiences. Poppy’s comment, that one in one people have mental health and that mental health needs to have a positive association as it is about health, was an enlightening way to consider this issue. She talked about the need to address stigma by transferring the focus on mental health in healthcare to everyday life and the workforce, as we normalise discussions on mental health.

I was also privileged to learn about some very new technology, which has become the first FDA approved digital medicine. Panellist Bill Carson talked briefly about Abilify MyCite: a pill with an inbuilt sensor that digitally tracks a patient’s ingested medication. It works by sending data from the swallowed pill to a wearable patch. This patch will then transmit information to a mobile app or a web-based browser that the patient’s caregiver or doctor can access. It has been approved for schizophrenia, acute treatment of mania, mixed episodes that are associated with bipolar I disorder, and as an add-on treatment for depression. I loved hearing about this new and innovative technology! Especially as this would be perfect for those in rural and remote areas with less access to ongoing medical treatment and services.

Overall the panel was amazing, with some very inspiring speakers. My key takeaways were the importance of considering the mental health of all people, and of engaging both the public and private sectors to invest in mental health for a more productive and healthy society.

Next up, was the WHO technical briefing ‘Mental Health – time to scale up’. The event was packed, prompting Billi, James and myself to arrive half an hour early to ensure we had a seat. The panel included Her Majesty Queen of Belgians, and as a result, security around the event was insane. This briefing provided nations with the platform to share their success stories, which was very encouraging. However, the biggest downfall identified consistently by speakers was the lack of funding for mental health globally.

Even though Australia is so privileged, and has a mental health and suicide prevention plan, we can do better. The is a need to shift our priorities to recognise that suicide is a silent killer, the second highest course of death globally in young people, and an enormous problem still in Australia, particularly in rural and remote communities. There is a need for action in innovation, development of community services and the pressing need for better funding. Every country should be rethinking their health funding with most countries only allocating 1-2% of their health budget to mental health, not enough given the seriousness of the issue. We need to work together in Australia, and globally, to break the silence around mental health and suicide!

Day 2 - Technological Development, Public Engagement and the Broad Scope of International Cooperation

Wills Pritchard, Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy and International Affairs

The most common theme of my 72nd World Health Assembly experience has been the need for more expansive collective action on the most challenging global health issues currently experienced by member states. Whilst it is hardly surprising that such a message would be so strongly advocated, the immense range of global health issues to which this applies was particularly striking, and this was demonstrated in numerous settings throughout day two.

Two key elements stood out: firstly, the wide range of challenges that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is currently responsible for addressing; and secondly, the ongoing institutional challenges it faces, such as maintaining public trust and advancing evidence-based practice.

In terms of the former category, it was readily apparent that the collective action problems faced by the WHO reach far beyond the headline issues, such as anti-microbial resistance (AMR) and climate change. For example, the nuanced issue of how best to develop and implement emerging medical technologies was a subject that was expanded upon through a number of technical briefings. Within these it was made clear that the potentially transformative effect of data collection and health information systems is well understood, however, there remains a substantial deficiency in the WHO’s current capacities to manage the ethical and security dimensions that inevitably arise in their implementation. Similarly, the strong interest shown in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, in both clinical and analytical settings, was largely discussed through the lens of how they can be responsibly managed and, critically, equitably deployed. It became readily apparent that a robust global health governance structure was an essential component of the incorporation of these technological developments not only in the establishment of ethical codes of conduct, but through being able to cut through the hype that often accompanies them, a phenomenon that has previously been counterproductive. 

Another arm of the WHO’s operations that was discussed in some detail, was how best to prepare for and manage humanitarian crises from a health care perspective. Particular emphasis to this end was placed on the implications of these events on universal health coverage (UHC). It was encouraging to see key representatives in attendance affirm that objectives concerning peace, security and equity cannot be disentangled from those of UHC and emphasise the need to take an intersectional approach for more holistic international cooperation. While the discussions of technological change were typically concerned with centralised approaches, those regarding humanitarian crises placed considerable emphasis on the empowerment of communities to develop resilience in managing these crises. Local capacity building largely in human resources for health (HRH) was a central consideration in this policy space, with the expansion of locally derived expertise being an essential component of providing continuity of health services after the initial shock of these crises dissipates.

Interestingly, whilst there was some future focus to these discussions, they were heavily oriented towards the humanitarian crises caused by armed conflicts and geopolitical violence. Consequently, little mention was made of the intersection between humanitarian crises and climate change, both as an imminent threat to human safety and an accelerant of insecurity. Whilst the global health response to climate change driven humanitarian crises will no doubt be considered in great detail elsewhere in the 72nd WHA, greater cognisance of these linkages would have been highly beneficial in this setting.

Finally, the importance of building legitimacy and trust in the WHO was a part of all the discussions I observed on day 2 of the 72nd WHA and was crystallised in a youth-oriented discussion concerning tokenism and hierarchy in global governance settings. Cognisance of how the current design of global governance institutions may be shaped by inherently unequal structures (both economic and cultural) is absolutely essential in fostering legitimacy going forward. More broadly, the required responses to these institutional challenges - such as greater public engagement, inclusion and the greater advancement of evidence-based practice - can only be achieved through sustained and increased cooperation on the international level; an area in which the WHO plays a central role.