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Cork's Stephen McDonnell reflects on his experiences at the One Young World Conference

Cork's Stephen McDonnell reflects on his experiences at the One Young World Conference

Author: Comms GPA/23 December 2014/Categories: Year 2014

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One Young World is the preeminent global forum for young leaders aged 18-30 and gathers the brightest young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections and develop solutions to some of the world's most pressing issues. It's an annual summit that takes place in different cities across the world. Its 3-4 days packed full of talks from world renowned key note speakers, CEOs and leading politicians. Not to mention the 1300 youth leaders, all of whom are involved in projects for change from over 190 countries across the world, sharing their journeys and opinions.

My name is Stephen McDonnell and I am a Design Engineer within the Consulting group in Ireland. This year I was lucky enough to have been chosen to represent Arup Europe and Ireland at this year’s One Young World Summit.

Between the 15th of October to the 19th of October, 1300 delegates representing 190 nations descended upon Dublin, Ireland to participate in the 5th One Young World Summit. Delegates discuss pressing world issues with an action-based focus on developing solutions to problems faced by their generation and the next. The primary topics this year included Sustainable Development, Global Business, Human Rights, Peace & Conflict, Education and Global Governance.

For the Dublin summit, Arup sent a 6 person delegation, with a representative from each of our major geographical regions. The Arup delegation consisted of Stephen McDonnell (Europe), Michelle Dionello (Americas), Julie Anne Walker (UKMEA), Lara Tabet (UKMEA), Susanne Sugiarto (East Asia) and Ken Yi Fong (Australasia).

It was a fantastic opportunity for the Arup delegates to engage directly with these discussions at an international level, contribute to them with a global engineering perspective, and connect with our colleagues around the world to collaborate on positive action moving forward. There were so many great speeches sessions going on at the summit such as receiving a rally to action from Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson towards achieving positive climate change outcomes, witnessing the strength of an unlikely alliance between a former IRA prisoner and a former UDA prisoner deeply entrenched in “The Troubles” that plagued Ireland or deepening our knowledge of what a circular economy means, the presentation passionately articulated by Dame Ellen MacArthur who broke the (then) world record for the fastest solo globe circumnavigation in 2005.

So what really happens when you bring 1300 delegates representing 190 nations together?

On a personal level the summit was an eccentric place. In the Republic of One Young World everybody is an immigrant and no nationality or culture can govern. With 190 nations, dominance is diluted with diversity and the only option is to release your everyday issues, be open, relax, and learn and that is indeed what I did. Upon returning home from the Summit in Dublin, I really felt like I had been on an around the world trip.  I met countless new people, new cultures, new personalities and new opinions on life. Our conversations were the most amazing open conversations and their stories and life experiences are an inspiration. One such woman I’d like to mention is Yeonmi Park. Yeonmi Park is a 21-year-old North Korean defector and human rights activist who escaped her country, North Korea in 2007 and endured alot of pain and suffering in doing so. 

Like me, she was a One Young World delegate for the 2014 summit. I met Yeonmi at lunch the day before her speech as a delegate speaker, we were both eating chicken wraps. I had no idea who she was, just thought I’d say hi. She was so genuine, compassionate, caring the list goes on. We chatted for twenty minutes and she showed a great interest in me, maybe because we were just having a genuine conversation about life with no judgement as I didn’t know about her past.  I left our conversation thinking of how great she is and it rubbed off on me, she’s a shining light.  When I heard her speech at the peace and conflict plenary session I was completely blown away. I was so lucky to have openly talked to her in the manner I did and it was a very impactful moment for me. I felt a real connection with her and one of the learning lessons for me is that we are all visitors to the Republic of One Young World but our visit shows us that we all live as one. Every man is your brother, every woman your sister, and any suffering to them is as it were to family.

See Yeonmi's speech here:

Upon returning home from the summit I felt an empowering change in me, I looked back and tried to summarise what had happened to me;

Excitement and nervousness to be there, fascination listening to the speakers and other delegates, rising despair as the scale of the world’s problems are presented, but sheer inspiration quickly followed, then hope, and a determination to act.

What struck me most about the summit were the people who I met, no matter what country they were from. We were all united in what we wanted to ultimately achieve, sharing the same goal of success, wanting to help others and wanting to make the world a better place.

Back to Arup, post-summit, the collaboration between Arup delegates continues to strengthen, focusing on birthing initiatives within or through Arup that positively influence issues that were discussed at the summit. Stay tuned to see what comes next!

Needless to say I'm committed and overwhelmingly inspired to create positive change and have developed a network of like-minded people from the summit to help and guide me.

Arup’s slogan is:‘We shape a better world’ - What have you done today to shape a better world?


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