The podium with 5 panelists

World Health Summit 2022, Panel ”Meaningful Youth Engagement with Global Health Governance”
Marek Wallenfels (Director of Education and Next Generation, Bertelsmann Stiftung) (l.) next to him Dr. Ying-Tsun Chen (Chairperson of Public Health, International Pharmaceutical Students Federation), Dr. Gaudenz Silberschmidt (Director of Health and Multilateral Partnerships, World Health Organization), Sarah Beaini (acting National Member Organization President of the Lebanese Medical Students’ International Committee in 2021/22), Mahmood Al-Hamody (Vice-President for External Affairs, International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations)

Meaningful Youth Engagement with Global Health Governance

The World Health Summit took place in Berlin from October 16 – 18, 2022. Marek Wallenfels, Director of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Education and Next Generation program, discussed the topic of "Meaningful Youth Engagement with Global Health Governance" with leading representatives of the health sector during a panel discussion. Two youth organizations also presented their activities, which they are implementing in cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO): The WHO Youth Council and the Youth Pre World Health Assembly (Youth PreWHA). 


Foto Marek Wallenfels
Marek Wallenfels


Young people as agents of development and change

"Young people are one of the biggest demographics on our planet. They are the core of prosperous communities, not only as a building block for the present and the future, but also as crucial catalysts and an enacting agents of development and change," said Mahmood Al-Hamody, Vice-President for External Affairs of the International Federation of Medical Students' Associations (IFMSA), in his opening remarks. 

Based on the experiences and insights they gain from interacting with their environment, it is essential to recognize all young people as equal actors in decision-making, and therefore to ensure their active participation so that they can contribute to their own development, as well as that of their environment, Mahmood Al-Hamody affirmed.

Meaningful youth engagement

"Meaningful [youth] engagement" in this context means "actually including them [young people] in all aspects of health governance whether it's through the drafting, the implementation, the evaluation or monitoring of all plans for health. I think also it's providing youth with spaces where they feel empowered enough to share their ideas to bring innovation to the table, to actually make changes within their societies [...]", explained Sarah Beaini, acting National Member Organization President of the Lebanese Medical Students’ International Committee (LeMSIC) in 2021/22. She also highlighted the aspect of sustainability in terms of continuous collaboration and rethinking.

Marek Wallenfels emphasized that most young people are engaged and challenged in their local environment and demanded: "We need to make sure that we support young people in developing resonating relationships. [...] They really need a feeling that what they do has an impact." He also emphasized the importance of young people building their own networks and ecosystems.

Our biggest investment is young people

Hamaiyal Sana, IFMSA's Liaison Officer to the WHO, who joined the discussion online, said: "Our biggest investment is young people. Because every effort we make - be it on a national, international level, or even a local level - we cannot hope to sustain it, if we do not bring the new voices in. Because these are the people who will inherit whatever system we are trying to create here."

However, Hamaiyal Sana stressed that it is not enough to simply give young people a place in the discourse. They must also be given the framework and tools to engage meaningfully. To this end, IFMSA has been organising the Youth Pre World Health Assembly (Youth PreWHA) for more than 10 years, building the skills of more than 50 youth delegates from around the world through targeted workshops and preparing them for their role as delegates to the WHO. 

Other existing youth organizations working in collaboration with WHO includes the WHO Youth Council, which aims to strengthen young people's voices in health and promote their innovative approaches, and national youth delegate programs in several countries (WHO Youth Delegate Program).

The panellists agreed that there is a lot of potential for growth in terms of youth engagement in global health policy. It is therefore important to continue to raise awareness of existing initiatives and to ensure that young people are given the space they need to actively participate in shaping their own future.