The Young Diplomats of Canada delegation to the World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Spring Meetings, held April 16th to 22nd, 2018 in Washington, D.C., comprised Sohaib Ahmed, Carolyn Gaspar, Claire Robbins, Jordan Storozuk, and Matundu Loic Veza. The delegation attended 26 meetings in total, starting April 17th and ending April 21st. These meetings were chaired by the IMF and the World Bank, as well as arranged independently of the conference. Prior to the IMF/WB Spring Meetings, the delegation was counselled by YDC executives (Ross Linden-Fraser and Nicholas Schiavo) on how to proceed. In preparation for the meetings in Washington, D.C., the delegation participated in several meetings with the Government of Canada and the Embassy of the United States of America. Originally, most delegates were scheduled to arrive in Washington on Sunday, April 15th, but due to an ice storm in Ontario several delegates were delayed, and meetings were rescheduled.
Nonetheless, the 2018 YDC 2018 Spring Meetings delegation considers attending the World Bank and IMF meetings an overall success. The plethora of information received, and the key meetings attended both internally and externally, provided an exceptionally rare look into the workings of an elite and talented group of experts, leaders and individuals that is not typically accessible via normal channels. Valuable insights were also gained through attending seminars involving Christine Lagarde, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Carolyn Wilkins, and Jim Yong Kim, to name solely a few. The seminars, panels and discussions at the 2018 Spring Meetings were wonderful opportunities to further our personal and professional growth.
Key themes of particular interest to the delegation included big data and machine learning, digitalization, financial technology (fintech), market development, oil and gas, the future of education and work, and women’s empowerment. Specifically, this delegation was interested in bridging the gap between the youth of today and the jobs of tomorrow through policy and collaboration. However, many questions came to mind during the Spring Meetings:
- Where is the economy heading in the near future?
- What are the leading experts’ thoughts on cryptocurrency?
- What is the role of automation in the future of work?
- What kinds of skills do young people need to acquire in the face of a changing economy?
- Are Canadians struggling to adapt to changes in needed skills and education?
- If so, what are some potential solutions to this issue?
- How does the engagement and preparedness of Canadian youth for upcoming challenges compare with international counterparts?
- What's similar and what's different?
- What can we do to improve youth engagement?
The delegation found that the future of work in the economy was a major theme at the Spring Meetings, specifically focusing on automation and machine learning. From the many panel discussions, it is evident that repetitive tasks in manufacturing and customer service industries are moving rapidly towards automation. In the coming decade, the job market will transition to value skills such as critical thinking, coding, and other interdisciplinary skills. Experts and leaders emphasized the importance of education and training systems in giving youth the opportunity to develop these key skills.
Fintech, or financial technology, was another major theme at the meetings. However, many remained confused about fintech as a concept, and about applications of digital ledger technology (DLT) and cryptocurrency; speakers emphasized the problems associated with regulation of cryptocurrency, and the steps that governments and private corporations need to take to ensure safety, growth, and utilization of these technologies. In contrast to other major themes, investment is strongly affected by geopolitics, specifically crises in the Middle East, China’s growing importance in the world, and upcoming elections (in this case, American midterm elections). Like other developed countries, the United States is interested in investing in emerging markets because of an increased rate of return.
As well, discussions on human capital were especially revealing. The sessions hosted by the World Bank focused on human capital, women’s empowerment, big data, universal health care, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through a variety of panels, the discussion touched upon legacy skills, or investing in people across their lives, as the basis of a sustainable framework for public policy and community development. We learned that sustainable community development involves building local capacities through partnerships with local institutions, such as governments, healthcare institutions, and education stakeholders, to develop social solutions.
The World Bank Group (WBG) implements policy through collective impact work across sectors. Specifically, the WBG is making significant investments into human capital, again focusing on underdeveloped nations as well as the empowerment of women, girls and youth. However, issues continue to arise during management of human capital projects, and stem from a range of causes, including non-compliant governments, corruption, fragility, and a lack of resources, capacity, and coordination between key stakeholders. In order to overcome these challenges, building meaningful relationships and enhancing real-time data access would be of use. As an example, effective mapping of the social and health inequalities within neighborhoods through social networks could not only help locals visualize issues, but also lead to increased engagement on solving them.
Bilateral meetings organized by and for the delegation provided an opportunity to learn about a range of issues. Meetings prior to the week in Washington were scheduled to help the delegation understand Canada’s relationship with the United States and the Bretton Woods institutions, as well as the Canadian government’s efforts towards solutions for large-scale issues. Other meetings in the American capital revealed Canada’s involvement in the World Bank and IMF, Canada’s efforts in NAFTA negotiations, and Canada’s role in the international crises in the Middle East and Latin America. During these valuable meetings, the delegation learned how Canadian officials are managing the shift in the American-Canadian relationship within the context of the current American administration.
Sohaib Ahmed, Head Delegate
I was initially compelled to apply for the YDC’s WB/IMF 2018 Spring Meetings delegation when I stumbled upon the opportunity on Facebook; having previously been told that YDC’s leadership team was very reliable and well-versed in diplomacy-related projects, I felt that the Spring Meetings would be a wonderful way to learn from people who understand diplomacy perhaps more so than I do, while bringing the experience that I do have in running a successful business centered on key global-development issues (i.e., the future of education and work in the context of digitalization), engaging with research and policy across several disciplines, and leading or advising non-profit initiatives to the table.
The experience I had at the Meetings was, in a word, enlightening. The WB/IMF-organized meetings, external meetings, and meetings we ourselves planned, both in Washington and online, all engaged us in innovative discussions; I especially appreciated the fact that key WB/IMF stakeholders, as well as key governmental representatives, frequently engaged in one-on-one, transparent discussions with our team, demonstrating the negotiation skills they use so frequently to mediate international affairs, and trusting us with even sensitive information if they felt that it would be conducive to our growth as young policy and diplomacy professionals. Whether or not our team will eventually center on precisely the same issues these key individuals discussed, the methods of reasoning and diplomatic engagement that they demonstrated to us will be constructive to us, regardless of our career paths. Certain key themes discussed at the Meetings also resonated with the work I am already doing. For example, there appeared to be a consistent focus on engaging with Indian and African markets, rather than, perhaps, markets in the West; the work I am doing as COO of 99point9 is also ultimately geared at engaging youth around the world, so the fact that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are working to enrich the same demographics I am focused on helped me reaffirm that my professional direction is sensible, and has since helped me translate the information I received from the sessions into my own work. As another example, while there was a large focus on job market automation at the Spring Meetings, I noticed that this automation wasn’t always discussed within the context of its consequences for education, just as fintech, big data, and machine-learning weren’t consistently linked to the enhancement of education systems; I also noticed that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were likely very interested in building education systems, given that my suggestion that I could aid in the development of an online WB/IMF meeting engagement platform during our meetings was well-received, and given that one central theme of the Meetings was effective development and use of human capital. This gap in the metaphorical “literature” – i.e., the fact that organizations are aware of technology, and want to facilitate education and stakeholder engagement, but are not as yet using technology to do so – is a gap I’m working to address, and my participation in this delegation has shown me that there is indeed a need for ameliorated digitized engagement that isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s thinking, speaking systemically.
Finally, being a delegate with the Young Diplomats of Canada reinforced several key skills within me. For one, as Head Delegate, I was responsible for arranging logistics, delegating tasks to other delegates, and doing my best to ensure that our team was unified; I very much enjoyed working with our group, and furthered my ability to manage stressful situations. Experiencing Washington, D.C. – its pace, its sights, and the ways in which resident law enforcement, for example, engaged with visitors – also helped me understand how the community immediately surrounding the federal government of the United States operates, if only anecdotally. Finally, I am hoping to apply what we learnt via the Spring Meetings to my own youth-targeted initiatives, which will, hopefully, center on raising awareness of what we learnt at the Meetings, involving US and Canadian media in projects, interviewing key stakeholders and engaging large corporations in a continued discussion of key World Bank/International Monetary Fund themes, and helping other Canadian students engage with leadership opportunities like YDC delegations in the future!
I applied to be a delegate for the YDC at this year’s World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings to learn about global development and to network with like-minded young professionals. I was particularly interested in the sessions related to big data, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and access to universal healthcare. I was interested in attending these meetings as I have received an Honours Bachelor of Arts, Specialized Honours in Psychology degree from Lakehead University. I am currently nearing completion of a Master of Health Science degree from the University of Saskatchewan, as well. My current research experience, both in Saskatchewan and at home in Thunder Bay, centers on developing a continuum of supports for children and youth most marginalized to succeed, emphasizing early childhood education. It was important for me as a young professional to learn about community development on a global scale, and how my work can influence others but also have experts in the field influence my work.
Attending this year’s World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings allowed me to learn about the implementation of the UN SDGs, globally. Key discussions I attended were on women’s empowerment, big data, and building human capital. To fix society’s social ills, everyone has a role to play, from community members to parliamentarians. Big data is useful in measuring, monitoring and tracking the progress of social issues as well as heightening awareness based on the information gathered. For example, one panelist at the session on big data discussed how community members were passive consumers of health care, and were bystanders to the fact that a social ailment was prominent in their neighbourhood. However, through social networking, health professionals were able to map out the number of cases of that ailment based on geographic location, and thus influence help-seeking behaviour among residents. As community-engaged researchers, we need to be able to assess the need of the community in innovative ways to demonstrate the necessity of change. Although the UN SDGs are endorsed globally, it was interesting to see that more local approaches were similar across nations; these emphasized meeting with the locals, and engaging in conversations to understand the challenge at hand. If there are poor education outcomes among girls, despite the government's investments in making education accessible or permitting girls to attend school, we need to ask them why: What are the barriers and challenges you continue to face? To influence change in behaviour, we need to ask individuals and communities themselves how to best effect change. This is the mantra I follow in my research, and often, the peer-reviewed literature does not emphasize the importance of relational accountability in community development. However, in these meetings, one could often see how countries were using technology to put mechanisms in place (e.g., big data) that facilitated increased understanding of community need, and how these countries engaged with citizens through social media to build human capital. A significant take-away for me is that we need to invest in people to achieve a more equitable world through authentic and meaningful engagement.
My attendance at the Spring Meetings allowed me to network with researchers in the field of community development and allowed me to lend my expertise on the development of a methodology for a research project undertaken in the United States funded by the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation. Further, through this opportunity, we were able to network with young professionals working in Washington, D.C. to learn about their career aspirations. This opportunity was life-changing, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel with my peers and meet emerging leaders in their respective areas.
On our first day at the World Bank / IMF Spring Meetings, our delegation had the chance to sit down with Christine Hogan, Executive Director for Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean, at the World Bank. At one point during our meetings, Ms. Hogan, sensing our excitement to get started attending sessions, accurately described the Meetings as a sort of “Disneyland for globally minded young people”.
The sessions were indeed exciting, especially for a generalist such as myself. I had the opportunity to attend a range of events, notably including a panel on how the World Bank was adjusting to meet the Paris Climate Agreement, a discussion between Christine Lagarde and Michael Bloomberg, and a session on making financial technology more inclusive. Among many others, these sessions allowed me to build on what I’ve learned about these topics through my own research, but in a far more interactive and up-close way.
By far though, the highlights of the Spring Meetings were our YDC meetings with Canadian officials working for the IMF, World Bank, and Canadian Embassy in DC, and the Canadian journalists we met. It was incredible to hear about the important work they are doing representing Canadians, and I was especially interested in hearing about how the World Bank is encouraging Canadian companies to take leadership roles in global corporate social responsibility. I also loved speaking with Adrian Morrow, Globe and Mail D.C. correspondent, who answered our questions about the media climate in D.C., and how he interprets US news for a Canadian audience.
For myself, the greatest value of these meetings lay in being able to observe and take part in the discussions surrounding the intersection of civil society groups, domestic and international bureaucrats, corporate executives, and journalists. Being able to be present at the nexus of these global leaders was truly inspiring, and it was a great privilege to represent young Canadians at these discussions.
Jordan Storozuk, Communications Coordinator
I was motivated to apply for the Young Diplomats of Canada in order to have the opportunity to attend the IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings at this early stage of my career. I was enthusiastic about learning from international policy-makers, leading experts, and world figures in Washington, D.C. Previously, I had followed delegations on social media, and admired the calibre of those selected as YDC ambassadors. As I was curious to learn more about policy-making for the international economy, I was thrilled to be attending the Spring Meetings.
Canadian youth have few opportunities to observe and meaningfully participate at official international conferences – not just the youth versions. I feel like we now have a better chance to amplify the voices of Canadian youth because of our ability to attend high-level international conferences in the YDC delegation. In the delegation, each individual brought complementary strengths and perspectives, whether in health sciences or indigenous issues, digital financial assets, opportunities for youth empowerment and leadership, climate change and the energy resources sector, or politics and governance at the national and international levels. The ability to learn from each other and challenge or question our own perspectives was extremely valuable.
The experience itself was both incredibly enriching and exhausting. I wished that I had a time-turner in order to attend the many fascinating sessions occurring simultaneously. In my view, the meetings fulfilled their idealistic role as a platform for international cooperation and the sharing of best practices between experts, policy-makers, public servants, journalists, civil society actors, and other delegates. Throughout the conference, I was stuck by presence of a common idea emphasizing the importance of investment in people to manage the future of work. This idea involved a dizzying number of options, including investing in skills, education, health, poverty, social inclusion, and more to ensure that people are prepared for the unknown.
I can already tell that attending the Spring Meetings on behalf of the Young Diplomats of Canada will have a beneficial impact on my future career. The YDC experience reminds me of the importance of building a network and considering new perspectives. This shared experience has allowed me to not only create connections and friendships within the delegation and alumni network, but also benefit enormously from hearing these people’s thoughts during the meetings and candid moments. There is nothing like having another person’s differing experience and insight to better understand complex issues. I was lucky to be surrounded with ambitious, friendly, idealistic, pragmatic, diverse, and driven people during my time representing the Young Diplomats of Canada in Washington, D.C.
I had the opportunity, from April 16th to 21st, to join a group of young, engaged, and bright Canadians to assist the 2018 Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB). Prior to YDC, I obtained a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, and I then went on to obtain a master’s degree in international relations, with a concentration in international law. In both my degrees, I had the opportunity to learn about the Bretton Woods institutions. However, they still were a black box for me, and from my discussions with other colleagues, I understood that this was a shared impression. The Spring Meetings helped me understand how these institutions function. We even had the opportunity to visit the newly opened Museum of the World Bank, where we had a presentation on the Bank’s history and evolution.
Reflecting on my experience at the spring meetings, the first thing that comes to mind is the Young Diplomats of Canada delegation with whom I attended the meetings. Spending time at the spring meetings with these four Canadians was a wonderful experience. I met with young and dynamic Canadians who represented different Canadian provinces, were sons and daughters of immigration, worked in different policy areas, and had different perspectives. Together, we were able to discuss the same problem, but with different perspectives. This unique blend of people made my experience more enjoyable and instructive. We were able to challenge each other on topics we had heard the previous morning or afternoon in a respectful way.
Throughout the week, I was astounded by the access we had. We had this opportunity to listen to the thought leaders of global policy. As a group, we attended the major seminars where Christine Lagarde, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Kim Jim, and others were exchanging views. I personally attended seminars on the new digital economy, economic diversification, the future of jobs, and gender equality. The quality of the speakers, the questions asked, and the discussions raised were unique. Furthermore, the rooms were full of delegates from civil society, governments and the private sector, from all over the world, bringing us perspectives distinct from solely Canadian ones. It was actually very interesting to discuss the Canadian perspective, to see what works, and to see what could be improved. We were lucky enough to have precious encounters during the meetings, which resulted in our making several unexpected visits. For example, we had a very lovely visit to the Capitol, dinners with fellow youths living in the US, and insights we might have not had without these encounters.
A valuable lesson learned regards the work done by our different representatives in the WB Group, the IMF, the Organization of American States, and at the Canadian Embassy. We do not appreciate enough the behind-the-scenes work done by all these representatives, especially in these times of uncertainty both political and economic. We had very candid conversations about their everyday work, the Trump presidency, the new Washington, the Canadian voice in Washington, gender equality, the future of work, and the new digital economy. I cannot thank all these representatives enough for their honest conversations.
Overall, I highly recommend this experience to any Canadian youth who wishes to better examine the IMF and WB. It is also an incredible opportunity to meet with thought leaders, fellow youth, and Canadian representatives in Washington, and to learn from peers in the delegation. I was not sitting at the table, but I was in the room, and I feel as this opportunity gave me the insight, confidence and experience to succeed.