On 15 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, participated in the Athens Democracy Forum, organized by the New York Times under the theme “Solutions for a Changing World”.
The Director-General took part in an interactive round-table discussion on “Bridging the Generational Gap”, featuring 23 students who explored ways of engaging young people with the democratic process from voting to civic engagement. Speakers included Serge Schmemann, Member of the Editorial Board of The New York Times, Kerry Kennedy, President of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, and Brian Smith, President, Europe, Middle East and Africa Group of The Coca-Cola Company.
The Director-General underscored the importance of Global Citizenship Education, and UNESCO’s work in this field currently focusing on the prevention of violent extremism, awareness raising and advocacy, guidance, capacity building and partnerships.
In the discussion with young students, UNESCO Director-General declared “I understand the criticism from new generation towards global leaders today, and the many challenges on the table, from uncertainty to climate change. But If I were to speak in defense of what has been done by my generation, I would mention that Gender Equality, which was not on the Agenda a generation ago, is now a priority concern. The Paris Agreement and the UN sustainable development goals are also a major political achievement. There is a strong social movement and quest for dignity around the world and this needs to be sustained and supported. It starts on the bench of schools and the education we need is about skills and competences for decent jobs, but is also about values and democracy. You cannot have a democracy if you do not have informed citizens equipped with critical thinking and this is why UNESCO integrated the notion of global citizenship into the UN Education goal.”
Within the framework of the Athens Democracy Forum, the Director-General also participated in an event on sustainable tourism with the Google Institute in the presence of Mr Laurent Gaveau, Head of Google Arts and Culture Lab. “Tourism has tremendous potential to contribute, to inclusive economic growth and sustainable consumption, but it is also a driver of dialogue for mutual understanding and citizenship.” said Irina Bokova, recalling that the United Nations declared 2017 the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
“Cultural tourism accounts for nearly 40 percent of world tourism revenues,” she continued, explaining that for UNESCO, this is an opportunity to focus on role tourism could play in protecting heritage. In this context, she launched a call for action to innovate and harness the full potential of tourism to develop sustainable jobs and foster global citizens.
While in Athens, the Director-General visited the “Marianna V. Vardinoyannis – ELPIDA” Oncology Children’s Hospital (Athens) and was honored to receive the Elpida Honorary Award, on behalf of the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer “ELPIDA”. “I am humbled to receive this award,” said the Director-General. “I take this as a recognition of the work of UNESCO and the great cooperation we have built together with Marianna Vardinoyannis”, recalling the commitment of the later as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.