‘World Heritage hand-in-hand with sustainable livelihoods’ is the only way forward,
say emerging heritage professionals
“I am empowered to step up and safeguard my community's heritage, to contribute towards social-economic, environmental, and cultural sustainability”
In a first since the initiative’s launch in 1995, the 2021 edition of the Forum was held in a virtual format, in conjunction with the extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee. 31 young professionals from 29 countries across the globe participated in the Forum from 5 to 9 July 2021, exchanging with heritage experts and engaging with one another, on themes relevant to World Heritage.
The young professionals brought along diverse perspectives to heritage conservation, with local insights and on-ground experiences from their own countries. Over the course of five days, they explored the concepts of World Heritage governance, sustainable tourism, and community empowerment towards heritage; through multiple discussions, lectures, workshops, and virtual site visits, led by experts in the matter.
A snapshot of the professional backgrounds of the participants, taken during an interactive session with
Prof. Mario SANTANA, Secretary-General, ICOMOS
Before the term 'Sustainable Development' was in the global arena, the 1972 World Heritage Convention enshrined it through intergenerational equity, encouraging us to protect World Heritage sites for future generations, and not just for ourselves.
This conversation only got more prominent with the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented health crisis it led to, which adversely affected every facet of our lives- heritage inevitably following suit. The abrupt halt in travel and tourism cut off visitors and revenues- for some sites the only source of income to cover the costs of conservation, maintenance, and salaries of staff. The surrounding communities have been impacted as well, as countless people engaged with heritage have lost jobs and sources of income, further highlighting the importance of carrying out community development hand-in-hand with World Heritage conservation. In light of these growing challenges, the young professionals recognized the need to radically rethink the way we deal with our multi-faceted heritage, and set to work on building their recommendations towards "World Heritage and Sustainable Livelihoods".
The Forum was launched on a note of hope and optimism, with the young professionals sharing their messages for the 50th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which will be celebrated next year, in 2022. Intense discussions on the Convention’s mechanisms and strategic objectives followed, with a spotlight on initiatives and opportunities for youth. The young professionals also familiarised themselves with the 2030 Agenda and the contribution of heritage in particular, and culture in general, to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Delving into World Heritage governance at international to local levels, they explored the role of each stakeholder in ensuring the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the sites, and debated on how management plans can be reimagined to improve community engagement.
As tourism remains the biggest boon and bane for World Heritage, the participants and the experts eagerly discussed their ideas on the future of heritage tourism, particularly in the post COVID-19 context, underlining the need for sustainable solutions including digital tourism, eco-tourism and local/community-based tourism. They also benefitted from the knowledge of the host country particularly through the best practice case study of Azheke Traditional Village.
Recognizing the devastating effects of Climate Change on UNESCO World Heritage sites around the globe and across topographies, the also discussed resiliency and relief measures to be implemented, and ways to raise awareness in this regard, which is the need of the hour.
In the age of rapid digital transformation, the conversation around heritage cannot be devoid of the growing potential of digital technologies. The young professionals discovered along with the experts, the rising opportunities for enhancing community participation towards heritage through digital channels, while also celebrating the existing community-led innovations that have democratized the heritage experience for one and all.
Each of the expert interventions were followed by workshops where passionate discussions ensued among the young professionals, who rose above the challenges and limitations of virtual format interactions, and conversed with one-another in the true spirit of intercultural-learning.
The Young Professionals Forum is not only a part of the crucial process of informing, training and involving young people in protecting, preserving and promoting World Heritage; it is also a way for the others to learn from their experience and fresh perspectives.
With the conviction that their voice matters in shaping a better future for our heritage, the young professionals consolidated their recommendations into the outcome document “Youth Voices on World Heritage and Sustainable Livelihoods”, which will not only serve as a baseline for their future actions in the field, but also anchor the work of governance structures internationally and nationally, towards a future of heritage that these young professionals have envisioned. The outcome document was also presented at the extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee, and can be accessed here.
As we prepare to celebrate the global efforts put towards World Heritage conservation for half a century, we also pause and reflect on the constant conflict between preserving the past and moving on towards a sustainable future. At this critical juncture, there is no voice more important and no effort more essential than that of youth.
The World Heritage Young Professionals Forum 2021 was hosted by the National Commission for the People’s Republic of China for UNESCO from 5th to 9th July 2021, as an integral part of the extended 44th session of the World Heritage Committee (Fuzhou (China)/Online), within the framework of the UNESCO World Heritage Education Programme, and under the theme of “World Heritage and Sustainable Livelihoods”.