Fifty-three "emerging leaders" assembled at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco yesterday to discuss world events and issues from a youth perspective.
From all over the globe, from Cambodia to Nigeria, and Mexico to Palestine, the youths invited to participate in the six-day 1998 State of the World Forum have taken part in socially beneficial projects in their own country.
The age of the group's members ranges from 14 years to the mid-twenties. Several of the participants have set up social or political programs of their own.
The youngest participant, Craig Kielburger (from Canada) founded a group called Free the Children, with the aim of preventing the abuse and exploitation of children.
The group includes student leaders, democracy activists, environmental activists, peace activists, women's rights activists, children's rights activists, and youths with an interest in employment issues and drug dependency.
The director of the State Of The World Forum's emerging leaders program, Dr Veronica Ortega-Welch, leads a small team which co-ordinates the network of youth participants. It will continue working with the group after the Forum finishes.
"The objective of the program is to increase youth participation in the Forum, as well as increase awareness of the opportunities for youth/adult partnerships," Dr Ortega-Welch said yesterday.
In addition, Ms Welch said the Forum provided an opportunity for participants to develop the skills and tools to assist their work after they returned to their home countries.
Ms Welch said the group met before the Forum began in order to provide an opportunity for the "emerging leaders" to network among themselves. After the Forum finished they would continue to network via the Internet, mail and through other gatherings.
While they should not be thought of as destined to become future world leaders, Dr Ortega-Welch said the commitment each member of the group had already shown to social and political progress indicated they might well become so.