Don’t Wait Until You’re Big Enough: Student Reflections from MENA Climate Week 2023

By Phan Ngoc Tuong Vi

SDSN delegates and experts at a Sustainable Global Tourism Center (STGC) Global Solutions Hub launch event during MENA climate week. Photo by Rudina Vushaj, @rudis_lens

As a Bachelor’s student, it seemed like I would not be qualified to participate in a professional worldwide conference. To be honest, I was extremely excited and anxious at the same time when I received an offer to attend MENA Climate Week 2023 (MCW 2023) as a youth delegate. However, after the program, I can guarantee that my presence in the event was necessary. MCW 2023 not only offered me access to new knowledge and motivated my passion for sustainability, but also provided space for youth like me to express our perspectives on sustainable development. At MCW 2023, we were an audience; but it is a good start for a future where we will take charge of developing the greener world. Be brave. Make mistakes. Grow.

Arabic Coffee tastings at MENA Climate Week. Photo by Rudina Vushaj, @rudis_lens

As an aspiring chef and young leader, it is crucial that I have knowledge about sustainability and how to take action. After learning about the programs offered at MENA Climate Week 2023, learning about the latest technology, solutions, and environmental issues was my first priority in participating. A second objective was to build worldwide connections with other young delegates. Experiencing the worldview of another can be extremely fascinating due to their unique background and mindset. Thirdly, Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project The Line has captured my attention since the beginning of 2021 with its innovative design for a crowded city to be both green and productive. MCW 2023 offered me a chance to step out of my comfort zone, throw myself in a new environment, and open my mind. With tons of new opportunities waiting for me at the conference, it was an excellent challenge to make decisions to advance my career plans.

MENA Climate Week 2023 successfully provided a variety of programs that covered the impacts of humans on the environment. Above all, young delegates received privileged access to the latest priceless knowledge from all over the world, especially when it came to the sessions on advancing climate education. The special youth sessions organized by our hosts at the Sustainable Tourism Global Center (STGC) provided a place for young voices to contribute their vision for building a more sustainable and inclusive future for travel and tourism for travel and tourism. 

Personally, MENA Climate Week 2023 offered me a chance to build up my international connections and to collate and ascertain my vision. It was captivating to observe the contrast in communication skills between individuals from varying backgrounds. Beyond gaining new colleagues, I was blessed to meet new friends from South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Thailand, and so many others.

Delegates from around the world built friendships at MENA Climate Week. Photo by Rudina Vushaj, @rudis_lens

I am a Culinary Management Student from Sunway University who was born in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I have been interested in sustainable development since my first semester at Sunway, especially after I joined Sunway Student Volunteering (SSV). SSV is an extremely active club; we have a lot of activity options every week which refer to different SDG. The activities are sponsored by Sunway Education Group. I really enjoy the activities; thus, no matter how busy I am, I will try my best to join at least one project from SSV during every semester break. Volunteering by cleaning the beach, planting trees, assisting a shelter, and so forth, has become my hobby.

I get to learn professionally about sustainable tourism for my Bachelor’s degree. The subject guides me to analyze the situation from case studies, criticizing them from a deeper perspective as a hospitality student. Moreover, in learning about the Food Supply Chain, it is compulsory to complete the Sustainability Education for Culinary Professional course from the WORLDCHEFS Academy in order to apply it in our kitchen. All of that levels me up to a stage where I can practice sustainability in my life, studies, and career. As such, I was thrilled and honored when I received the offer from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to attend MENA Climate Week 2023. 

Students enjoyed many delicious meals from local vendors during MENA Climate Week. Photo by Rudina Vushaj, @rudis_lens

My visit to Saudi Arabia has blown my mind with all of the amazing architecture, warm hospitality, and great sense of security. Frankly, I had quite high expectations for Saudi Arabia’s architecture due to all the news about the NEOM project lately, but I knew less about the hospitality and security. I was really impressed with how thoughtful and friendly our hosts were with us, and how safe I felt during my visit. One of the front desk workers at the Radisson Blu Hotel, where we stayed, told me that Saudi Arabia is a very safe country, so I can just relax during my trip. Even if I forget my luggage anywhere, nobody will dare to steal it. It is really a golden point that any country can learn from Saudi Arabia. In order to give visitors the best experience, safety is one of the top three priorities in the hospitality industry standard. 

Moreover, MENA Climate Week 2023 can be considered as one of the most green conferences I have ever participated in. I noticed that the event crew tried their best to take full advantage of the sunlight source by arranging the outdoor hallway, as well as replacing single-use plastics with glass bottles and biodegradable cutleries.

Inside the NEOM exhibit about The Line project during MENA Climate Week. Photo by Rudina Vushaj, @rudis_lens

Aside from that, the way Saudi Arabia involved AI in the NEOM project, and how they designed the building to make it five minutes away from all the daily essentials, is inspiring. In my point of view, the Line is a potential living concept that can buy time for us and leave space for the healing process of the Earth. In their project, NEOM aims to pursue a sustainable and innovative way of producing, distributing, and consuming food. The idea of Novel Foods made me question how to effectively operate a Food and Beverage business there. I believe it will be a totally different game compared with how the F&B industry is functioning at the moment. I now hope to pursue a career with the NEOM project by the year of 2030. Until that time, I am going to keep updating my knowledge and prepare for an amazing journey.

In conclusion, MENA Climate Week 2023 offered me access to worldwide knowledge; gave me a chance to express my perspective to the world; and connected me to brilliant, passionate, and talented colleagues and friends from various countries. The program benefited me in both my professional and personal life.

Phan Ngoc Tuong Vi is a student at Sunway University, Malaysia, and was an SDSN delegate to Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Climate Week 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.