Youth Forum leaders find diversity, challenge, inspiration in South Africa


After months of engagement with more than one thousand people in the Youth Forum for People and Wildlife online community, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) at last welcomed the 34 young leaders chosen from 25 countries to Johannesburg for the live conference event.

It was an incredible honor to host these delegates who come from diverse perspectives within the vast world of animal welfare and conservation.  

Thanks to generous support from the Disney Conservation Fund and other partners, over the course of the last week, delegates visited Soweto, many witnessed African elephants, rhino and leopards for the first time on a photo safari and participated in workshops and conference sessions. The sessions were designed to spark conversations and insights that will expand the delegates’ ability to create change at both the local and global level.

The formal forum began with an inspiring video message from Honorary IFAW Board Member Dr. Jane Goodall DBE, UN Messenger of Peace. That was followed by a message from our host country by Shonisani Munzhedzi, Deputy Director-General, Biodiversity and Conservation, Department of Environmental Affairs, Republic of South Africa, and a keynote speech from IFAW President and CEO Azzedine Downes.

Upon learning that people steeped in poverty prioritize education for their youth as more important than basic needs, our delegates responded with compassion, generosity and insight. In addition to donating to the Kliptown Youth Program, delegates discussed fundraising for solar panels, designed tee-shirts to sell to visitors, and volunteered to help the people of this township continue to achieve their education goals.

In Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve, dawn and dusk safari expeditions delivered on the promise of the “Big Five” residing within the grounds. Delegates spent their days in workshops, that included presentations and role playing with anti-poaching rangers on the front lines of wildlife protection.

Downes ended with telling delegates we all must make a choice. ”Are we just presiding over the demise of most of the wildlife species on earth,  or are we going to take the driver’s seat and switch to a new framework that can reverse the decline?” he asked.

Video of the entire opening ceremony, including Dr. Goodall and Mr. Downes’ messages, is available on the Youth Forum website. If you have not yet registered, it takes less than 30 seconds  and you’ll be able to access the video as well as other recorded content from the Forum. The closing session, featuring a keynote from renowned journalist Bryan Christy, will be posted within a day after the close. 

Many new international collaborations and partnerships were born at the Forum, and IFAW and the delegates will monitor the Youth Forum site for networking and communication beyond our attendance at the physical forum.

The delegates have drafted a resolution and statement of intent for moving forward that they are presenting tonight at a VIP reception with media and representatives from the Conference of the Parties to CITES—the global wildlife trade meeting that begins tomorrow. 



Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
Country Director, United States
Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Jimmiel Mandima at IFAW
Deputy Vice President of Conservation
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime