Care to Share: Learning from others at UNESCO’s World Heritage Young Professionals Forum

In June 2018, Chloe Porter – Casework Officer at Historic Environment Scotland – was invited to represent Scotland and the UK at UNESCO’s World Heritage Young Professionals Forum (WHYPF) in Manama, Bahrain.

Joining 29 other young heritage professionals from all over the world, Chloe enjoyed a whirlwind ten days of workshops, roundtable discussions, and visits to Bahrain’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

With 2018 designated as Scotland’s Year of Young People, this forum was a timely reminder of the roles young people will play in shaping the future protection of World Heritage Sites. Here, Chloe reflects on what she learned from her trip.

Receiving the certificate of the Forum from left to right: HRH Princess Dana Firas and Shaikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al Khalifa (the President of the Bahrain Authority for Culture and Antiquities).

The World Heritage Young Professionals Forum

The World Heritage Young Professionals Forum is an annual event organised through the UNESCO World Heritage education programme, and it’s been happening since 1994. It started as an initiative to put heritage into the hands of young people (23-30 years old).

The Application Process

The prospect of attending an international forum was really exciting, so I filled in the form with my experiences in World Heritage Site management, as I previously worked on the review of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site Management Plan.

I now work as a Buildings Casework Officer for Historic Environment Scotland. I assess development proposals – which come in the form of planning permissions, listed building consents, or even conservation area consents. I assess the impact these proposals might have on the listed buildings, conservation areas and World Heritage Sites in Scotland– so this Forum on the topic of “an ever-changing world” seemed very fitting.

Getting the chance to participate in international conferences and forums can be quite rare – there were 990 applicants for the 30 delegate positions at the forum – so you have to throw your hat in and give it a go!

To my surprise, I found myself on the organising team’s shortlist of 70! For the final round of selection, we were invited to produce a short video of ourselves, explaining how we would use the experience gained during the Young Heritage Professionals Forum.

I was motivated by such a fantastic opportunity to learn about the challenges facing UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and how to overcome them. I felt I could bring my experience of Scotland’s unique World Heritage to the table, and I was keen to share this with other young professionals who look after World Heritage Sites in their own countries.

My video was successful, and I was selected to take part in the Forum alongside 29 other participants from all over the World: Palestine, Zimbabwe, India, Ghana, Cuba, Hong Kong, USA, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, Senegal, Cameroon, The Netherlands, Russia, Algeria, Greece, Kuwait, Austria, Philippines, Bahrain, Thailand, Albania, Pakistan, Benin, Syria, Poland, Sudan and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The 30 participants of the World Heritage Young Professionals Forum 2018 and the organising team. Credit- 42WHCommittee.

My representation at the Forum was the first time the UK had been represented at UNESCO’s WHYPF since 2005. You won’t know unless you try!

I was lucky to meet with the UK delegation, From left to right front: Enid Williams (Senior Heritage Policy Adviser, DCMS), Keith Nichol (Head of Cultural Diplomacy, DCMS), Helen Maclagan (Culture Director, UK National Commission for UNESCO), me and Henry Owen-John (Head of International Advice, Historic England). Credit: Chloe Porter.

‘Protecting Heritage in an Ever-Changing World’

It was great to be able to share some of the challenges we face in Scotland, and the UK, while preserving our World Heritage Sites during this visit to Bahrain. The activities and workshops that took place were designed so that delegates could work together, and share their experiences with common issues.

The group discussing the topic of communities and sustainable tourism. Credit: Diadrasis

The SWOT table of World Heritage Sites. Credit: Chloe Porter.

We visited both Bahrain’s Pearling Path World Heritage Site as a case study, and as a basis for our workshops and roundtable discussions on society and history, materials and places, new technologies, climate change, communities, and sustainable tourism.

Qal’at al- Bahrain World Heritage Site. Credit: Editions Gelbart.

One of the buildings on the Pearling Path Trail UNESCO World Heritage Site. Credit:

We visited a traditional boatyard and the coral reef attended an intercultural dinner and built a traditional house made of gypsum, stone, clay and bamboo.

From left to right Ernest (Researcher in fisheries and coastal management, Ghana), me, Noora (Architect, Kuwait), Bushra (social worker to save the tangible and intangible heritage of Aleppo, Syria) and Jimmy (researcher in heritage management and cultural policy, Hong Kong). Credit: Diadrasis

We also took part in a simulation of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. The World Heritage Committee decides which of the nominated sites are inscribed with World Heritage Status.

We were each given a role as a country’s representative at this year’s World Heritage Committee, or as a member of an advisory body. Some of us played the Chair or Director-General of UNESCO, while others played members from NGOs.

Committee simulation exercise from left to right Moussa (Senegal, a researcher in underwater archaeology), playing the role of IUCN), Monique (the USA, a landscape architect in Detroit, playing the role of ICOMOS) and Sophie (The Netherlands, junior lecturer in public international law, playing the role of ICCROM). Credit: Diadrasis.

Committee simulation exercise from left to right Majid (Palestine, architect), Melpomeni (Greece, Intern at UNESCO Europe and North America Unit), Devaang (India, Filmmaker specialised in documentaries on Heritage) all playing the roles of Non-Governmental Organisations. Credit: Diadrasis

The subject of this simulation was a fictional natural World Heritage site called ‘Magic Lands’ – situated between two countries called Fantasia and Atterata. Our World Heritage Committee had to discuss what we thought of the fracking taking place to the north of the site.

Before we started, we were each given a delegate position that we had to stick to. I represented Uganda and had to prepare a diplomatic speech to present the country’s position on the subject. In my case, I had to voice Uganda’s concerns over the fracking near the World Heritage Site in Fantasia – as well as to insist that a new portion of the natural site was added to the inscribed boundary.

It was really interesting because you had to debate and argue your point, and watch as some countries agree on one view, while others took a separate one to protect their interests too. It was very similar to what happens at the real World Heritage Committee!

Inspiring World Heritage Professionals

The most inspiring thing that will stay with me was the discussions I had with the 29 other young heritage professionals from across the world.

It meant I learned a great deal about the challenges facing hundreds of UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the world. There was such a wide variety of professionals there as well, from lawyers to conservationists, right through to film-makers which made it really open.

I learnt about a lot of fascinating projects going on, here are a couple of examples:

Nuttida Vanichayalai, from Thailand, works for the World Monument Fund on the conservation of Wat Chaiwatthanaram – which is part of the Ayutthaya complex inscribed with World Heritage status in 1991.

Reem Gasim, from Sudan works for the NGO SUDIA and works on raising awareness on the marine natural heritage in the Red Sea in Sudan “Strengthening Marine Protected Areas and Marine Ecotourism Benefits in Sudan” as a part of the Sharks and Rays of Sudan programme. Her team also developed the Sudan Marine National Parks website for the marine protected areas in Sudan.

Noora Almusallam, from Kuwait, participated in the Venice Biennale in the Kuwait Pavilion, the theme of their pavilion was “acquiring modernity” to showcase the importance of the modernist architecture in the country (@docomomokw on Instagram).

Diego Parra Cortes, from Colombia, with his team in the historic city of Bogota involved the community in the restoration of the historic facades on the project called “El Patrimonia se Luce” (Heritage is restored).

Monique Bassey, from the United States, works in Detroit and where a lot is going on at the moment, including a lot of actions around the city’s UNESCO label of Design.

Devaang Jain, from India, produced a film which narrates the untold story of one of India’s most ancient forts, Ranthambhor, a hill fort in Rajasthan, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Hemza Boumaraf, from Algeria, works with local youth groups on design.

All of this is truly inspiring and shines a light on the importance of involving young people in the protection of World Heritage sites. Back home in Scotland, 2018 is our Year of Young People, it’s a great time to try new initiatives in World Heritage that include young people and I was able to take home some great ideas from everybody’s experiences.

Our Declaration: Putting World Heritage in the Hands of Young People

We drew from the ideas, concerns and opportunities raised during our workshops and activities to write a Declaration to the World Heritage Committee. We wanted to ensure the sustainability of World Heritage in an ever-changing world.

In the Declaration, we particularly recognised that the involvement of the youth and local communities is vital for the sustainability of the World Heritage Convention, and for the successful long-term conservation of heritage.

Our group was given a chance to attend the real UNESCO World Heritage Committee, where we presented our Forum’s Declaration.

The Forum was such a great experience and helped to show that there are platforms out there for young people to have their voices heard on critical decisions that will impact the future.

I think it’s important that young professionals, and young people generally, have more opportunities like these. They open your mind to what else is happening out there and allow you to engage with other young professionals internationally on essential issues.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Young Professionals Forum takes place annually, and applications are open to anyone working in heritage roles aged between 23 and 30 years old. Next year it’s going to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan – and I’d recommend you apply if you can!