Fuego Fuego! A Retrospective on Telenor Youth Forum 2016

Blinding blue spotlights swing and salute across the crowds in the dark. The Telenor Arena is packed. Norwegian Royalty and President Juan Manuel Santos of Columbia have taken their seats in the box. It’s time for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Concert. The 26 Telenor Youth Forum delegates sit in two rows along the balcony. Their faces ring out blue and white on the beat. I take a moment to see them this way.

It’s been four demanding days since we met in a hotel lobby. These young people came from all over the world, two from each of Telenor’s 13 global markets, to kick off a year-long program.

After lunch and live music at Telenor Headquarters on the first day, Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke and Nobel Peace Center Executive Director Liv Tørres welcomed the delegates. Then the group received their assigned teams and global goals, and met with the five expert mentors who volunteered to take part.


Climate Change


Mental Health


Unemployment and Social Instability


Education for Young Refugees


Gender Equality


Spark: Stopping Unemployment Before it Begins (2015 Winners)

After a few hours of service design education from Livework, it was time for the evening’s activities. The teams received iPads stocked with challenges and quizzes and raced around sparkling Oslo. Once they’d working up an appetite, it was time for some Norwegian culture. We rode our by-now-familiar bus up the mountain outside the city to a restaurant called Lavvo, set up in traditional Sami tents.

The second day was all about hard work. Livework gave the teams various assignments to spur their creativity, and they began to work on prototypes.



Another night, another delicious dinner. The delegates and their supporting team dined at Mehfel in downtown Oslo. Sajawal Waseem and Mehroze Munawar, TYF’s delegation from Pakistan, were happy to educate the rest of us on their home cuisine.

Saturday brought some pleasure time for the group. First, the delegates braved the rain and attended the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. President Santos’s remarks inspired all of us. “It is much more difficult to achieve peace than to wage war,” he said about his efforts to end a war in Colombia that has lasted more than five decades.

After an exclusive reception and preview of the new exhibit on Santos and Colombia at the Nobel Peace Center, the delegates hurried back to the hotel to change into warmer clothes in time to join the annual torchlight parade for peace.



Several teams worked long into the night with the smell of rainy streets and torchwax on the clothes. The next morning, they polished up their presentations and boarded the buses for their last trip to Telenor HQ. There, they pitched their social enterprises to a panel of respected experts, including Telenor executives. As each team took the stage, the rest cheered heartily. It was more than a climax of effort; it was a catharsis.

Now we sit at the Telenor Arena. American singer Halsey turns her leather-coated back to the audience and reminds the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Norway and the world about the gender discrepancy among a century’s worth of laureates. Marcus og Martinus, Norway’s answer to Bieber, stomp around the stage and sing about girls.



From here the TYF delegates will continue to improve on the product and service ideas they came up with this weekend. In May 2017, they’ll gather again in Bangkok for a two-day conference and a chance to pitch for funding and partnership. Like everyone else they touched here in Oslo over the last four days, I will be watching their journey. Eagerly. Hopefully.

Colombian singer Juanes gets the crowd to their feet with his guitar, red lights blazing behind him. The TYF delegates shake their hips and sing along. Fuego fuego!

They are ready to set the world on fire.

Not Throwin’ Away My Shot: TYF Delegates Pitch to Renowned Panelists

We wrapped up our four-day Telenor Youth Forum adventure with a 5-minute pitch series and a VIP visit to Telenor Arena for the annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert.

After using the time allotted in the morning to finalize their presentations, the five TYF teams took turns on stage. The jury included:

Sigve Brekke (CEO of Telenor Group)
Jørgen Rostrup (CFO of Telenor Group)
Marques D. Anderson (Founder and Director of World Education Foundation)
Christina Nyborg (Partnership Manager at UNICEF Norway)
Lavrans Løvlie (Founding Partner of Livework).

Including feedback from the panel, the next 90 minutes were filled with innovative ideas, keen questions, encouragement and flying paper airplanes.


Oslo by Torchlight: TYF Delegates Celebrate the Peace Prize Winner

Our little crew of thirty stands in smaller circles and passes flames from torch tip to torch tip. When we are lit, we begin walking toward Oslo Central Station. Downhill, in the distance, a torch-bearing crowd advances in the dark. A wave of flickering light and hope. We step onto Karl Johans gate and join the parade, walking back toward the Grand Hotel. Ahead, on a hilltop, is the Norwegian Royal Palace, with a glittering Christmas tree on the balcony.





Arriving in front of Oslo’s iconic hotel, the parade swarms below the main balcony. We’re waiting for President Santos, the new Nobel Peace Prize laureate, to emerge. Around us, people wear Colombian flags draped around their shoulders, painted on their faces. A father hoists a little girl in a pink hat onto his shoulders; she waves a tiny Colombian flag, too.

We hear a drum circle behind us. Singing. And we dance a little, but not too much. Wax from the torches dribbles onto our coats, shoes, the pavement.




At exactly 19:00, the bells of City Hall ring out, and the balcony doors above us open. President Santos steps out into the brisk night air to a loud cheer. The flames from our torches warm our faces. I find myself wondering about the TYF delegates, their eyes and cheeks and chins aglow in the crowd. Will one of them return to Oslo some future year to be the person on the balcony? Will one of them shake off the shackles of controversy and naysayers and optics and antagonistic governments to achieve peace in the world?

“She’s naked!” comes a cry from my right.

Another pair of Grand Hotel windows has pulled open, and a couple leans out. Drawn by the noise and light in the street. She is wrapped in a curtain; his shoulders are covered by a white robe. The crowd cheers a little louder, a little higher.

When the president returns to his suite, the crowd disperses. Torches doused in buckets placed around the square. Our laughter carries us back to the hotel. The TYF delegates buckle down and work for another few hours. Sunday is Pitch Day. Everything leans toward this.

Photos by Ihne Pedersen

Gold and Grit: TYF Delegates Attend Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony & Reception

FARC soldiers are not allowed to have children in the camps. This is a rule they’ve maintained through their decades-long war with the Colombian government. But recently, one FARC couple broke the rule and brought a baby girl into the world.


World renowned photographer Mads Nissen stands before the emotional portrait he took of the toddler–face and plump arms limp with sleep, like a rose blossom crumpled by rain–napping on a bed at the camp. Her father’s shoulder, bearing the FARC uniform emblem, is in the foreground. The baby’s parents believe in the peace process. They want to lay down their arms and become a civilian family. If the accord fails, her parents will be forced to surrender their baby girl to her grandmother, and move back into the Colombian jungles.



TYF delegates take turns standing in front of Nissen’s portrait of the new Nobel Peace laureate, President Juan Manuel Santos. In the preceding hour, they listened to the Colombian president deliver an impassioned speech in Spanish. His powerful voice and gestures helped to bridge the language divide. Now, at a special preview of the NPC exhibit on Santos and the Colombian conflicts, everyone is moved, especially hearing Nissen provide context for his bright, gritty photos.

“It was my first time in a FARC camp,” says Nissen. “You can’t tell the story of the peace accord without telling the story of the camps. And you can’t tell the story of the camps without telling about the drug war.”




After the preview has finished, with remarks from Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke and Nobel Peace Center Executive Director Liv Tørres, the group moves downstairs for a reception at Cafe Alfred. Norwegian musician Mikhael Paskalev plays a mini concert in the foyer of the center. Above him flickers a ceiling full of yellow, orange and red medallions, each with the face of a past Nobel laureate. President Santos is in good company.

Photos by Ihne Pedersen

A Rainy Walk to the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony

Rain turns Oslo’s city streets silver. The TYF delegates pour out of the Scandic Hotel lobby with red, black and white umbrellas hoisted overhead. It’s a straight shot down Universitetsgata from the hotel to the twin bell-towered City Hall (Rådhuset). We walk quickly, avoiding puddles where we can. Under thick parkas, the young men are in dark suits and ties; the young women are dressed more colorfully. Anja Drobnjak of Montenegro moves confidently in cherry red combat-style boots. She packed heels, but decided not to risk them in the rain.


Anja Drobnjak of Montenegro presents the Climate Change group’s first problem statement on Day 2 of Telenor Youth Forum.

“This is a once in a lifetime experience,” she says, holding her passport and ticket tightly. The 26 TYF delegates will be part of an exclusive group who will attend the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony.

Norwegian delegate Karoline Hjelmtvedt says she agrees with the Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s prize to President Santos of Colombia.


Karoline Hjelmtvedt of Norway keeps things light in a Livework workshop with her Gender Equality teammates.

“I wasn’t sure at first, because usually, with this kind of prize, it would be awarded to both parties,” she says. “But then, [Colombia] was so divided about the peace agreement. I think if they had split the award with the FARC, the country would have been even more divided.”

The Nobel Prizes–in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace–were established as specified in the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish-born inventor who died in 1896. While the rest of the prizes are given out in Stockholm, the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in Oslo with Norwegian royalty in attendance.

Noon. The bell towers begin to chime. The fjord is as gray as the sky, but nothing can keep our energy down. Our group jostles toward the entrance, icy water dripping onto our shoes. It’s time to squeeze into a group photo. It’s a day for peace. Time to watch history made in the sparkling halls of the city hall.


Kadesiree Thossaphonpaisan of Thailand and Sara Babiker of Sweden walk to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in the rain.

Photos by Ihne Pedersen


Jobs to be Done: TYF Teams Learn Livework Service Design Methodology

When I… I want to… So that I can…

Sometimes living a good life in a flawed world can feel like this. We breathe and move, eat and work, we make eye contact with the people we pass on the street. In between, there are silences. Ellipses of time and missed connection. Questions. Who needs help? How can I help? Blanks.


Two representatives from Livework, a company specializing in service design, begin Day 02 of the Telenor Youth Forum by encouraging team members to fill in those blanks. After a briefing on the methodology, the TYF delegates break into teams and move into classrooms. It’s time to approach their broad, global goals, looking for something concrete.

Gender Equality

This group stands in front of a rolling white board covered in columns of pink post-its. Alina Binti Amir of Malaysia steps up to read the first possible statement, filling in the blanks.


When I experience violence due to my gender, I want to know what my rights are and how to defend myself, so that I can prevent future violence.

Filling in the blanks leads to a variety of possible actions. Options. It’s empowering.

“If we’re going to come up with a solution, we need to address the mindsets of victims, observers, attackers and potential attackers.”

“Is attacker too harsh?” someone asks. In some cultures, people perpetuating violence don’t understand either what they’re doing or why they’re doing it.

The group lists resources whose perspectives are valuable to this topic: police, medical and mental health professionals, advocacy groups, the law.


Mental Health

This group sits around a tight group of desks. Their yellow post-its are clustered in a single column on the board.

“What did our expert say yesterday?” someone asks.

They’re discussing depression and suicide prevention. Assignment 01 was to interview two specialists in regards to the goal. After thinking about the expert insights overnight, it’s time to call that wisdom back and make it work in Assignment 02.

“It’s important to start as early as possible.”


“Where can we have the greatest impact?” asks Nora Nabila Ahmad Sabri of Malaysia. “A twelve-year-old might be depressed, but the level of that depression might not be as high as a sixteen year old’s.”

Again, disagreement. But the conversation is a vital thing, and it wriggles into a new shape.

“Maybe we need to think about emotional levels and stressors rather than age groups,” says Rafsan Sabab Khan of Bangladesh.


By the time they leave the room, they’ve identified a job to be done.

When I am not sure what’s wrong, I want someone to help me figure out what the problem is and how to deal with it, so I can find peace within myself and move forward.


The other three teams dialogue similarly about Education for Young Refugees, Unemployment and Social Instability, and Climate Change. For all, the conversation springs from this place. Questions, disagreement, movements to redefine key terms. Every chain reaction requires a first action.

Photos: Ihne Pedersen

Running & Reindeer: TYF Delegates Race through Oslo

It’s easy to spot them. The team members revolve around glowing iPads in the dark, like planets around so many blue-white suns. Gallery post!



Telenor Youth Forum’s 2016 delegates are exploring their host city. And what better way to break the (figurative) ice than to take a million “ussies” and ride one another piggyback around the statue of King Karl Johan?



At some of Oslo’s loveliest landmarks, the teams complete tasks, answer questions and record videos. With points up for grabs at every turn, the competition leads to giggles and groans up and down Karl Johans gate.



Along the way, the TYF delegates visit the Royal Palace, Parliament and the Christmas Market.



Norway, for her part, offered some of the mildest “winter” weather on recent record. The spotlight of the moon hangs over the graceful white shoulder of Oslo’s Opera House… as one group belts out the high notes of A-Ha’s “Take on Me” for a video challenge.



When the race ends, the group hops a bus up the mountain to Holmenkollen. We pass the iconic Holmenkollen ski jump, illuminated by white lights. A few minutes later, we arrive at Lavvo, named after the tents used by Norway’s native Sami people–reindeer farmers–in the country’s far north. We sit on thick, soft reindeer pelts around a roaring fire and consume reindeer stew over rice.




The Nobel Peace Center’s Liv Astrid Sverdrup shares the history of Alfred Nobel and the Peace Prize. Firelight increases drama, and her story takes on the flickering heat of legend.

Full of good food, wine, and the afterglow of laughter with new friends, we walk through the night back to the bus. Careful on the graveled ice. The city lights of Oslo sparkle white-purple far below us.

Photos: Ihne Pedersen

Greetings & Goals: The Delegates Meet Telenor’s CEO & Break Into Teams

After an elegant Nordic lunch, the TYF delegates fill several rows of chairs in front of an small stage and screen. Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke asks the crowd of delegates, “Why are you here?”

A few are brave enough to call out answers. They hail from Thailand, Myanmar, India, Montenegro and Pakistan.

“To make change in the world.”

“To solve problems together as a team.”

“We as humans need to coexist and live together.”

telenor-youth-forum-2016_thursday_-web-41Sigve responds to each person in turn, sometimes with a phrase in that person’s native tongue. He goes on to demystify Telenor’s decision to run the youth forum four years in a row.

“We are a business with a higher purpose,” he says. “We are in thirteen markets around the world, and we want to be a long term operator in those places, helping to grow societies.”

Telenor is a business, he concedes, and that means they are interested in return on investment. This weekend, they invest in the future. Both future of our planet, and the individual futures of the 26 young people who have been selected for the program.

Sigve is followed by Telenor’s major partner in this TYF enterprise, Nobel Peace Center Executive Director Liv Tørres.

telenor-youth-forum-2016_thursday_-web-57“We are a museum. We will soon open a fantastic new exhibit with President Santos,” says Liv. “But we are also a societal actor. We want to make positive change in the world.”

She reminds us that many of the delegates come from areas of the world that have witnessed conflict, wars, human rights crises first hand. Where the 17 Global Goals Telenor has enumerated may seem distant to most of us, for some of the delegates, the effects of these complex problems are imminent and personal.

People often ask Liv how to win a peace prize. And legally, she can’t tell them. But she gives the group some key advice as they pursue solutions that will change the world.

  • Be yourselves. Every peace prize laureate started where you started.
  • Don’t think all the questions have been answered. They haven’t.
  • Learn from what others have done before, and adjust based on current needs and possibilities.
  • Nothing comes out of the blue. Talk about your ideas.
  • Listen to people. Know when to take criticism and when to stay the course.
  • Most importantly, set your goals. Don’t think of what to do next. Think of what you want to achieve.

“Yes, you will have to change your strategy now and then and regularly,” says Liv. She points to the example of 2016 Nobel Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Columbia. Almost no one alive in Columbia today has lived in peace times. Santos’s goal from the beginning was peace. He had to change his strategies over and over, but he always knew where he wanted to go. Though the population claimed to want peace, in October, they voted against the agreement President Santos negotiated with the FARC.

“After the public referendum, Santos admits he was depressed for a few hours,” says Liv. “Then he rolled up his sleeves and tried again.”

In November, Santos and the Columbian government signed another peace deal with the FARC, this time without the need for a public vote.


Spark, the TYF Asia winning team, presents briefly on their project to end joblessness before it begins, including the most important lessons they learned from the TYF program. Then the 2016 delegates walk to The Hub at Telenor’s headquarters in Fornebu to learn which teams they’ll be on and which global goals they will tackle.

This year, the Telenor Youth Forums’ Global Goals are:

  1. Education for young refugees
  2. Climate change
  3. Unemployment and social instability
  4. Gender equality
  5. Mental health

Check out the compelling video packages for each of these challenges below. And wish the delegates luck!

 Photos: Ihne Pedersen

The Kick-Off: Telenor Youth Forum 2016

Landing in the blue-lit lobby of Oslo’s Scandic Hotel feels a bit like entering a futuristic beehive. Everyone speaking, everyone moving. I see a group of young people wearing Telenor credentials and approach. “You look like people I need to know,” I say. Because they are. The whole world needs to know the young men and women I’ll be following over the next four days as I live blog Telenor Youth Forum 2016.

It’s Thursday morning, and we’ve got two representatives apiece from Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, India, Malaysia, Montenegro, Myanmar, Norway, Pakistan, Serbia, Sweden, and Thailand here. Each one wants to make an impact on the world. Picked from an applicant pool almost 5,000 strong, these 26 young people have flown in to kick off their year-long commitment to the TYF program: aiming to help transform the world we live in by tackling social challenges through digital solutions.

Nobel Peace Prize Weekend is a special time to experience Oslo. White lights deck the shiny-wet city streets. The annual julemarked–including a dazzling ferris wheel, Sami tents selling reindeer pelts, and carts peddling roasted almonds–has sent up camp on Karl Johans gate.

As the delegates from Telenor’s 13 global markets gather to begin this adventure, I’m eager to meet them all! What are their ambitions for this weekend? For next year? For the world?

Soon we’ll hop a bus to Telenor’s HQ at Fornebu to dive into the program. This afternoon, the group will divide into teams and receive their assigned global goals, selected from a possible 17  Global Goals for Sustainable Development (e.g. No Poverty, No Hunger, Gender Equality, Clean Water, etc.). And then we’ll see their innovative hive mind begin to buzz. Over the course of the weekend, the teams will come up with technological solutions for the biggest problems facing humankind, and present their ideas in a 2-minute pitch series on Sunday.

And I get to be the fly on the wall. Armed with a laptop and a smartphone. Arm-in-arm with a fantastic photographer. Follow us! #TYF #TYF16