The 7th edition of the largest youth event at the United Nations just ended in New York, where it brought together over 750 delegates from all corners of the world, representing governments, civil society, youth organisations. Many young people were at the UN for the first time, highlighting the amazing opportunities the Forum brought for those who would not have a seat at the table.
I had the honour of representing the World YMCA, one of the largest and oldest youth organisations in the world, for the second time. Participating for the first time at a large-scale UN event is mostly about the “wow” factor and getting used to how the UN is working. Going there for the 2nd+ time allows you to focus much more on the content and the deeper side of such events.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you should dress up and sit on the floor.” (from the Africa Regional Breakout Session)
Here’s some of the key takeaways from the UN ECOSOC Youth Forum 2018:
- We have the largest generation of young people in history around the globe, which brings more challenges than ever and also makes the case better than ever that young people deserve a seat at the table at global, national and local level. We are talking about 1.8 billion young people in the world as we speak.
- Demography is starting to become a strong concern for some regions, especially in Europe, where Hungary for example considers it one of the most important threats of our generation. At the same time, other regions thrive on a very young population. For example, the Arab states have almost 70% of the population comprising of young people. Africa and Asia are also catching up quickly.
- One key priority area of the entire meeting was focused on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) status. This edition tried to highlight mostly the environmental and technology goals, but in the end the discussions got quite broad.
- 40% of current jobs are estimated to disappear until 2030 because of automatization or the 4th Industrial Revolution, with a very strong effect on young people’s lives.
- The word “meaningful” was apparently a favourite of a large number of speakers: meaningful employment, meaningful youth participation, meaningful engagement.
- Arab countries have the 2nd lowest women participation rate at the UN, but they are starting to become strong worldwide leaders in youth engagement. For example, Morocco has created the first ever Youth Shadow Government (including a Youth Prime-Minister), while in Saudi Arabia 20% of the Cabinet is young and the Youth Minister is 24 years old (she was 22 when appointed).
- Some main common worldwide challenges were identified in the Regional Sessions: the need for better links between the educational system and the job market, reducing the gap between urban and rural communities, more platforms are needed for youth civic engagement, more soft skills in the formal educational system with a focus on civic education and leadership.
- The President of the UN General Assembly warned in his opening speech that climate change is widening the gap between young people from disadvantaged areas and is creating many threats across the world. Threats which need to be addressed urgently.
- The Government of Singapore has committed to work strongly on finding concrete solutions for the SDGs and will organise a Global Innovation Lab in 2018. They have also committed to support the Maker Movement and to create a Zero Waste Society.
- Mexico has created a National 2030 Agenda Youth Strategy and will also host an international conference on youth policy. At the same time, they have launched a national publication with good practices on youth policies from around the world.
- In Egypt 30% of Members of Parliament are under 35, as the country encourages young people to get more involved in politics. Several meetings are also taking place between young people and the President of Egypt, and there are also tangible results: 1500 youth centers have opened across the country, with plans to improve 3000 more.
- Denmark sees the youth agenda as a human rights agenda, as it runs for a seat on the Human Rights Council. They have increased the number of their youth delegates at the UN from 1 to 6 and want to create sustainable development initiatives with and by young people.
“Not everything happens for a reason, but we can give reason to time.” (Volunteer from the Starlight Foundation diagnosed with cancer who had a childhood dream of speaking at the UN)
“Young people are a resource, not a recipient. They are the NOW, not just the future.” (President of the UN GA)
“We have a responsibility for preparing young people for the Industrial Revolution that is not going to start, but has already started.” (Pedro Robledo, Argentina)
“It’s not a shame to have a mental health disorder, but it’s a shame to think that you cannot help someone who has it.” (civil society representative)
“We are already the changemakers who we need to be” (US Youth Observer)
“Politicians are now listening more to young people than to old people. Go and advocate and don’t miss this opportunity! Prepare for 2020, not 2030.” (British film-maker)
“The language of service is common to all.” (Tatiana Kucharova, Miss World 2006 and nonprofit leader)
Participating for the 2nd time to the Youth Forum made me feel gratitude and responsibility. Gratitude for the opportunity of being there and listening to so many inspiring stories and news of youth engagement from all corners of the world. Responsibility because so many young people do not have that opportunity to speak out, to be listened to and to engage. For everyone who was there and for all young leaders, we have a duty to reduce the gap and bring our contribution for making young people’s voices heard at home and abroad. We all have the tools, we have the passion, we just need to make it happen.