Don’t do it! Don’t navigate away from this page and go back to scrolling through your e-mail or Facebook stalking your old friends. I know it’s tempting to turn away, and for good reason. There are so many articles out there about youth empowerment and making sure youth have a say in politics. There’s so much talk that, at some point, we really start to become desensitized.
Let’s just take a moment and bring this down to real life. The UN Secretary General's High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Global Development agenda met last Thursday and Friday in London. Believe it or not, meetings that you may not have heard about are going to go a long way towards deciding the global plan for the next 15 years once the previous agenda — the Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) — expire in 2015.
The MDG's are far more than rhetoric; many of the goals — including halving the number of people in extreme poverty — have been achieved. The MDGs have effectively mobilized funding, governments, businesses, and civil society towards certain causes like child mortality and battling infectious diseases.
So a precedent has been set. Now we have a real situation in which real decisions for our future are being made. Is there any way to really gather youth voices to convey our priorities to world leaders? Even if there is, do we actually want inexperienced young people making decisions?
Should Young Inexperienced People Really Be Given Power to Decide?
It’s true, young people mostly do not have the experiential knowledge and time to develop skills that adults often have. Still, we have to realize that this world we are living is comprised of over 50% youth — people under the age of 25.
That means there are 3.5 billion young people in the world today. What Gary Fuller refers to as the impending “youth bulge,” means this number is only increasing. These are the people who will be charged with carrying out any plan that is set.
So, not allowing youth to set their own agenda is ignoring the very individuals who will decide and be accountable for not just the long-term but the immediate future. This is not just a bad idea, it's a violation of our right to choose what our own world will look like.
Young people may not always have a handle on the different theories of development, but we most certainly can tell you what is working in our community and what could potentially work. Recently, we’ve seen youth innovate to make an impact in unprecedented ways and with few resources. We cannot afford to ignore the excellent and innovative ideas that young people have. These aredeas that can and have generated sustained growth.
Is there actually a way to get a youth perspective?
Now more than ever before the youth of today are interconnected in a way that our predecessors could never have even dreamt of. With the Al Gore-crafted masterpiece that we call the internet, live television, social networking, and the fewer barriers to international travel, it means that there has never ever been a time likes this for youth from all over the world to share ideas with one another and with world leaders.
The UN, realizing that the MDG’s did not have anywhere close to as much input from the public and from youth, is making a good faith effort to get people’s thoughts. The UN has set up some mechanisms for getting feedback from young people.
I was a representative at the UN High Level Panel youth event last Friday in London. It was the first ever event in which youth met with a UN High Level Panel as equals. It was quite clear that both our energy and ideas were well received by the heads of state and Nobel Prize winners at our tables. This is a huge step in the right direction. It symbolically acknowledged that youth are a priority, not just for the agenda’s goals, but for the brainstorming and crafting of the agenda itself.
What Now? Take Action.
Our generation of youth is closer knit than any in the history of the world. There is an interconnectedness and a desire to unite together that is unprecedented. Our generation also has a proven track record of being changemakers that seek to succeed in making an impact on the lives of those who are underprivileged and in need. Youth of today see past the differences and tensions that divided our parents and grandparents. The potential is obvious and enormous.
Right now, a platform has been set up for youthto speak out and share their observations, thoughts, and desires for our world. It doesn’t take any particularly expertise; the goal is simply to hear what young people have to say. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. By overwhelming the post-2015 global decision makers with our voice, we can help amplify a trend towards world leaders listening to youth and allowing our generation to lead our future. Most importantly, this is an opportunity for us to have a real, official voice.
How to Take Action Today and In the Coming Months
First, visit and register on the UN’s World We Want 2015 website, where you’ll find periodic call-outs for input. Your voice will be included in reports directly to Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon before decisions are made. And finally it would be good to follow@WorldWeWant2015 and use the hashtag #youthvoices. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond quickly. Check out our newly formed Global Youth Voices Facebook page, to get further updates throughout the coming months on how to officially have a say.