Youth of America: Speak Up Now to Shape UN Goals

November 12, 2012

Heads up, young Americans: For the last few months, the campaigns have paid significant attention to us, primarily to mobilize and capture our vote. Now that the elections are over, some of that attention is fading—but that doesn't mean our engagement should stop.

It’s easy to get cynical when we're bombarded with calls for youth to have a say in major decision-making, but the calls aren't connected to real ways for our voices to matter. This is not another one of those situations. This is a real way to have impact, and it has global significance. So before you go back to scrolling through email of Facebook-stalking your middle school friends, read on.

The UN global plan for the next 15 years is a very real opportunity for youth to have a say.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.  These goals are not merely rhetorical; they shape a very real agenda that has seen significant success—including more than cutting in half the number of people in extreme poverty globally. These goals have also been effective in steering funding and mobilizing governments, businesses and civil society to work together on causes like child mortality and battling infectious diseases.

The UN is working to craft the global plan for the next 15 years—and they want young people to be aware of, to be involved in and, yes, to lead certain aspects of this global work. The UN recognizes that the current Millennium Development Goals lacked adequate input from the public and from youth, and is making a good faith effort to get more young people involved in shaping the next iteration.

In early November 2012, the UN High Level Panel—which is made up of Heads of State, Nobel Prize winners and other global leaders—met in London. They first met behind closed doors and then with youth leaders from around the world. It was likely the first time that a High Level Panel sat at tables and genuinely discussed plans with young people. They listened to us, asked questions and sought our input, and the overwhelming response was that the session generated both energy and insight . I left convinced that the panel authentically prioritizes having young people involved not just to respond to the goals but to brainstorm and craft the agenda itself.

There’s a good chance you’re asking yourself two major questions right about now: Is there a way to genuinely gather youth input and convey it to world leaders? If so, do we actually want inexperienced young people making decisions?  

I’ll respond to these in reverse order.

Should young, inexperienced people really be given power to decide?

It’s a fair question. For the most part, we young people do not have the experiential knowledge and have not had the time to develop the skills that adults often have. But we live in a world where more than half of the global population is under the age of 25. There are 3.5 billion youth in the world today, and this number is increasing.

We are the ones who will be charged with carrying out any plan that is created. Not allowing us to help set our shared agenda—or, put another way, ignoring the very people who will be accountable for both the long-term and the immediate future—is not just a bad idea, it is a violation of our right to choose what our own world will look like.

While we may not always have a handle on the different theories of development, we can certainly tell you what is and isn’t working in our communities, and we’ve got fresh ideas about what could work better.   After all, how many times have we seen youth innovate to make an impact in unprecedented ways, and with very limited resources?

Our Millennial generation has developed a distinct identity and a proven track record as changemakers who seek to make an impact on the lives of those less privileged and those in need. And unlike past generations, we are more closely connected across communities and across nations.  That also means that we’re better able to see past the barriers that divided our parents and grandparents. The potential is enormous.

Okay, but is there actually a way to get a youth perspective?

Yes, now more than ever.  That's partly because we are interconnected in ways that our predecessors could never have dreamt of through communications technologies and greater access to international travel. As a result, youth from all over the world are well positioned to share ideas with one another and with world leaders.

How You Can Take Action, Right Now

The UN has set up some mechanisms for getting feedback from young people.  Here’s what we can do:

Before you go back to what you’re doing, take a moment to share your thoughts and desires  for our world, because real decisions affecting our future are being made—and we need to have a say in them.

College student Andrew Leon Hanna was one of 20 Youth Representatives from around the world at the UN High Level Panel youth event in November 2012. He is a first generation Egyptian-American born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida, a UNESCO Youth Forum delegate, a Global Changemaker, founder of a peer mentoring program called IGNITE, and president of Duke University Partnership for Service.


Got a question for Andrew or want to share the ways you're already taking action? Email us or leave a Comment below!

Andrew Leon Hanna