The Urgency of Genuine Participation: The UN’s Youth Initiative

9 Aug

UN Headquarters has welcomed hundreds of youth from around the world who are gathering this week to discuss issues, network across global regions and have first-hand access to how the UN conducts its policy business.  All of this is anticipation of International Youth Day on August 12.   Here, Kritika Seth of Mumbai reflects on an interactive Question and Answer session between hundreds of youth delegates and the Secretary General in the temporary General Assembly Hall.


The Urgency of Genuine Participation: The UN’s Youth Initiative


On Monday, August 5, United Nations Headquarters issued 700 passes for young leaders and participants to attend an ‘Interactive Dialogue on UN Youth Initiatives with Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon’ in observation of International Youth Day.

“Your generation is the largest the world has ever known,” Mr. Ban told young people taking part in the Global Interactive Dialogue on UN Youth Initiatives. “The tools at your disposal for communication and acting are unprecedented. But so are the challenges – from growing inequalities shrinking opportunities, to threats of climate change and environmental degradation.”

Mr. Ban’s Five-Year Action Plan has as one of its priorities working for and with young people. As part of this commitment, Mr. Ban appointed his first ever Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, earlier this year. He added that Mr. Alhendawi is working with the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development to bring all parts of the UN together under an action plan for youth. The event also witnessed the launch of an online United Nations Platform for Youth in unification with his Special Envoy on this issue.

The presentation of this meeting was unique as there were young people from Nigeria, India, Brazil, Brussels and Lebanon joining the General Assembly audience via videoconference. Each of these country teams posed questions to UN Secretary General which were based on the My World Survey carried out among thousands of youth from around the world earlier this year, emphasizing on five thematic areas: employment and entrepreneurship; political inclusion; civic engagement and protection of rights; education, including sexual education; and health.  

This inspiring dialogue also featured a panel of national and global leaders as they addressed a room full of nation builders on the importance of accountability, transparency and participation. “Hold us accountable” demanded Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNPFA) as he proceeded to highlight the benefits and relevance of twitter and facebook. As for the interaction between youths and leaders, interestingly, most of the questions posed by the young citizens in Lebanon, India, Brazil, Brussels and Nigeria begun with the offer of, “what can we do to participate in…” for which the responses were limited to the listings of current and future projects for youth empowerment.

What does it mean to ‘participate’? Does getting involved in a dialogue or a conversation mean ‘participating’? – yes, if the listener takes the speakers thoughts and recommendations into account and thus takes action along those lines, assuming the listener has the will power, networks and access to resources to do so. Or does participation equate to being one of the players on the field as opposed to the cheering squad on the sidelines or the audience in the bleachers? One of the major challenges of ‘participating’ is the limited access to resources the young generation faces today.   Another challenge is being clear about what ‘participating’ means so that we know when we have achieved it.

Despite of the infection enthusiasm and positive energy that filled the General Assembly Hall, the event failed to lay down a robust strategy for real engagement. Nonetheless, Mr. Ban and panel members inspired the audience with personal stories, life experiences and humor while conveying the important message that “the world belongs to you (youth).”

Kritika Seth

One Response to “The Urgency of Genuine Participation: The UN’s Youth Initiative”

  1. Dr. Mahmoud Zinelabdin August 10, 2013 at 9:38 am #

    It is a positive move that UN H.Q attaches such importance to youth issues , UN should establish regional centres in all the world continents to support and sponsor youth initiatives at the national levels as regional centres for peace and disarmament , peace and security on of the important thematic areas the should have been given attention , its difficult to classify youth today in terms of energy for peace or fuel for conflicts, such forum will set the stage for more positive intraction in the furure

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