Archive | March, 2015

Child’s Play:  The Security Council Seeks to Shelter Youngsters from Abusive Elders, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Mar

In an earlier life when I was arrogant enough to fancy myself a philosopher, I was involved with a transnational group of scholars analyzing what it means to live in a world with children in it, the unique combination of gifts offered and responsibilities mandated that bring value and meaning to our otherwise emotion-starved lives. The ‘poster’ for this work came in the form of an old New Yorker cartoon in which a young girl – perhaps 6 or 7 – is pulling a wagon inside the chambers of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.  One of the generals seated on a dais looks down at the girl and asks a question that many of us might be inclined to ask but which also has enormous irony attached to it.

And what can the Joint Chiefs do for you today little one?

What indeed?  The ironies of this cartoon are at least two-fold:  First the assumption that children only ‘need’ us for things, that they are merely bundles of vulnerability that somehow find strength in the often-silly ‘uniforms,’ structures and speeches that we adults use to impress them.   And second, the assumption that ‘we’ have the wherewithal to deliver the goods for children, that we can somehow find the means to make the world ‘fit’ to sustain their normative and creative ambitions rather than leaving behind legacies of scarcity and violence that make the obsessive refuge of social media seem like a perfectly sane response to global circumstances.

On Wednesday, amidst a bevy of UN activity on sustainable development goals and targets, peacekeeping recommendations, ocean health and much more – all with ramifications for the safety and well-being of children —  the Security Council held an ‘open’ discussion on Children and Armed Conflict, with a specific focus on child recruitment perpetrated by ISIL and other terror groups.  As Council president for March, France organized the discussion and, it should be noted, was also instrumental in the early development of the thematic office of Children and Armed Conflict then run by Olara Otunnu and now by the Algerian Leila Zerrougui.

As with so many other crisis-laden conversations in Council chambers, this one combined frustration, sadness, righteous indignation, thoughtfulness and even some hopeful energy supplied by a former child soldier in DRC who has managed to thrive despite the horrors he endured, and perhaps even inflicted.  Needless to say, his story was heartwarming, though not necessarily representative.  Behind this ‘theme du jour’ lies the sober reality that so many children in this world may have already lost any meaningful chance to transition from violence-related trauma to creative engagement.  Urgings by Angola, Slovenia and other states for more psychological services for trauma-infected youth is wise policy, but with the caveat that, from a professional standpoint, the only certain way to address trauma successfully is to prevent its occurrence in the first place.

What there was little of during this Council discussion, thankfully, were facile recitations of the intrinsic value of education in countering planetary threats beyond what Lithuania and Save the Children referred to as the restoration of “normalcy” for victims.  Though this community often (and rightly) posits universal educational opportunity (especially at elementary and secondary levels) as one key to social stability and economic success, “getting ahead” in a world that seems to be slowly collapsing under its own hubris might not always be the most attractive option for children and youth, no matter how many school degrees (and school debts) they ultimately accumulate.

After all, what could children need from the adult world beyond the shaky promises of a sustainable future while conferring a bevy of expensive school diplomas representing a misleading assessment of their precious talents?  Isn’t that enough?

It’s not nearly enough.   Nor will solving ISIL’s forced recruiting and conversion madness, as important as that is, be enough.   As evil and civilization- threatening as ISIL and its ilk seems to be, it is not the only crisis for which we have deployed – and will deploy again – robust UN capacity. Nor are terrorists the only forces in the world inflicting suffering and future-deflating trauma on children.   Indeed, as SRSG Zerrougui noted, children are also victims of those of us responsible to protect them, agencies which at times have also demonstrably ‘fumbled the ball.’  Clearly, we have much work to do to ensure that our legacy for children is more hopeful and comprehensive than promoting school skills to help them navigate the coming wreckage.   We can and must do better than this.  As Malaysia and the Secretary General both reminded us, there are simply too many children in the world struggling to recover from the impact of “adult wars.” Too many of these children will simply not be able to handle the transition. The brutality of terrorists confers no plenary indulgences for our own transitional negligence.

As New Zealand sensibly noted this week, there is an irony to Council debates held in a windowless room far removed from any of the scenes of horror our resolutions seek to address.   For its part, Argentina asserted that ‘wisdom’ for dealing with our responsibilities to children is not something we’re born with, but rather something that we must practice with a prevention-oriented eye.   The world simply looks more manageable from the vantage point of a closed room full of overly-crafted policy positions no matter how many somber outside voices are invited to brief. As the human world gets younger, more restless, with values defined more by advertisers than by teachers, with youth more anxious about their collective future, and where stability in childhood is more and more elusive, we can’t jump to assumptions that our current protective preferences are in step with the long-term needs of future generations.  If we are to get in step, we’ll probably need to first ‘turn the heat down’ a bit, finding more time for consultation and prevention and earmarking fewer resources on reaction. We will also need to cultivate more measured wisdom to guide the urgent way forward, with less anger and moral righteousness. Adding a few more windows to the world – real and metaphorical – probably wouldn’t hurt either.

What can the Joint Chiefs, or the Security Council or the IMF do for you today little one?  Perhaps we can start by reminding ourselves of just how intolerable our adult lives would be without the presence of children in them. And once we accept the sublime gift that children represent, perhaps we can then accept the responsibility that the fields we so blithely cultivate now must have enough good soil left so that today’s children will have a realistic opportunity one day to plant and harvest for themselves.

Across programs and sectors, within and beyond the Security Council, the UN has many capable hands in this soil.   It’s incumbent on us to cultivate cooperatively, wisely and with greater earnestness. The children we neglect, abuse or even politicize today are much less likely to manage handling the sometimes grave challenges of their own adult lives.

“Oh Happy Day:” The UN Serves Up a Smile, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Mar

This week, the UN served up a menu that reminded us why we still care so deeply about the work of the organization as well as why happiness within this system is often so elusive.

From human rights abuses in Crimea and ‘spoilers’ in the Eastern DRC to photo exhibits of Syria torture and the CSW’s relentless narrative of gender-based violence and discrimination, there was much taking place to furrow brows and sour dispositions.   The world we have and the world we want are not often in synchrony, and the weight of this disparity can make even the sunniest personality feel like it is being held captive by some longstanding solar eclipse.

And yet amidst the gloomy policy discussions and lingering winter chill, there were happy places around the UN – fond CSW farewells, singing in the GA lobby, renewals of pledges to end racial discrimination and preserve our forests, even the snow sticking to bushes and trees in a short-lived burst of beauty.

And then there was an event, originally suggested by an Iraq resolution and now sponsored by São Tomé and Príncipe, to commemorate the International Day of Happiness.  For those who missed the event (or who have simply given up on being happy), the day is designed to “promote happiness as a universal goal and aspiration in the lives of human beings around the world.”

Though the UN is currently (and mostly correctly) obsessed with goals and measurements, it is likely more fruitful for the UN to honor and promote happiness as a universal aspiration than rather attempting to over-determine its pursuit or even to try and track its attainment.   Happiness probably has more in common with fingerprints than with standard deviations.  It is directly affected by individual context and expectation, tethered both to circumstance and fortune.   How we assess our lives has much to do with what we expect from life, and happiness often requires that we adjust our expectations (and presumed entitlements) to our circumstances rather than endlessly scheming in the hope of getting the world to cooperate more with our personal ambitions.

As happiness now seems just beyond reach for so many people, there is a flood of literature trying to ‘mine’ its secrets.   Here are a few of my favorites, tied as much as possible to UN contexts:

  1. Happiness has an uneven relationship to material prosperity. Given our expanding roster of “more is better” cultures, it is a short leap to conclude that “more of what we have” is inevitably best for others.   Indeed, there are baselines of material security we can and should do more to promote, keeping in mind historic levels of horror endured by equally historic numbers of refugees, internally displaced and victims of armed violence worldwide.   Despite expressions of concern for addressing inequalities by citizens within the wealthier countries, in the aggregate we still prefer to spend our money on items such as new and improved weapons systems– and on the fulfillment of largely short-term consumer ‘needs’ and interests – rather than on helping to ensure baselines for others where conversations about the ‘pursuit of happiness’ start to have real meaning.
  2. Happiness has an even more uneven relationship to personal ambition. Ambition is largely a ‘conversation’ that people have with themselves.   It is mostly about contexts for personal competitions, about the achievement of social status, sometimes to the grave detriment of social utility. It is also too often about a facile conflating of personal (or organizational) interest with the general interest.   And it opens doors to a world of social and career predation that generally creates many more victims than victors.  (Among those victims, we should recall, will almost inevitably be each of us.)  Happiness, of course, does not at all preclude the pursuit of excellence, nor a purposeful and reliable engagement with social problems.   Indeed, it probably doesn’t flourish as well in communities prone to fickle compromises and flimsy commitments.
  3. Given this, happiness seems to be largely about investing reliably in the quality of the lives of the people around us. Despite all the time and energy some of us spend keeping track of emotional and career ‘exit signs,’ dodging intimacy that could make our lives richer, and avoiding conflict it is our place to resolve, philosophers, psychologists and even neuro-biologists are mostly united in the assertion that our species is “hot-wired for connection.”   If this assertion has merit, then there would be limited value to happiness in the things that too often occupy our energies, including creating personal ‘brands’ that attempt to convince people of things that are only partially true, or keeping tight control of emotional and material assets that we would do better to invest, even in the turnover-plagued policy environment of the UN.  On the other hand, happiness might be enhanced by taking a few more personal risks, being kinder at the UN to the people with whom we work daily,  expressing more gratitude, making appropriate apologies, paying closer attention, sharing more of our aspirations and fewer of our desires.
  4. Happiness requires a healthy balancing of short and long-term vantage points. Some of the most important things in life, after all, require time and perspective to come to fruition fully and assess properly.   The point of raising children is to produce caring, competent adults, not to ‘freeze’ children in pre-adolescent psychic configurations.  The point of producing sound policy is to provide spaces and resources for people and societies to pursue sustainable social and economic outcomes, not to encourage short-term, politically motivated, unrepresentative predations of limited human and natural resources.   This essential “longer” view is compromised by narrow political considerations and the many distractions of modern life, but sometimes also by our urge to ‘do something’ to alleviate our own anxiety about global conditions, an urge that sometimes motivates us to authorize the release of ‘genies’ into the world without a clue as to how to get them back in the bottle.  As my doctoral advisor used to say, “happiness is the result of a life lived well.”  By this he meant being able to look back on life and know that we tried our best, avoiding the ‘genies’ of policy shortcuts and personal deceptions, taking responsibility for negative policy consequences that could have been foreseen (and even those more hidden), and displaying the courage (to paraphrase the singer Lee Ann Womack) to dance when others would choose to sit it out.

Given the threats São Tomé and Príncipe faces from climate change, and given all the misery Iraq has endured in its recent history, mostly not of its own making, if these states can see fit to promote happiness in the international community, then the rest of us can find some way to sweeten our sometimes ‘sour’ dispositions, and more gleefully join this pursuit.   The quality of our lives (and of our policy) would surely benefit from more pleasant, hopeful, grateful dispositions.

Masters of Disaster:  The UN Gives Hope a Chance, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Mar

Far from the inspiring stories, crowded hallways and rhetorical flourishes of the Commission on the Status of Women, the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) is now taking place in Sendai, Japan (

We don’t normally comment on events where we aren’t physically present, but this United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) event is highlighting issues germane to virtually all UN policy priorities.   Moreover, several of the disasters featured at the conference are related to dangerous shifts in climate health which has become, rightly if belatedly, a major focus of UN concern.

The backdrop for the WCDRR event is a high-profile natural disaster which, as reported by Al Jazeera and others, is well underway after Cyclone Pam tore through Vanuatu early Saturday, “packing winds of 168 miles per hour, and leaving a trail of destruction and unconfirmed reports of dozens of deaths.” In quite an irony, the President of Vanuatu, Baldwin Lonsdale, found himself stranded at WCDRR along with some of the country’s top disaster management officials while a state of emergency had  been declared back home.

Also lingering in the background are the still-unresolved effects of the ‘triple whammy’ that affected Japan’s Fukushima, not far from Sendai – earthquake followed by tsunami, followed by radiation leakage.   Such multiple disasters seem hard to fathom but are actually becoming more and more plausible as levels of human damage to the planet rise.

On Sunday (Japan time) a WCDRR session was held to introduce the 2015 Global Assessment of Disaster Risks Report. The report provides “an update on global risk trends and patterns based on results from the first ever probabilistic risk assessment covering the world.” Participants were informed about current and emerging risks and projected economic losses associated with exposure and vulnerability to hazards, including cyclones, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis and volcanic ash.

This is quite a list which doesn’t even specify concerns like drought and the forced social mobility this causes.  These are all concerns we would do well to avoid but, failing that, to prepare for with sufficient urgency and thoughtfulness.

When I was younger, I lived in a part of the US that frequently ‘welcomed’ tornadoes.  While most failed to hit the ground, many uprooted trees, tore off the roofs of barns and houses, and greatly damaged homes and property, often in working-class neighborhoods that could ill afford the losses.

A feature of those times was that the most effective response was often in the aftermath of disasters – insurance agents processing claims, the Red Cross serving soup and assisting with health emergencies, crews helping to restore communications and navigable roads, police providing a reassuring presence.

But we soon realized that rebuilding capacity was not sufficient, that we needed more time and resources to prepare better for what, in some years, was literally a ‘parade’ of funnel clouds.   And, indeed, the focus slowly shifted, not away from disaster response but to more balanced approach that brought science and civics to bear on local preparedness.  Weather-related technology was able to warn us in time of impending crises so that authorities could be mobilized and valuables and loved ones protected.

But this doesn’t happen, can’t happen everywhere. As noted in the Al Jazeera story on Vanuatu, “People are really upset and it’s really hard, just because for the last couple of years, we haven’t received a really big cyclone like this one,” said Isso Nihmei, Vanuatu coordinator for the environmental and crisis response group 350.  Most people right now, they are really homeless.”

In such circumstances, many of us would want to know: Where were the weather forecasters?  Where were the warnings?   Where were the preparations that could have provided more resilient options to ‘weather’ the coming storm?

If we know anything with certainty, it is that the ‘holiday’ from disaster that Vanuatu apparently experienced is unlikely to be repeated soon.  Between increases in tropical depressions, widening areas of drought, flooding from land whose forests have been denuded, the erosion of shorelines, and other hazards – and this on top of the more obvious human-made disasters from armed violence, trafficking and other calamities – trouble is brewing in far-flung corners of the globe.

People facing such the prospect of such disaster need reassurances at two levels.   First, that there are competent professionals able and willing to respond when disaster strikes; and second that all possible efforts have been made to warn residents and promote resilience before trouble strikes.

Forecasting that ‘trouble’ can be tricky business.  But we have suffered greatly in the security sector from assistance – in the form of peacekeepers or military response to mass violence – that arrives too late to stem the violence in its earliest stages.   Disaster relief that arrives too late can also jeopardize lives needlessly.   As noted in the literature of the HOPEFOR initiative (Qatar, Dominican Republic, Turkey and others) to which GAPW has been attentive, when crisis response is needed, timing is always of the essence (  Given extraordinary improvements in disaster technology, improved forecasting must be an integral part of any disaster response.

Not all disasters can be averted.  There are some tornadoes in the south of the US so massive that resilience is almost futile.  Earthquakes and tsunamis can devastate communities and landscapes in what seems like an instant.  And, as noted by several experts in Sendai, technical warnings can fail to reach the right people, or reach them in a way that is confusing in terms of preferred responses.   Or people can choose to ignore warnings (as we in the US sometimes do with hurricanes and floods) or simply have no viable response options to looming threats.

But for many natural disasters, there are warning signs that are far less expensive to heed than the price tag resulting from disasters’ aftermath. This is especially true given the disasters that will likely intensify as our climate continues to deteriorate.  In response to the tragedy of Vanuatu, the president of Seychelles was quoted as saying “Today it is the South Pacific, tomorrow it could be us.”

Indeed it could well be.

Disaster response is in part about running several races against time almost in tandem. We need better forecasting and more quickly.  We need funding to support greater resiliency and more viable options for communities in the face of disaster.  We need more civilian-based response services on high alert to get to the scenes of crises rapidly and even before any crises unfold.  But most of all, we need dramatic diplomatic movement on climate health and other human interventions to give hope to communities suffering from disasters of a magnitude that they simply could never manage alone.

The UN is well positioned to help states meet the challenges, changes and resource needs for highly competent, trustworthy Disaster Management.   Such management is no substitute for a political agreement to reverse climate damage.   But at least until such an agreement is forthcoming — hopefully soon in Paris — and made fully functional, disaster management must maintain this high priority for states and the international system.

Animal Planet: The UN seeks more Effective Governance of a Natural World in Crisis, Dr. Robert Zuber

8 Mar

This space is normally taken up with grave matters like Security Council disagreements over Ukraine and the shape to come of peacekeeping operations.   But this week, another dimension of global gravity took center stage, one with security implications that go significantly beyond the urgent needs of Small Island (SIDS) and Lesser Developed States.

On March 4, the General Assembly held an informal plenary to commemorate World Wildlife Day.   Much of the content of this event was welcome, including Germany’s efforts on behalf of a ‘group of friends’ to remind other states, to quote the UK, “that we overlook wildlife trafficking at our peril.” There was also an admission by the US that ‘we have been part of the problem and wish to be part of the solution’ and a warning by Kenya that unchecked wildlife poaching could threaten fulfillment of the SDGs in many countries.

The next day, a group of states sponsored a ‘One Ocean’ event that was ostensibly focused on the value of ‘ocean sanctuaries’ but which also issued a deeper call for a more profound biological sensitivity than we are currently practicing.

One current theme in the “One Ocean” event was the important role of science in alerting us to environmental threats and helping to provide data sets to guide sound remedial policy.   As Ambassador Thomson of Fiji science can provide evidence of negative human impacts on climate and help us mediate the space separating “prophecies of doom” and living with our “heads in the sand.”

The two events were complementary in some measure, primarily in their insistence on more effective governance of eco-threats. The tenor of the “Wildlife” event was less about appreciation of the complex web of life we are still privileged to enjoy and more about the economic and security implications of insufficiently protected animals such as Tigers.   Needless to say those implications are considerable especially for states for which wildlife-related tourism is a major source of income as well as states fighting the insurgencies for which trafficked wildlife parts constitutes a major source of potential revenue.

But as the BBC reminded us recently in the context of a program on China’s elephants, the greatest threat to their existence (if not our own) is no longer poaching but habitat destruction.   In other words, while there are still threats from criminal elements and terror groups seeking to pad their accounts through the sale of Rhino horns and such, the larger threat of habitat loss is one that is our common legacy. And it is a quite dangerous matter, as we are now by many accounts in the beginning of what some describe as an epic species extinction, the repercussions of which elude firm scientific forecasting.

‘Habitat’ seems like a fairly simple matter, like putting up an A-frame house and turning on the heat and water. But in the natural world, life forms struggle to adapt to and synchronize with other life forms on which their very existence depends.   This linkage was especially highlighted at the “One Ocean” event. We have undermined functional synchronicity with an appalling lack of sensitivity, threatening to extinguish ourselves as much (if not as quickly) as the many other essential contributors to our web of life. In that context, the Netherlands’ insistence seeing oceans through a biodiversity lens as much as an economic or development lens was most welcome.

In addition, the words of Palau’s president Remeingesau rang particularly true when he insisted that the SIDS “are already living what science is telling us.” Science can, indeed, tell us much about the climate impacts of what Ambassador Thomson referred to as our “blind exploitation of resources,’ the status of our dwindling fish stocks and ice caps, the sources of pollutants that are affecting migrating ocean wildlife, and much more. And we need to listen carefully, as one senior diplomat after another insisted. But science can’t always forecast implications, it does not have the power by itself to “regenerate” entire oceans, and it certainly cannot provide actionable incentives to large scale behavior change. Science can (and thankfully does) provide ample evidence of our folly, but it can offer no clear remedial pathway. Such a pathway must come from another place, a place open to inspiration towards meaningful change. As Israel noted, we simply must do more at many levels to better help us resist “spoiling a world that none can fix.”

Human beings have become, sometimes even with glee, reckless predators that not only crowd out other life, but compromise our own existence.   With all due respect to the need for more global governance on oceans and biodiversity, we now seek to govern the movement of horses in a barn whose door has long been ajar.   We migrate to cities in record numbers, in part for economic opportunity but perhaps also in the mistaken belief that cities represent a fortress against an influx of degraded biodiversity that has our fingerprints all over it. Our policymaking is now very much a product of our increasingly urban mindset – ignoring the needs of farmers, consuming with little recognition or remorse, mistaking the predictability of our urban parks for genuine attempts to reacquaint ourselves with natural processes. This pattern is clearly not the pathway we seek.

When I was a child, I discovered that the only way to get out of a swamp when you’ve lost your way is to back out the way you came.   Trying to outsmart the swamp only gets you in deeper with even less control of potentially unsavory outcomes.   It may be time for us collectively to back out the way we came, to abandon the current obsession with using technology to ‘battle’ our way through global challenges rather than retreat to firmer ground on which we can reflect and assess. If we continue to defy and disrespect this ‘swamp’ of our own making, we might one day find that we and our closest, domestic animal companions are all that remains of a planet once teeming with life.

During the “One Ocean” event, Ambassador Sareer from Maldives reminded the audience that there are cultural and “national identity” implications of climate health. Ambassador Cardi of Italy insisted that the health of future generations was much more likely to be guaranteed with healthier oceans.   All of this is true and none of it is sufficient.   We need better eco-governance and more scientific input at every stage.   We also need more compelling norms to stimulate more urgent climate-healthy behavior. As a principle, norm-making, global institution, and as the origin of much of the international community’s current climate change interest, the UN’s role and responsibility in species and biodiversity protection should remain in the spotlight going forward.

The UN Engages (and Learns From) a New Generation of Youth Leaders

7 Mar

Editor’s Note:  This piece from our Human Rights Fellow, Karin Perro, continues a GAPW commitment to the engagement of youth from diverse social and cultural contexts on matters of global policy. Participation is a core concern towards the full promotion of human rights and good governance, and Karin does well to lay out of the case for more serious engagement with an ambitious, energetic, technologically savvy, and growing segment of our global population. 

Both the first and last weeks of February found the UN inundated with exuberant youth representatives, here to engage (and be engaged) with the UN system and lend voice to the upcoming SDGs and their implementation. Braving the arctic blast of February, Youth Forum and NGO Youth Event attendees convened to share their vision of the future and demand a participatory seat at the post-2015 table. And rightly so – if any group has proprietary rights to shaping the future it is global youth who will be directly impacted by and even be tasked with meeting projected SDG targets by 2030.

Engaging youth in development policy becomes all the more imperative if we consider that more then half the current global population is under the age of 25.  In a post-2015 world, a burgeoning youth population might well be confronted by unprecedented climatic and environmental crises, human security risks, rights violations and rampant unemployment. They will also have to contend with a rise in ‘greying’ populations that will create additional burdens on national ‘safety net’ programs, with estimates indicating a tripling of the over 65 demographic in the next 50 years. Africa will be especially hard hit by rapidly shifting demographics at another edge of the age spectrum, due mostly to anticipate spikes in adolescent pregnancies and generally growing fertility rates, causing worries of unwelcome declines in educational participation by women and girls.

Two inextricably linked, youth-centric development cornerstones were recurrently addressed at the UN Youth Forum: a lack of educational resources and a paucity of employment opportunities. Young attendees expressed frustration at what seem to be their ‘empty’ school diplomas given the lack of available job opportunities, noting that their presumably marketable skill sets did not appear to be in sync with the rapidly changing and expanding needs of current labor market. Perhaps even more than generations past, youth face the conundrum of how to obtain practical experience as a precondition for employment when on-the-job training opportunities are often predicated on prior work experience. But unlike past generations, almost all youth attendees cited a dearth of available internship, apprenticeship and mentorship opportunities at all educational levels.  This cycle of inopportunity requires a systemic revamping of attitudes and best practices, not only within the private sector, but as addressed through national and regional government initiatives.

For its part, GAPW (with Women in International Security) has long advocated policy mentoring of young people to help prepare the UN system to handle a new generation of global issues in a thoughtful and responsible manner. The young scholars and advocates who have taken temporary residence in our office often return to national capitols and regional NGOs where their acquired skill sets enhance development of local capacity for meaningful change.  As we have perceived often and as several youth delegates at the UN also noted, girls in particular are likely to benefit from mentoring as their active engagement with trustworthy older persons builds confidence and strengthens decision-making and leadership skills.

Beyond mentoring, UN youth delegates clamored for greater, “full-partner” policy participation, not only in setting the post-2015 development agenda, but in tracking and accelerating progress, and holding governments accountable. Youth expressed interest in politics but also shared disillusionment with political processes that ignore younger stakeholders. As a corrective, Kenya’s Ambassador Kamau implored the Youth Forum to ‘embrace your transformative power as youth’ in determining whether ‘you will be part of the problem or part of the solution’ over the next fifteen years. Youth delegates were captivated, appearing galvanized by Ambassador Kamau’s inspirational ‘call to arms’.

When youth representatives at the Feb 26 UNDPINGO event were asked what they could do to help promote the post-2015 development agenda, they responded without hesitation: Youth can provide counter narratives to extremist recruitment strategies through social media campaigns and digital diplomacy, becoming ‘boots’ deployed in the battle for cyberspace. They can employ their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation skills to emerging development initiatives benefiting triangular and south-south cooperation. They can offer a new generational ‘plurality of thought’ and a ready adaptability to shifting scenarios in the rapidly changing world in which they’ve been raised. Youth indeed appear ready to accept responsibility for what appears to be a stubborn legacy of global insecurity. But ‘ownership’ will not come without a significant relinquishment of the policy reins wielded by the current, older incumbents of the current global governance structure.  Young people need more ‘space’ to operate as well as guidance while operating.

The February gatherings of youth delegates were undeniably impressive: as a group they demonstrated a confident resolve to tackle a deluge of post-2015 global development obstacles.  And no doubt they represent ‘the best and brightest’ talent of their host countries, already being groomed for leadership roles as the next generation of diplomats and policy makers. But if we are to truly ‘leave no one behind’ we will need to insure that a wide range of young people irrespective of class, gender, culture, religion or ethnicity are included at the table of engagement.  We will need to do more to cull and cultivate the untapped potential of youth residing on the margins of urban developments, on rural farms and remote villages, in refugee camps and tented settlements. Elitism and other barriers to inclusion can only be eradicated through universally accessible and needs-specific education as a pathway to full employment, economic empowerment and social leadership.

As March brings new Commissions and crises into focus, we should avoid allowing the welcome upsurge in youth participation to be obscured.  Maintaining youth momentum is indispensable to successful post-2015 sustainable development. As UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi exhorted, it’s time to reach cross the generational divide to ‘unleash the power of 1.8 billion young people ready to lift the heavy agenda of the SDGs’.