As the United Nations gears up for its 75th General Assembly in September 2020, an important conversation about whose voices are being heard is currently taking place at the headquarters. On January 29th, Intersections staffers attended the UN75 inaugural launch event titled “Youth in the Driving Seat” with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and youth leaders from around the world.
It was moving to watch the Secretary-General center the youth voices in the space, noting that established leaders like himself often “talk too much and listen too little,”. He urged the panelists to “please [not] ask me any questions, I won’t answer.” He mentioned the global cooperation efforts of UN75 will be a “global listening tour” where the voices of youth and community leaders will be amplified and prioritized. To set a precedent at this launch event, he wanted to hear from the students, the youth activists and young change makers who filled the ECOSOC Chamber and came prepared with new ideas, creative solutions and optimism.
UN and civil society representatives from Nepal, Argentina, Romania, Nigeria, Belgium and Jordan made up the panel. Interconnected discussion topics included climate change, public health, the rights of women and girls and the closing of achievement gaps, the threat of unilateralism, the delicate balance between innovation and weaponization in technological progress, and the global challenge of meeting the needs of 71 million forcibly displaced people experiencing violence, conflict and economic hardship.
The need for youth voices in global governance was underscored by the virtual presence of a group of youth activists from Juba, South Sudan, gathered with the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake. South Sudan is home to the world’s youngest population, with 70% of residents under age 30.
Guterres concluded the dialogue by asking participants, “What should the UN do better?” Frank answers ranged from building foresight, to implementing new technologies, to urging political leaders to be more ambitious and active in their goals at the UN. As an international convening power, the United Nations provides an opportunity for organizations participating in these discussions with member states, and an intergenerational coalition of activists to expand capacity to solve the world’s most urgent issues.