27 March 2013
Economic and Social Council
ECOSOC/6565

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

Youth Forum

AM & PM Meetings


United Nations Ready to Partner with Young People, Secretary-General Tells Forum;


They Always Had Ideals, Now They Use Social Networks to Demand Change


Delegate Says ‘Genuine Story of Youth

Fell by the Wayside’ in Global Affairs Narrative


Current global crises impacted young people especially hard, but today’s youth had the energy and ideas to change the world, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he welcomed youth delegates to the Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum, convened under the theme “Shaping tomorrow’s innovators:  Leveraging science, technology, innovation and culture for today’s youth”.


“We need to marshal your expertise and compassion to address the terrible problems in our world,” Mr. Ban told the gathering of youth representatives, academics, activists and other stakeholders, whose discussion was part of the preparatory process for the Council’s 2013 Ministerial Review.  Youth unemployment was a major challenge, affecting more than 74 million people from their mid-teens to their mid-20s, and hundreds of millions of young people were directly affected by conflict, robbed of their homes, their families and their futures.


“The United Nations is ready to partner with you,” he told participants.  “Youth have always had ideals.  The difference with all of you — the largest generation of youth in history — is that you can use social networks to demand change.” To help with that endeavour, he had appointed a Youth Envoy, the first in United Nations history.  With a visionary new plan to create partnership between the youth and the Organization, Ahmad Alhendawi was already opening channels of communication between young people and the United Nations.


Mr. Alhendawi, noting that nearly all the major innovators in information and communications technologies in the last decade had been young people, said that in his new capacity, one of his priorities would be on how the United Nations could use those tools to better the world.  It was not just the job of diplomats, experts and people working for the Organization to figure out ways to incorporate media in international relations; it was the responsibility of global citizens to contribute to that process.  Change began at the local level, and often people who changed the world started by changing something little in their own communities.


In his opening remarks, Néstor Osorio of Colombia, President of the Economic and Social Council, pointed out that talented young people had made exceptional contributions to society and history, recalling that Celia Cruz of Cuba, Bob Marley of Jamaica and Miriam Makeba of South Africa, among others, had become, at a young age, the greatest voices of their generations.


He also spoke of the important role being being played by the social websites.  During the Arab Spring, that gave youth a voice and made them vital players in the region’s transformation.  Young people wanted to exercise their political and civil rights and freedoms, so that they could speak their minds and participate in politics, and live their lives without any form of discrimination.


The old adage that “children should be seen but not heard” was outdated, said Adora Svitak, a World Food Programme youth representative.  She observed that in global affairs, the “genuine story of youth fell by the wayside”.  In many countries, even in some where young people made up the majority of the population, they were silent.  However, when given the opportunity to speak up, “we become the authors of our own stories”.


At her school’s model United Nations, she described her fellow classmates’ concerns about difficult world issues, such as the situations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.  If such clarity and passion happened at a United Nations model gathering, imagine what would happen with youth at the United Nations table, she said.  Today’s Forum and the Rio+20 Conference had provided young people with that opportunity to take central stage and speak up.


Several speakers participated in the closing session, including Zeenat Rahman, Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues at the United States State Department, discussed strategies to engage youth and facilitate their use of the new technologies on a global level.  Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said young people had proven time and again that they were powerful innovators.  It was crucial for their voices to be heard and for them to be part of both the dialogue and the solution, he said.


Wael Ghonim, Internet activist and computer engineer, talked about the momentum that had been built during the Egyptian revolution, because people started to find an alternative way to voice their concerns and aspirations, including the virtual platform he had created.  In just one day, 30,000 people had joined the network.  Jessica Lawrence, Executive Director, New York Tech Meetup, noted that the day’s dialogue had underscored why technology was so powerful in the hands of youth who had been born as citizens of the Internet.  “We are living in an age where you can start a movement with little more than a voice and a mobile phone, or computer and an internet connection,” she said.


Three panels were held throughout the day.  The first, on “Girls and young women in science”, had been moderated by Dr. Mandë Holford, Co-founder of the World Association of Young Scientists and Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry, City University of New York, Hunter College and Graduate Center.  Speakers included Dana Bazzoun, 2012 UNESCO-L’Oréal Fellow and PhD student, American University of Beirut and Purdue University; and Geneviève L’Esperance, Co-founder of GenINC and Graduate student, McGill University.


The second panel, on “Youth:  An engine for creative economy”, had been moderated by Hashem Bajwa, Chief Executive Officer of DE-DE.  Speakers included Barbara Birungi, Founder of Women in Technology, Uganda, and Manager, Hive Colab; Marco Gomes, Founder, boo-box and Chief Marketing Officer, Grupo Forty-Two; and Jorge Just, Interactive Telecommunications Programme, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.  The third panel, “Creating buzz:  Using social media to make ideas happen”, was moderated by Philip Thigo, Founder, INFONET.  He was joined by Matt Mahan, Chief Executive Officer, Causes.com; Stacy Martinet, Chief Marketing Officer, Mashable.com; and Surendran Balachandran, Campaigner, Change.org.


All three panels were followed by an interactive dialogue.  At the end of the afternoon session, youth delegates were informed by one of their colleagues that he had established a Facebook Page for the Forum, where information, Twitter accounts and ideas could continue to be shared.  (To connect, search on Facebook for “ECOSOCyouthforum” or visit:  www.facebook.com/EcosoCyouthforum.)


Opening Remarks


The President of the Economic and Social Council, NÉSTOR OSORIO ( Colombia), said that talented young people had made exceptional contributions to society and history.  Their names and stories were inscribed in books and their examples were a reminder of how important it was to invest in and promote their potential and capabilities.  Celia Cruz of Cuba, Bob Marley of Jamaica and Miriam Makeba of South Africa, among others, had become, at a young age, the greatest voices of their generations.  Young people left a lasting mark on science, technology, and culture across the centuries and would continue to do so in the digital age.


He said that while youth represented hope and change, there were still important obstacles to their education and employment.  According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), young people were three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and more than 75 million youths worldwide were seeking work.  In Europe and the Middle East, more than half of them aged 15 to 24 were unemployed.  Unemployment was linked to different challenges — lack of access to an education that responded to labour market needs, lack of information and professional training, and difficulties ensuring the participation and integration of young people in society.  Moreover, computers were taking over unskilled and entry-level jobs and young people with fewer skills and experience were having greater difficulty entering the labour market.  At the same time, companies complained about the lack of skilled workers for high-tech jobs, he said, adding that that was the vicious cycle we lived in.


It was important to increase the opportunities for young people to be exposed and gain access to quality programmes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, such as under the so-called “STEM” education programme.  Girls and young women must not continue to be sidelined while men dominated in the fields of computer sciences and engineering.  Social websites played an important role in promoting the Arab Spring, giving youth a voice and making them an important player in the region’s transformation.  Technology and innovation were also opening up amazing new opportunities for young entrepreneurs in the creative economy.  Young people wanted the full enjoyment of their political and civil rights and freedoms.  Speaking their minds; participating in politics; practising in politics; practising the religion of their choice; and living their lives without any form of discrimination were among their legitimate aspirations.


Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON welcomed the youth delegates, telling them “This is your home and I feel great excitement and energy and dynamism all coming from you.”  Stating that young people were the leaders of tomorrow, he asked them two questions, requesting that they shout out their answers.  When asked if the United Nations was doing enough for them, they answered with a resounding “No!”, and when asked if the United Nations could do more, they shouted, “Yes!”.  He said he was not surprised by their response, and to that end, had appointed for the first time in United Nations history a Youth Envoy.


He said that working with youth was one of his top priorities, because they had the energy and ideas to change the world.  “We need to marshal your expertise and compassion to address the terrible problems in our world,” he said, stressing that global crises were hitting young people especially hard.  Youth unemployment, for example, affected nearly 74 million people from their mid-teens to their mid-20s, and hundreds of millions of young people were directly affected by conflict, robbing them of their homes, their families and their futures.


Today’s youth would inherit the planet — from older generations who were too often exploiting natural resources instead of protecting them, he continued.  It was a time of transition and turmoil, but also of great opportunities, and young people could help all rise to the challenges by being global citizens.  “Youth have always had ideals.  The difference with all of you — the largest generation of youth in history — is that you can use social networks to demand change.”


But, work must be done to close the digital divide, as many young people did not have access to that technology, he said.  Attention should also be paid to women and girls, who had “every bit as much potential as men and boys when it comes to science and technology”.  Anyone could look through a microscope, he added.  Education was essential.  When his own country was torn apart by war, young people studied in the open; if it rained, they looked for trees to take shelter.  “But we never stopped studying,” he said, underlining a new initiative he had spearheaded called “Education First” to put every child in school.


He told today’s gathering of young people:  “The United Nations is ready to partner with you.”  That was why he had appointed the first-ever United Nations Envoy for Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, who, at 29 years of age, was the youngest envoy in the history of the Organization.  In the short time in his position, Mr. Alhendawi had developed a detailed plan based on four key principles:  participation, advocacy, partnerships and harmonization.


To further his work, the Envoy would open many channels of communication between young people and the United Nations — in meeting places and cyberspace, said the Secretary-General, adding that Mr. Alhendawi was already available by Twitter at @AhmadAlhendawi and was working on an application to make it possible to track United Nations events by mobile phone.


To boost advocacy, he noted, the Envoy was striving to ensure that youth had a say in the development of the global post-2015 development goals.  Partnerships were another key component of his work plan.  That meant joining forces with Government representatives, academics, chief executive officers, and especially youth-led organizations.  Mr. Alhendawi also had specific plans to help coordinate United Nations activities to ensure they had the greatest possible impact.


In that vein, the Secretary-General said:  “When you work for a better world for all, you create a better future for yourselves.”  He expressed the hope that young people would stay engaged with the United Nations long after they left, and added that they did not need to study international relations to be dismayed at current events, or get a law degree to take a stand on human rights, or study economics to know that poverty was wrong.  Rather, he urged them to pursue their own path, be it in public service, medicine, law, arts, literature or history.


“You may not be able to change the entire world, but you can change something to make it a better place for all of us,” he said, acknowledging that nobody could do it all, but nonetheless, encouraging youths to give it their best, and along the way, never forget the United Nations ideals of peace, development and human rights.  Be part of creating a new vision, he urged, not only by telling the United Nations what kind of world they wanted, but by “partnering with us to realize a better future”.


ADORA SVITAK, World Food Programme (WFP) Youth Representative, said that too often in global affairs the “genuine story of youth fell by the wayside”.  In many countries, even in some where young people made up the majority of the population, they remained silent.  The old adage that children should be seen but not heard was outdated, she said, adding that such dichotomies needed to be addressed by the international community.  Young people were viewed in an overly simplified way, and to be truly reflective of her global brothers and sisters, that way of thinking must change.  There were many young people whose voices should be heard, and when given the opportunity to speak up “we become the authors of our own stories”.


She said that at her school’s model United Nations, fellow classmates raised interesting points about hard-pressed issues, such as the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Middle East and other world affairs they cared about deeply.  If such clarity and passion happened at a United Nations model gathering, imagine what would happen with youth at the United Nations table. Conferences, such as the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum and Rio+20, provided young people with an opportunity to take central stage and speak up.  Indeed, there was scepticism about ideas they could bring to the table, but she reassured delegations that there was tremendous demand for the genuine experiences of young people.  After all, they were change-makers, community leaders, and, most recently, had inspired the Arab Spring.  Many young people were also addressing such pressing issues as youth unemployment, which disproportionately affected them.


Often stifled in a school system that promoted conventionality, young people were using media to develop new ways to reach out to each other in different parts of the world, enabling themselves in the process to become both students, as well as teachers, she said.  Children were rising above traditional societal expectations and demonstrating to the world that they were not victims.  Young people had always had tremendous audacity, as evidenced by the online social movements they inspired and often orchestrated, which were responsible for massive change such as topping regimes and shifting attitudes.  The ability of youth to use technology meant that they could become solutions to problems.  Calling her generation the biggest resource in the world, she urged diplomats and high-level officials to not waste the opportunity of including them in the global dialogue.


ZEENAT RAHMAN, Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues, United States Department of State, speaking on “The role of development cooperation in promoting youth engagement in science, technology, innovation and culture”, said that the Department, cognizant of the fact that its programmes and policies were an integral component of foreign diplomacy, had worked to increase youth engagement within those frameworks.  Several strategies had been set out, including ambassadorial youth councils throughout United States embassies around the world, which allowed youths to give input to ambassadors and staff on the issues that mattered most to them.  Health and employment were among their common concerns, and the State Department was focused on helping to connect youth across the globe.


The State Department, she said, was also involved in programmes focused on youth involvement and partnership with the private sector, multinationals, and international partners, as well as in multilateral and bilateral diplomacy platforms.  One such programme was the United States-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership, which supported the five-year, $15 million Fulbright Indonesia Research, Science, and Technology initiative.  The expanded Fulbright programme, one of the largest in the world, reached more than 300  United States and Indonesian students and scholars.  Another, the Innovation Working Group, part of the United States-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission, sought to develop a legal framework for innovative entrepreneurship, and establish innovation centres and regional innovative clusters, among other activities.


Another strategy to expand partnership was instituting a youth observer at the United Nations to actively engage at various events, contributing the youth perspectives to issues, while at the same time raising awareness about the United Nations among youth.  The cross-cutting nature of the issues would underpin the eighth biennial Youth Forum of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to be held at its headquarters in Paris in October.  It was expected to attract the participation of more than 200 representatives from more than 120 countries, including her own.


She said that, unlike any previous generation, today’s youth were connected to one another and empowered by new technologies on a global level, sharing ideas around the world; ideas of how to improve the people’s lives.  She asked the young delegates:  “How are you going to use that?”  For the State Department, the question was:  “How are we going to support and facilitate that?”


JESSICA LAWRENCE, Executive Director, New York Tech Meetup, presenting the key messages and recommendations that had emerged from today’s Forum, said that the dialogue around the theme of leveraging science, technology, innovation and culture for today’s youth underscored why technology was so powerful in the hands of youth who had been born citizens of the Internet.  What she saw throughout the forum was a thread of “connectiveness” between the delegates, with issues such as open access, and Internet freedom and funding as global concerns.


Echoing remarks made by Ms. Svitak, she said youth had always had audacity and now they had the tools.  Providing an overview of the panel discussions, she said that among the issues that had emerged were strategies to bring more women into science careers, advocate for the participation of youth in the design of cultural action plans and in various industries through training.


Turning to the last session on social media, she emphasized the phenomenon’s impact on world events.  However, rather than perceiving it as a neural space, she worried that it could be used for either good or bad ends.  Twenty-four hours of video every 24 seconds was being uploaded to the Internet.  That staggering statistic illustrated the potential of harnessing that power for good.  The only enemies were apathy and cynicism.  She added that the need to speak the same language was not necessary, as all it took was an image.


Although there was a lot work ahead, it could be done if it was done together, she told the youth delegates, urging them to give voice to the voiceless, connect people and get them to act collectively.  Remarking on the Secretary-General’s questions in the opening session about whether or not the United Nations was doing enough for them, she said, “the truth is you don’t need anyone’s permission to start leading that change yourself.  We are living in an age where you can start a movement with little more than a voice and a mobile phone or computer and an Internet connection.”


Closing Remarks


WAEL GHONIM, Internet activist and computer engineer, said the Egyptian revolution gained momentum when people found an alternative way to voice their concerns and aspirations.  One such alternative way was a virtual platform, which he had created, where Egyptians started to “meet”, following the death of a young activist.  In one day alone, 30,000 people joined the network.  Feeling empowered and organized, participants began to discuss what could be done to bring to justice to those responsible for the young activist’s death.


He said that challenging the status quo made him keen on seeing his country change.  Culture and behaviour had drastically changed, not just in Egypt, but worldwide.  “Think of 100 years ago — if you wanted to communicate with 10,000 people it was not possible to do so.  Now, I could do it with a click of a mouse,” he said.  Throughout his life, he had been told that he would not be able to achieve his aspirations, but he had rejected that.  For example, when he first announced on his webpage that people were going out into the streets for a revolution, many mocked him.  Indeed, some were sceptical that the world could be changed, but history had shown otherwise.


Many children in Egypt attended schools with overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers, like in many parts of the world, he said, stressing the need to educate on a different level and begin producing educational videos in Arabic, which now could be viewed on YouTube by everyone.  It was the age of collaboration to create something big and break down barriers.  The idea of a “special hero”, “a big guy”, who could do things that no one else could was old and outdated.  He said it was now up to the so-called “average Joe” to bring about change.


AHMAD ALHENDAWI, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy for Youth, said that nearly all the major innovators in information and communications technologies (ICT) in the last 10 years were young people.  It was unimaginable to go to a youth conference to talk about youth issues without mentioning the importance of social media and ICT.  The most important challenge was discovering how the United Nations could use those tools to better the world.


However, he said, it was not just the job of diplomats, experts and people working for the United Nations to figure out ways to incorporate media in international relations, but rather, it was the responsibility of global citizens to contribute to that process.  He encouraged young people to consider ways to empower people, not just to make money, but to inspire social change.  Change began at the local level, and often people who changed the world started by changing something little in their own communities.


During his time as the Envoy for Youth, he planned to open channels of communications, bring young people closer to the Organization and build partnerships, he said.  Unemployment was one of the world’s biggest problems, he said, noting that 74 million were unemployed.  Everyone must come together to tackle that pressing issue.  He believed that the Forum was a great opportunity to increase youth participation in the United Nations to advance positive change.


WU HONGBO, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that the “The future we want” message that had come out of Rio+20 was profound.  If people continued to consume natural resources and raw material at the same rate, then by 2050, three globes would be necessary to supply everyone.  Currently, one third of all food was wasted, yet 900 million people on the planet suffered from a shortage of food.  Every minute, 16 people died from hunger; 12 of those were children.  Clearly, current lifestyles were unsustainable, which would “lead us to nowhere”, he said.


Indeed, youth was greatly impacted by economic and social challenges, he said, noting that youth unemployment was of major concern to all, but especially to young people.  Young people had proven time and again that they were powerful innovators and, today, had provided a snapshot of the way in which they were involved in science and technology.  To address the pressing issues of today, as well as of future generations, it was essential to develop the skills needed in various labour markets through education, apprenticeship, and employment opportunities.  “It is crucial that young people’s voices are heard, and that you are part of the dialogue and part of the solution,” he said.


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For information media • not an official record