16 November 2010
Press Conference

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

Press Conference on Appointment of Actress Monique Coleman as Youth Champion


The United Nations today appointed Disney actress and youth activist Monique Coleman the Organization’s first-ever “Youth Champion” for the International Year of Youth, which began on 12 August.


At a Headquarters press conference, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Department for Economic and Social Affairs, presented Ms. Coleman with a letter of recognition on her new role, saying she would work to raise awareness about the plight and potential of the some 1.2 billion 15- to 24-year-olds worldwide, or 18 per cent of the global population. 


The theme of the Year — dialogue and mutual understanding — calls for increased commitment and investment in youth, as well as for building bridges between generations and across cultures, religions and civilizations, he said.  It aims to recognize young people as a major human resource for development, positive social change and technical innovation.  


Accepting the letter of recognition, Ms. Coleman said: “Youth are not just our future, they are the present.  With 85 per cent of youth in the developing world, it’s our global responsibility to unlock their potential.” 


She said young people had inspired her United States-produced “Gimme MO” online talk show about youth empowerment and that she would work throughout the Year to use social media like Facebook and Twitter, as well as streaming media, to inform young people worldwide about the Year and encourage them to speak out about their concerns and work to achieve the youth-related Millennium Development Goals. 


“If we can connect young people through some of [the] same mediums used to promote entertainment and celebrity to pass along a message of social change, we might actually have a shot at achieving these goals,” Ms. Coleman said. 


Lauding Ms. Coleman’s long-term experience as a youth advocate, Jean-Pierre Gonnot, Acting Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said her efforts would be part of an overall strategy to change the dialogue about youth, which tended to focus on negative images and stereotypes, to one that showcased youth’s overall contribution to their own development and that of their communities. 


Asked where she would take her web show, Ms. Coleman said she would connect youth in Malawi, Liberia, Kenya, Japan, Australia, India and elsewhere.  Through her online talk show, Ms. Coleman intended to host youth forums, beginning in Europe, on such topics as health care, cultural and socio-economic similarities and differences, and ways to improve the world.  


Asked about her experiences with self-empowering youth, she pointed to Katie Stagliano, who, at age 9, had started Katie’s Krops, a South Carolina-based non-profit organization, to feed hungry people in her community.  Such efforts should be encouraged and replicated.


Ms. Coleman said she wanted to partner with corporations and other organizations to find tangible, inexpensive ways on the Internet and elsewhere to empower youth. 


She lamented that young people were often “put in a box” and expected to behave and develop in predetermined ways, based on prejudices and conditioning, rather than having their true potential nurtured. 


On the distinctions among youth, she said that in the developed world in particular, young people grappled with self-esteem issues, owing to high expectations to excel and bullying by their peers.  The overwhelming increase in teen suicide showed that they lacked the tools to cope.  In the developing world, youth often struggled to get their basic needs met.  Many did not even have a birth certificate.  Despite those differences, youth overall needed compassion, love, care, sincerity, and to have their concerns, desires and suggestions for improvement heard.


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For information media • not an official record