Young People ‘Leaders of Today’, Secretary-General Tells Delegates at Economic and Social Council Youth Forum

2 June 2014

Young People ‘Leaders of Today’, Secretary-General Tells Delegates at Economic and Social Council Youth Forum

2 June 2014
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council

Youth Forum

AM & PM Meetings

Young People ‘Leaders of Today’, Secretary-General Tells Delegates


at Economic and Social Council Youth Forum


The engagement of young people in shaping the global development agenda was critical, as they were the leaders of the present era, senior United Nations officials told the Economic and Social Council’s two-day Youth Forum today, which convened under the theme “#Youth2015:  Realizing the future they want.”

“This is about your future — so it must be your agenda,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told youth delegates, underscoring that young people were actually leaders of today, not of the distant future.  From technology to politics, from the arts to the sciences, from the streets to the information superhighway, youth were already making their mark, and their engagement was also crucial in addressing global challenges.  “There is no plan B because there is no planet B,” he concluded.

Martin Sajdik (Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that an estimated 73 million young people were unemployed in 2013; 20 per cent of all youth in developing countries were not engaged in education, employment or training, with devastating socioeconomic costs.  Nonetheless, he was optimistic about the world’s ability to enact change and impressed by the level of participation of young people worldwide in the “MY World” campaign and the recent crowdsourcing platform launched earlier this year.

John Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), General Assembly President, recalling that not too far long ago adults had made decisions alone, urged youth to get involved.  “If you don’t, an agenda emerges without your priorities addressed, and you have no one to blame but yourselves,” he said.

Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, said the Forum had evolved to involve thousands of youth worldwide in the discussion on the post-2015 development agenda.  The challenge ahead was how to build a global consensus among youth stakeholders.

Brittany Trilford, Activist and Youth Adviser at CIVICUS Alliance, challenged Heads of States and other leaders to reflect on if they want to save face or save young people, who could contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth.

Nik Hartley, Chief Executive Officer for Restless Development, made two assertions based on his analysis of available data:  First, Government loves to work with young people to improve their ability to hit poverty targets, and second, there was a strong enough youth sector to mobilize young people en masse to engage with and monitor development goals.

The Forum also featured three working sessions, respectively titled “Promoting youth employment — creating decent jobs for a more sustainable future”, “Reports from global and regional Youth Fora”, and “Advancing progress in Africa beyond 2015: a youth perspective”.

Opening Remarks

MARTIN SAJDIK (Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the 1.8 million adolescents and youth in the world, one quarter of the world’s population, were catalysts for change in society.  Their action in recent years had instigated political uprisings and altered traditional power structures, demonstrated for human rights, initiated unprecedented online campaigns for various causes, and revolutionized technology and communications.  However, barriers — particularly youth unemployment — remained to achieving their full potential.  In 2013, an estimated 73 million young people were unemployed; 20 per cent of all youth in developing countries were not engaged in education, employment or training, with devastating socioeconomic costs.  Nonetheless, he was optimistic about the world’s ability to enact change and impressed by the level of participation of young people worldwide in the MY World campaign and the recent crowdsourcing platform launched earlier this year.  He called on participants to engage directly to assess how to overcome barriers for youth in relation to future development goals.  “Youth are not only the future of tomorrow — youth are leaders, entrepreneurs, students, workers, caregivers and problem solvers of today.  Enabling one quarter of the world’s population to participate in the international decision-making process for the future is essential,” he said.

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted that it was commonly said that young people were the leaders of tomorrow, but his view was that young people were leaders of today.  From technology to politics, from the arts to the sciences, from the streets to the information superhighway, youth were already making their mark.  Half the globe was under 25 years of age.  There was a need for their engagement.  The international community was closing in on 500 days to the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals and had to speed up its effort to meet those objectives.  “This is about your future — so it must be your agenda,” he said.  Young people faced unique challenges in securing quality education, basic health and decent work.  Their aspirations extended beyond jobs.  He sought out their views by visiting schools and even tweeting.  His special envoy on youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, was raising awareness about the challenges young people faced globally.  “There is no plan B because there is no planet B,” he concluded.

JOHN ASHE (Antigua and Barbuda), President of the General Assembly, stressed the importance the Secretary-General had placed on youth, including by appointing a youth envoy, and youth’s key role in making decisions on their own lives.  Noting youth’s energy and enthusiasm, he welcomed youth to the Assembly any time.  In 2000, the Assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals, taking action intended to address the future.  “You need to be part of the decision-making.  It is about your future and you are the future,” he said.  For far too long, adults had made the decisions alone.  “I urge you to get involved.  If you don’t, and an agenda emerges without your priorities addressed, you have no one to blame but yourselves,” he said, urging participants to set the stage for the future development agenda.  A standalone goal on youth was needed in the sustainable development goals.  “People like me need to hear from you what your priorities are,” he said.

BRITTANY TRILFORD, Activist and Youth Adviser at CIVICUS Alliance, delivering a keynote address, said that young people represented a huge window of opportunities, but little had been done to unleash their potential.  The image of youth was oversimplified, and the world needed to hear their frustrations and voices.  She went on to highlight several global problems that required substantial improvement, such as high unemployment among young people.  There was also a digital divide, and without access to the Internet and other technologies, progress would be challenging.  Young people were assets.  They could contribute to economic growth and reducing poverty.  Youth could play a role in innovations.  Development was not for young people, but young people were development.  She also stressed the importance of recognizing the interdependence of people.  She asked Heads of States and other leaders if they want to save face or save young people.

AHMAD ALHENDAWI, Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth, said the Forum, now in its third year, had evolved over time, now involving thousands of youth worldwide in the discussion on the post-2015 development agenda.  The challenge ahead was how to build a global consensus among youth stakeholders.  A consensus must be forged with targets for youth.  Young people were sharing the same struggle to reach common aspirations in employment, education, politics and decision-making.  Some may say that youth and youth organizations were scattered; however, today they had proven that they could present one unified voice.  Today’s Forum would shed light on youth employment and youth development in Africa.  “Let us seize this opportunity to allow young people to achieve their true potential and to sustain the planet,” he said, calling on them to aim high and hammer out practical steps to achieve the world youth wanted.

NIK HARTLEY, Chief Executive Officer for Restless Development, delivering a keynote address, spoke of the challenges young people faced using the United Republic of Tanzania as just one example.  In that country nearly 50 per cent of the population was under the age of 15.  By the completion of the next development goals in 2030, half the population would be 15 to 30.  The economy was growing at 6.5 per cent a year.  That growth was producing 100,000 to 200,000 jobs a year.  But 800,000 new young people were coming into the job market each year.  Many of those would not have a single prospect.  But only 8 per cent of young people had turned to what was defined as a “criminal offense related to earning a living” by the age of 25.  So, 92 per cent got by.  They had resilience and skills.  He made two assertions:  First, government loves to work with young people to improve their ability to hit poverty targets and, second, there was a strong enough youth sector to mobilize young people en masse to engage with and monitor development goals.

Session I: Youth Employment

The Council then opened a panel discussion titled “Promoting youth employment — creating decent jobs for a more sustainable future”.  Moderated by Nicole Goldin, Director, Youth Prosperity and Security Initiative, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, it featured presentations by Alian Ollivierre, Barbados Youth Development Council (Volunteer Barbados) and small island developing States Focal Point for United Nations Major Group of Children and Youth; Dino Corell, Programme Analyst, International Labour Organization (ILO); Matteo Landi, Industrial Development Officer and Youth Employment Expert, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); Esther Agbarakwe, Co-Founder, Youth Climate Coalition, Nigeria; and Anette Trettebergstuen, Member, Labour and Social Affairs Committee and the Elections Committee of Norway, and Member, Inter-Parliamentarian Union.  Andrea Taylor, Director, North America, Citizenship and Public Affairs, Microsoft Corporation, acted as discussant.

Ms. GOLDIN, opening the panel, said youth unemployment was also a health and economic issue.  It was three times higher than adult unemployment and high particularly in Africa and among young women.  The “Young Invincibles” report released in January noted that youth unemployment in the United States was costing that country’s Government $9 billion annually.  A similar European Union study pointed to 153 billion euros in annual losses for the Union owing to lost productivity and tax revenue as well as the cost of unemployment benefits.

Ms. OLLIVIERRE said there was too little research available on youth unemployment in the Caribbean.  Training was imperative to give them the necessary skills for employment.  Often university graduates lacked such skills.  In the Caribbean people often stayed in the workforce until age 70, making it difficult for younger workers to enter.  She stressed the need to target the public and private sector to change their attitude towards youth volunteerism, which was often not seen as “real work” or “real experience”.

Mr. CORELL said that Government representatives and employer organizations of ILO agreed in 2012 on a comprehensive set of policy areas to promote youth employment.  They focused on economic growth to create jobs and promote social inclusion; enhancing youth employability through skills training; and creation of an enabling business environment and access to finance to promote youth entrepreneurship, among other areas.  He cited examples of programmes to foster youth entrepreneurship in Kenya, the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda.  Countries should make youth employment a priority through time-bound action plans and initiatives.  Young people were held back by low pay and status.  Social protection measures, minimum wages and social dialogue could ensure that young people were able to voice their concerns.

Mr. LANDI pointed to the need to create 600 million jobs by 2030.  Globally, 90 per cent of jobs were created in the private sector; in Europe fully two-thirds of jobs were created in small and medium-sized businesses.  Access to information in terms of training, funding and marketing remained a main challenge for youth.  Seventy-five million jobs for young people must be created.  The private sector must work more closely with universities to help youth develop business ideas.  Funding was needed not only to help youth start businesses, but to maintain and grow existing ones, particularly during the first two years of operation.

Ms. AGBARAKWE said that youth comprised a larger percentage of the population now than at any time in Africa’s history; the actions of youth could redefine the continent’s development.  Young people were becoming aware of issues affecting them and taking action.  For example, in Nigeria young people were standing up for the “bring back our girls” campaign.  Africa had action plans but no monitoring to see how they worked.  Good education and health care, including reproductive health care for women, were vital for youth employment.  Issues of insecurity were affecting the continent and must be addressed holistically.  The Nigerian Government was investing a lot in agriculture, but no one was talking about sustainable agriculture and the impact of climate change.  It was vital that careers in agriculture were accessible and appealing to youth.  She also noted the merits of volunteerism, which gave youth the requisite experience to get a good job and an appreciation for the value of hard work as a path to earn money.

Ms. TRETTEBERGSTUEN noted a lack of decent jobs in many parts of the world.  Poor labour standards, the weakened influence of trade unions, part-time employment and the marginalization of youth in the labour market had expanded the number of working poor.  Her country, Norway, had low unemployment due to smart economic policies that combined an open market economy and strong State intervention that protected workers’ rights, resulting in the creation of a highly productive work force and sustainable social reforms.  There was no one-size-fits-all solution for youth; they must be seen as individuals.  The Norwegian model for youth showed that strong cooperation and shared goals among educational institutions, employers and the Government produced positive results.  The Norwegian Government had also introduced four action plans to ensure immigrants, which were in need in the Norwegian labour force, were treated with the same labour rights and standards as Norwegian workers.

Ms. TAYLOR said that Microsoft Corporation, in partnership with the International Youth Foundation, in 2012 launched the Microsoft Youth Spark initiative to help 300 million youth worldwide.  Youth must be at the epicentre of action and at the table as key stakeholders.  The initiative connected youth with education and opportunities, with a focus on science and stem-related training.  Thus far it had increased job skills for 10 million youth.  Microsoft was on track to reach 300 million youth by 2015.  Young people must raise their voices loud and clear.  “Teens and young people are a ‘disruptive technology’ and they should use that power to change our world,” she said.

In the ensuing discussion with youth delegates, participants asked the panellists about ways to change social perspectives and erase barriers to young women’s employment; to bring agriculture further into the employment fore, particularly in Africa; and to promote and sustain youth-run micro enterprises.  One participant suggested a four-day work week to sustain employment for all and promote quality of life and human well-being, another called for quotas to promote youth businesses.  One speaker stressed the need to give youth better rights within labour unions.

Mr. CORELL, in response, stressed the importance of investing in technology and South-South cooperation in agriculture.  Mr. LANDI agreed, saying two-thirds of Africa’s population lived and worked in rural areas; agriculture was linked to tourism, biofuels and food security as well.  Ms. OLLIVIERRE said a lack of education was the main hindrance to agricultural development in the Caribbean.

Ms. AGBARAKWE noted that as most small-scale farmers in Africa were women, their development was vital.  Keeping girls in school and giving them the requisite job skills was essential to empowering and enlarging the female workforce.  Ms. TRETTEBERGSTUEN said 78 per cent of Norwegian women were active in the labour force thanks in part to the promotion of part-time work.  Norway had strategically used schemes such as parental leave for both mothers and fathers and inexpensive kindergarten programmes to enable women to stay in the labour force.

Session II: Reports from Global and Regional Youth Fora

Presenting reports were Dullas Alahapperuma, Minister for Youth Affairs and Skills Development, Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka World Conference on Youth; Doug Court, Deputy Coordinator, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) BYND 2015 Youth Summit; Gabriel Laurence-Brook, Spokesperson of the Francophone Youth Parliament, Youth Consultation of the International Organisation of La Francophonie; and Alejo Ramirez, Secretary-General, Ibero-American Youth Organization.

Mr. ALAHAPPERUMA recalled that the recent youth-led conference hosted by Sri Lanka had aimed to bridge the gap between aspiration and the reality of daily life.  Over 1,500 departments, mostly youth delegates and civil society, had participated, producing the Colombo Declaration on Youth.  Recommendations on 14 subjects included development with youth leadership, elimination of poverty, equal access to quality education, full employment and entrepreneurship, gender equality, ending systemic inequalities, and youth rights.  Highlighting several issues that had emerged from the Conference, including youth participation on all platforms in the post-2015 agenda, and addressing the health issues young people faced, he underscored that the promotion of a sustainable lifestyle was core for the future of that generation.  He pointed out that youth’s role in peacebuilding, reconciliation and reconstruction, among others, was a huge part in shaping Sri Lanka’s future.  Policymakers and Governments had to ensure that youth were included in discussions and development.  Recalling the late Maya Angelou’s description of diversity as beautiful, he told delegations, “you will make a better world.  Diversity is beautiful and it is strong.”

Mr. COURT said that although his organization were mostly engineers, youth were very important in its efforts, particularly since over 60 per cent of the world’s youth had never used the Internet.  His focus was “connecting the unconnected”, particularly girls, indigenous populations, those with disabilities, and youth.  Costa Rica had recently hosted an ITU BYND 2015 Youth Summit to create linkages between the United Nations systems and youth, resulting in a declaration outcome statement that was the first-ever publically-sourced document endorsed by the General Assembly.  Such efforts were bringing down barriers between policymakers and youth.  Whether it was national political structures or grassroots platforms, where youth were being asked to innovate Government policy, it was critical to ask “what it does”, “who it representatives” and “who drives it”, keeping in mind that the role information and technology played was to lower the barriers and making policy transparent.

Mr. LAURENCE-BROOK said that his organization’s charter focuses on sustainable development, and had set out a framework that made youth main actors in that goal through French-language training, dissemination, democracy, and cultural diversity initiatives.  They needed to be included in consultations on sustainable development and the post-2015 agenda.  He called for youth parliaments on sustainable development and for youth posts on policy platforms.  Inter-generational solidarity, both on physical and virtual platforms, was also necessary, as well as the creation of a global fund for youth employment, particularly in the green economy.

Mr. RAMIREZ, noting that his international organization was the only one that had youth secretaries, said that he didn’t agree with previous statements that youth had played an important role in developing sustainable development goals.  Rather, those goals felt as if they were being imposed upon people.  However, he did agree that the United Nations now had many forums for discussions, and negotiations which were welcoming different voices.  Nonetheless, “we can’t relax yet.  We can’t say we have done all our work”, he stated.  The presence of youth had not been guaranteed in the discussion and development of strategies in the sustainable development goals.  Youth had the greatest capacity to change the world and should be taken fully into the debate on sustainable goals.  Youth in Latin America were having interesting debates on world issues, including reproduction rights, human rights, and sustainable development, among others.  They were actively engaging in changing the world around them.  Noting that over 60 per cent of youth did not have Internet access, he reminded participants that they had a huge responsibility to connect the youth of the world together.

Session III: Advancing Progress in Africa beyond 2015

Hadeel Ibrahim, Founder and Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, moderated the session, titled “Advancing progress in Africa beyond 2015.”  The speakers were: Chernor Bah, Chairperson, Youth Advocacy Group for the Global Education First Initiative; Mariam Mohamed Abdullah Abdelhafiz Allam, National Coordinator of the Arab Youth Climate Movement; Danielle Agyemang, Program Coordinator and Liaison to the World Youth Movement for Democracy–NED; and Holo Hachonda, Member of the High-Level Task Force for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), and Program Director, BroadReach Healthcare.

Ms. IBRAHIM said that 50 per cent of the African population was under the age of 19.  The problem was that the more educated they were, the less likely they were to find work in the dominantly informal labour market.

Mr. BAH said that Sierra Leone had fertile land and rich natural resources, but that corruption and poor governance had dissipated those resources.  More than 80 per cent of the population were illiterate, a factor that led the country to 11 years of civil war.  The youth bulge was not a direct cause for conflict, but when those youth were uneducated, it could lead to conflict.  Africa was the only continent where the rate of secondary education completion had not changed.  Youth had identified education as a priority, but Government policy did not reflect it.

Ms. AGYEMANG stressed the importance of schools as places youth could learn social skills and learn human rights.  Teachers should also be given access to training.  Regarding social inclusion, youth should not be forced to follow certain paths because when they could not follow those paths, they would be excluded.  Youth representation was important, but it was crucial that they were actively engaged.

Mr. HACHONDA said the practice of fragmentation at the United Nations would not work because issues were complex and interlinked.  Those items must be addressed as a whole.  If a person was sick, they could not go to school.  Being educated did not translate into being employed.  Education was an important beginning but not a panacea.  There was a need to eliminate all forms of discrimination.  Young people should have the right to demand and enjoy full sexual and reproductive health education to prevent teenage pregnancies, which in turn would lead to more drop-outs from schools.

Ms. ALLAM said that due to poor access to energy, trees were cut down and used as fuel for cooking.  The interim cabinet in Egypt had decided to import coal to meet energy demand, but the voices of youth had not been heard.  Youth were running think tanks and leading pilot projects on renewable energies.  The decision to import coal had been made due to lobbying by big business.  Climate change was a threat multiplier.  Water resources were mismanaged.  Because of Africa’s dependence on agriculture, the lack of rain would mean fewer crops, less jobs and more displaced persons.

In the ensuing interactive discussion, youth delegates highlighted the importance of peace and security — a critical enabler for development, among other issues.  A delegate said the African Common Position adopted by the African Union had six pillars, two of which were pertinent to youth, namely human-centred development and peace and security, adding that young people should stop complaining about poverty and other challenges and, instead, seek political offices.  Another delegate said a safe environment was necessary for youth, including homosexual youth, to express themselves.  Underscoring the importance of technology, they pointed out that where technology lacked, voices of youth were not heard.

The Youth Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 3 June to conclude its work.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.