"You are already leaders. Your ideas, your actions and your decisions make a difference. More than any other generation, you have a voice" - Secretary-General's remarks to UNA-USA Model United Nations Conference New York, 13 May 2010
Youth are often discussed by policymakers and world leaders in terms of their future potential, with the argument that investing in youth improves livelihoods, reduces violence, transforms communities and empowers future generations. While this is undoubtedly true, what is often forgotten is perhaps more important: today’s youth are already leading. They are tirelessly working towards peace, sustainability and justice around the globe. From my discussions with youth leaders, I have been struck by their emphasis that youth are more than passive actors needing to be invested in and empowered, youth are agents of change striving to improve their own opportunities and their communities. During this blog series, our taskforce has been interviewing youth from around the world to display their unique, and valuable viewpoints, their insights on their societies, and their ability to lead.
I recently interviewed four highly involved youth from UN Youth of Finland: Sonja Huttunen, Board Member and Finland’s UN Youth Delegate; Janette Sorsimo, President; Niklas Vaalgamaa, Board Member; and Emilia Hannuksela, Board Member and Intern with UNDOCO’s Human Rights Team. UN Youth of Finland seeks to raise awareness and promote the values of the UN among Finnish youth and students. The National Board serves as an umbrella organization for five local chapters in Finland and their Model UN program. The board members often visit schools across Finland, hosting events and workshops to raise awareness around the UN and the 2030 Agenda. These workshops consist of interactive activities to humanize global events and more actively engage youth to examine global challenges. During our skype interview, all of them spoke candidly about their work with UN Youth of Finland, their future plans for the organization, and recommendations for the broader Youth, Peace and Security agenda. Their efforts display the crucial role youth leaders can have in bringing international agendas to the national level and vice versa.
During the spring of 2014, board members of UN Youth of Finland conducted a national Post-2015 survey, inspired by the UN’s My World survey, to raise awareness about the 2030 Agenda and to identify which themes young people prioritized for a better future. The board members then developed strategies based on three of the most popular themes from the survey: protecting the environment, reducing inequalities, and having a secure life free of violence, discrimination, and harassment. The organization has also developed a UNSCR 2250 Youth Network in Finland gathering youth organizations, policy papers, and an advocacy network to promote Goal 16 and encourage the Finnish government to mainstream youth participation in national decisions. All of the board members were excited to discuss their plans for 2017, which will be the organization’s 50th anniversary. 2017’s theme is focused on equal participation, with the goal of involving a more diverse array of youth within the organization and in leadership positions. Currently, involvement in UN Youth of Finland is predominantly composed of female university students studying international studies and politics; the board is hoping to improve the diversity of their organization through visiting vocational schools and having broader community engagement with youth.
In many aspects, Finland is a global leader on youth participation. Youth are globally aware, active in civil society and well educated. Additionally, the government is less hierarchical than many, encouraging youth to interact with their representatives. Sonja Huttunen, stated that she is privileged to have access to top government officials in Finland who are very receptive to youth opinions, ideas and criticisms. However, in many parts of the world, youth voices are often ignored or even stifled by governments. Acknowledging this challenge to youth participation, Sonja emphasized: “youth participation isn’t a privilege, it is a right”, youth across the globe need to promote government action to involve youth and continue to demand for youth voices to be heard. Ultimately, three main recommendations came from our discussion about what international leaders should do to better involve youth:
- When having conversations about youth and youth policy, government and global leaders should always include youth representatives.
- Youth are more than just the future generation, leaders should recognize the crucial role youth can – and do – play as positive agents in their communities.
- UN Member states should more actively involve youth in their delegations and decision-making processes.
As Ban Ki- Moon said to a crowded room of students at a Model United Nations Conference in 2010: “You are already leaders. Your ideas, your actions, and your decisions make a difference. More than any other generation you have a voice” Including the voices of youth leaders today is the most effective path towards a more secure, peaceful and just future.
Anna Misenti is an intern with the UN Relations and Policy team at the UN Foundation. She is originally from Bainbridge Island, WA and is studying Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College. Anna is passionate about human rights, sustainable development and women’s empowerment. Last fall, she travelled to Nepal where she studied Nepali and conducted an independent research project on the evolution of community-based credit systems in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The past two summers Anna has interned at New Course, a nonprofit focused on empowering women to use sustainable practices in order to reduce poverty, prevent environmental degradation and improve livelihoods. On campus, she is a member of the Cross Country and Track & Field team, and is a barista at the local coffee shop. Outside of the office, she enjoys running, exploring new places and reading.