Young people are talking. The question is, are we listening?

Date: 23 September 2020

“Young people are talking. The question is, are we listening?”
Carlos Sanvee speaks at Global Fund debate on financing the future of global health.

Geneva, 22 September 2020.  “This young generation, it has lost trust … in the system in government, in the public sector, the private sector … because collectively we have failed them”, said the Secretary General of the World YMCA today.

Speaking at a strategic dialogue a strategic dialog run by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria within the 10th Concordia Annual Summit, he went on: “We haven’t held ourselves accountable for what we said we’d do.”

He asked himself how the trust can be rebuilt.  “Young people are driven by causes, so we need to articulate the cause [of youth empowerment] to them, because if we don’t, they won’t wait: they’ll just do it themselves.”

Carlos Sanvee stressed the need for involving young people in systemic change.

“We have to provide them with the space, nurture their ambition, and give them the tools to work and to produce results.”

He placed these needs in the context of the Coronavirus crisis, citing research showing how mental anxiety brought on by Covid has been recorded amongst almost 90% of young people (Young Minds, UK), how turmoil in schooling and further education has affected 90% of young people (UNESCO), and how 1 in 6 young people worldwide have lost their jobs, during this time of Covid (ILO).

“I dare to say that Covid is primarily a youth crisis; it may be stealing young people’s future before our very eyes.” 

But he pointed, too, at young people in the front line of supporting their communities, especially reaching out to the elderly, delivering food and producing masks in Europe, while continuing to distribute mosquito nets in their communities in West Africa, running youth-friendly HIV testing centres in Kenya, or driving the call for equity on a global scale through embracing the Black Lives Matter campaign.

“Very often”, he said, “the First Responders to our societies’ ills are young people.”

Sanvee was addressing the theme of public-private partnership which was the thread of a panel discussion led by Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund.  The Fund (a partner of World YMCA since October 2019) has seen 75% of the countries in which it works suffering from massive health service disruption due to Covid, with the threat of losing hard-won gains in those three diseases.

“Our emergency fund appeal will run out by the middle of October”, he said, “and yet it’s only 1% of the money that has been pumped into societies and economies to fight Covid. Yes, the private sector has much at stake here, but it also has so much to offer.”

Monica Geingos, First Lady of Namibia, called for a transformation of mindset, and for the private sector to step up and play a bigger role. With Covid, “the penny has dropped”, she said, as to just how important our health sectors are.  The Global Fund had found that while 74% of Fortune 500 companies had an environmental strategy, only 9% had a health strategy.

“We realised”, said Mike Froman, Vice Chairman at Mastercard, “that the best thing we could do for our business in this time was to join others in trying to find a health solution.  But many companies are still trying to figure how to do that.”

Peter Matlare, Deputy CEO of ABSA Group, stressed the need for private sector agility in finding the right partners, while Jennifer Lotito, President of RED, said that for a business to support global health projects, the prospect had to make sense to customers, employers, and shareholders alike. Several speakers cited the precedent of private sector companies joining the fight against AIDS in the 1990s and 2000s.

“Maybe I first saw this as just a Summer project”, said Peter Lee, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Healthcare. “But no: we are dealing with deep structural shifts worldwide here. It’s so hard to go it alone: we can only go in partnership.”

Carlos Sanvee concluded on the same theme.  None of this can happen in isolation.  My peers in youth organisations … governments, businesses, civil society … we all need to come together.  No single government, no single organisation can solve these problems … When we come together, we will find solutions.”

 “And for me, the priority is to empower young people to take responsibility to make change in their community.”

World YMCA is a Global Patron Member of the 10th Concordia Annual Summit.