Young people want more than a seat at the table: they want action

22 September 2021.  With the 76th United Nations General Assembly underway and the UN Secretary General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’ newly published with its commitment to young people, over a dozen major youth-focused international organisations have come together to launch a coalition called Unlock The Future.

World YMCA is a founder member of the Coalition, which reaches hundreds of millions of young people worldwide, and which will focus on the needs of next and future generations within the international system.

At an online event held on 22 September, World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee presented the Coalition’s ‘Unlock Declaration’ – its shared statement of ambition – on behalf of all its signatories.

The Unlock Declaration

“The Unlock Declaration expresses our collective commitment to children, young people, and future generations, at a time of real challenge, real crisis, and real opportunity”, he said.

He set the directions of the Unlock The Future Coalition. “As partners, we are bound together by four principles.

  • First, we will champion a platform for diverse young people to explore, create, lead, and participate.
  • Second, we will increase representation for countries with young populations.
  • Third, we will commit to co-operating in ways that change young people’s lives.
  • And fourth, we will increase accountability to young people at all levels from the grassroots to the global.”

Read the Unlock Declaration on the Global Youth Mobilization website.

The #UnlockTheFuture event

On 22 September, young people gathered online to listen to young activists, leaders and politicians discussing how to unlock a better future for next and future generations.

Aishwarya Machani, a Next Generation Fellow of the UN Foundation, moderated the event. “Young people around the world are facing a series of crises that they did not cause”, she said. “We believe this needs to change. We need your help to unlock a more safe, green, and just future for young people and future generations.”

Olympian sport athlete Pita Taufatofua encouraged the audience: “Do not get tired.  Do not get weary. Keep fighting. Us, the adults, we have a whole lot to learn. You [young people] deserve to be at the heart of every conversation”. 

Facing crisis and keeping hope

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Muzoon Al-Mellehan, from Syria, and climate and environmental rights activist Hilda Nakabuye, from Uganda, spoke about the current situation young people are in.

“Young people have been suffering so much in recent years, and now – on top of that – they have to face the pandemic and the climate crisis. Many face a lack of opportunity in areas like education. All these obstacles prevent young people from playing a vital role in their societies. But despite all of this, they are doing their part and they are trying their best to fight these challenges.  They raise their voices, and they don’t give up. They also want the world to hear their voices and their messages”.

In the week of the UN General Assembly, three young activists met with the President of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, and the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven.  “Age is not an obstacle to making change happen”, said President Quesada. “Just get involved, and don’t feel you need to ask anyone’s permission.”

A question was asked to them regarding youth participation: “What can governments and institutions do to be more open and interesting for young people?”

They responded: “We need to listen to young people. It’s their future, and this is the planet that they will inherit. So we need to give the best that we can. And we can see that young people are engaged: they want to get involved; they want to participate. And that means that there is hope, and that things can change. And things are changing”.

Rethinking the system

Jevanic Henry then spoke with 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus.  Professor Yunus said: “99% of the world’s wealth is controlled by 1% of its population. … Poverty is not created by young people: it’s the system which creates poverty. Young people have to distance themselves from ‘the system’ and from the older generations who have created it, because if you are influenced by the older generation, you’ll end up going to old destinations.  If you want to go to a new destination, you have to build new roads with new people. … I keep telling young people to seek out a world of ‘Three Zeros:’ we have to create a world of zero net carbon emission, zero poverty and zero unemployment”.

In a conversation with entrepreneur Amélie J. Mariage, the UN Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake spoke about the concrete recommendations made in the ‘Our Common Agenda’ report released on 10 September 2021 by UN Secretary General António Guterres.  “For me, the first and most important one is the call for transformative and high quality universal education. The second is the removal of barriers to the direct political participation of young people, so that we ensure meaningful, diverse and inclusive youth engagement at local and national global levels of decision making, and so that we create decent jobs for young people by investing in and tracking their carrier paths. And lastly, the promotion of the green and the digital economies”. 

Taking the lead

World YWCA Regional Coordinator of Eastern Europe Vera Syrokvash then moderated a conversation with Volker Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination at the UN, Rumaitha Al Busaidi, Omani climate change activist, and Sabra Ibrahim Noordeen, Special Envoy for Climate Change from the Maldives.

“We need to communicate to the world that young people must be at the decision-making table in matters that we see as crucial. (…) We as millennials and as ‘Generation Z’ should tell the world what we think are the priorities that we must all work on. (…) We have to ensure recovery in the short term, but also a resilient future for all generations”.

“Instead of thinking that young people are at a deficit because they don’t have much experience, we need to start seeing the opportunity for young people to build skills at a young age, so that they themselves can contribute to the efforts of governments and businesses.  Our generation is organized: it’s a whole new generation of  voters, consumers and investors who are rallying behind urgent climate fiscal and social justice”.

The Unlock The Future Coalition launches at a moment when the UN Secretary-General has called on the world to bridge the intergenerational divide, and when young leaders and activists have injected urgency and momentum into climate campaigns and COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

Recording of the Unlock The Future event

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