MODERATOR: Namaste, and welcome to Achievers and Change Makers produced by Today’s Youth Asia. In the TV show Achievers and Change Makers, we bring inspirational figures from around the world who have contributed to humanity. In today’s episode, we are featuring Mr. Ronan Farrow, director at the Office of Global Youth Issues at the State Department of the U.S. Government. Mr. Farrow is also the Special Advisor to Secretary Hillary Clinton on Global Youth Issues.
Diplomatic Courier Magazine and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy Organization have named Mr. Farrow as top 99 most influential young professional under 33. To honor the aspirations of Mr. Farrow, we would like to award him with the prestigious Young Achievers Award.
MR. FARROW: It’s a real pleasure to be here in Nepal, as I mentioned and a particular honor to be given this award on behalf of young people across Nepal. I’ve talked to so many young Nepalese who, as I said, just bring tremendous energy and commitment to tackling the challenges that Nepal faces right now at this critical moment in its history. And I leave with great optimism for the country just based on those conversations with young people like yourselves.
As was mentioned, I am leading Secretary Clinton’s new Office of Global Youth Issues at the State Department, and we’re advancing a policy around the world that focuses on fostering youth jobs and youth voices. And there’s no better illustration of how high the stakes are than right here in Nepal right now, where it will be make or break, I think, for your country’s future that young people come out in force and make their voices heard peacefully on the road to the new constitution here. So I’ll be watching that with great interest. I hope that we all who are here today can stay in touch and that the United States can stand by you as you become the architects of solutions in your communities.
QUESTION: What are your future plans and policies to address Global Youth Issues?
MR. FARROW: Well, I mentioned some of the specific initiatives that are present here on the ground in Nepal. We hope to expand such initiatives all around the world -- that’s already happening at many of our embassies – and to making them a fixture of how we do business. The Youth Advisory Council that we see here – I’m subsequently going on to Bangladesh to launch another such council. And I think in the coming years, as we see this new policy that I mentioned implemented, we will see it become more of a standard way of doing business for the United States Government to consult regularly and formally with local youth civil society leaders.
We are also building a new office focused on global youth issues, as we’ve discussed, that I’m leading in Washington, DC, but that will go on to be a permanent part of our government system. And what we want to do, in our conversations around the world that I mentioned, is try to partner with and support other governments as they too find ways to better institutionalize and deepen their commitment to youth engagement and youth programming.
QUESTION: Since you’ve worked in Africa, what is your stance on the human rights violation in Africa, especially in countries like Congo, Angola, and Sudan?
MR. FARROW: The United States as a country has a long history of standing on the right side of human rights issues, I believe. Our own track record has not always been perfect and we freely admit that, but I think that we stand for human rights ultimately when you look at our history. And our involvement in a number of these places is a testament to that. Certainly in Democratic Republic of Congo where we are very actively engaged in ending the reign of terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army in this broader region, we see the United States as a change agent, I think, for good. So those are issues that we take very seriously.
I think, in my own work when we look at young people and their desire to participate economically and participate politically (inaudible) temple and make their voices heard, so long as they’re doing it peacefully. And we need to ensure that governments are respecting the rights of young people to start their own initiatives and businesses without being oppressed or denied access to their basic rights. So I think it’s at the core of the priorities that the United States has around the world, and it’s certainly at the core of the priority issues for this particular agenda with respect to youth that we’ve been talking about.
QUESTION: What personal contribution to the youth sector are you most proud of?
MR. FARROW: I think that the work that I mentioned on Sudan Student Advocacy, that I was so lucky to be involved with, is something I was really inspired by. I don’t know that I could personally take credit for that, but I think that I made a small contribution in some of the reporting that I did on the ground, some of the attention that I brought to issues about foreign investment perpetuating the conflict in that particular part of the world in Sudan. I think that that helps fuel others who then took up the baton and really built an international consensus on those issues.
I think that the work that I’m engaged in right now is maybe the project that I felt most fortunate in my life to be a part of, partly because it brings me to young people like yourselves and gives us an opportunity to really connect and for me to hear from you what you think the solutions should be and then to have a platform in my small way to try to integrate those solutions into the policy process of the United States, which has a leadership role around the world that really can affect change. So you’ll have to come back to me after I leave my current job and see whether that is on the list of things that I would be most proud of, but certainly it is one of the opportunities that I’m most excited about.
QUESTION: What achievement are you most proud of when you worked as UNICEF spokesperson for youth in Nigeria, Angola, Sudan in – from 2001-2009?
MR. FARROW: I mean, that is yet another job where I really stand on the shoulders of giants. And the things I’m most proud of were collaborative efforts with a lot of wonderful people in the UN system. And the ones that I feel most strongly about are those that have been sustainable since I’ve moved on to other projects, and where others have really, in an inspiring way, taken up the baton and continued that work. I think, in particular, UNICEF has done a wonderful job of prioritizing youth political participation in ways that it hasn’t always focused on historically. And efforts like the African Youth Leaders Network that UNICEF was instrumental in fostering have really taken on a life of their own, and, I think, provided a very interesting structure that has challenged institutions across the African continent to incorporate young voices more and really ups the ante in terms of the way in which young people participate in African Union summits and regional governance processes and make their voices heard in their own communities too.
So I think it’s an important area of activity and something that inspired a lot of the thinking on the work that I’m now doing in the United States Government and that I hope can catalyze more change in the UN system too, which I think needs and is currently looking at a greater focus on youth issues.
QUESTION: You seem to express your honest opinions in your writing, whether it be by criticizing UN political bodies, exposing China’s link with the Darfur genocide, or by criticizing George W. Bush Administration’s links with Beijing. Do you think articles have an impact in changing political decisions?
MR. FARROW: I do. I think we can all point to examples where journalism has really created a watershed moment where political action isn’t required or political events have changed course. That’s why the role of journalists is so important. And I don’t know if any of you are planning on going into writing or pursuing journalism – I see a nod there, you’re going to be good at it. I can tell already – but we need strong voices in that sector. We need young people in every country really picking up the baton and shedding light on the truth and being voices of conscience. I think it’s a very powerful platform, and I miss writing myself. So you guys all go out and do that on my behalf.