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Diplomacy in Action

2011 UNESCO Youth Forum Finalist -- Sejal Hathi

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Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Washington, DC
June 27, 2011



Sejal Hathi

"What is the greatest global challenge facing youth, and how can American youth help to address it?"

Technological innovation and the forces of globalization have now succeeded in connecting once disparate and inexorably sequestered peoples into a single global energy. But with the advent of this global community came a series of interconnected challenges, as one region’s problems inevitably affect the whole world’s afflictions: Infectious disease in Africa exacerbates the challenges posed by civil war, to which the world must now respond; poverty in the Middle East breeds a new generation of extremists trained to terrorize Europe and the United States.

Such increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the world’s challenges now even more forcefully demand that we breed young leaders well-acquainted with these problems to begin to think about plausible solutions. But too often today, young people- and notably, young women- possess an acute awareness of the existence of global challenges but often struggle to define their role in helping to identify them or solve them.

Why is this? Because the most pressing issue facing youth today is not drugs or violence, nor poverty nor health inequities, but rather their blighted education: the absence of a diverse and cosmopolitan cultivation that empowers them to 1) recognize and then 2) apply, their potential and assets as agents of change. And this void has continued largely unaddressed by global policymakers, leading to among other issues surging youth unemployment, youth disaffection, and perhaps most critically for all, a tremendous blow to our ability to innovate.

Yet it is youth who possess the most innovative and unique perspectives and ideas on how to solve these problems, for they perceive them with more idealism and creativity than adults. Youth connected in the community and have access to multiple networks. Youth have more time on their side, are flexible, and can nurture knowledge and experience and work to change perceptions; they are often development project beneficiaries and thus can provide new perspectives on doing things. Youth are the inheritors of current institutions and can mobilize quickly, especially using novel technology. When recognized, supported, mobilized, and united, young people become a movement for change that can solve seemingly intractable global problems, whether this be through high-tech enterprise, social causes, or policy roundtables.

American youth can take a stand in asserting and embracing their inherent role as change agents, and thereby serve as an example to young people—and governments—elsewhere, by highlighting the achievements and abilities of youth and encouraging the US government to establish more programs promoting youth innovation and civic participation. From a fund for youth entrepreneurial ideas, to an official National Youth Council or network of gubernatorial youth councils—from developing an online youth resource hub to pushing for an official concurrent Youth G20—the opportunities are endless for advancing youth voice and empowering young people to achieve a true, active and cosmopolitan education. We only have to seize them.  

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