Today’s panel – we’re going to be speaking about the next level of diplomacy, youth, and global engagement. From climate change to human rights and even the Arab Spring, youth have been instrumental in making their voices heard to bring awareness to global issues that affect us all. Today’s panel discussion will highlight the importance of young people’s presence in the global arena and ways to encourage their sustained involvement.
I’m going to walk you through how the program is going to run today, and then I’ll turn it over to our panelists. I’ll introduce our panelists. Each panelist is going to provide some opening remarks this morning, and then we’re going to turn it over to you for the Q&A portion. We’re also going to take questions from Twitter and DipNote, which is the State Department’s official blog. Following the questions, we’re going to open it up to you and you will see two microphones located directly behind you. Please line up accordingly on each side and we will take turns going from each side. And if you’d like to live tweet this event, you can do so using the hashtag #engageyouth.
Yeah. Oh, do you want to? Yeah. Let’s – do want to use your Twitter handles?
MS. RAHMAN: My Twitter handle is just my first name Zeenat.
MS. PANDITH: Sure. So, @Farah_Pandith.
MS. CALVIN: And mine is UN Foundation.
MS. JENSEN: Do you guys want to hold these? If it feels awkward, feel free to hold those as well.
So our panelists are these beautiful and very influential women working in the field of foreign affairs who recognize the importance of engaging youth to promote peace, social justice, and democracy around the world. And it’s with great pleasure I get to introduce each of them to you now.
First I’m going to introduce you to Farah Pandith. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed Farah as the first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities in 2009. Her office engages with Muslims around the world based on people-to-people and organizational level. In the years since her swearing-in, Farah has traveled to more than 80 countries and has launched youth-focused initiatives, including Generation Change, Viral Peace, and Hours Against Hate. She is also the key architect of the Women in Public Service Project.
Prior to this appointment, she served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, where she focused on Muslim communities in Europe and was responsible for the policy oversight for integration, democracy, and Islam focusing on countering violent Islamic extremism. Farah holds a master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and she has served on the National Security Council and as a trustee of the Smith College and Milton Academy. She is a current member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Board of Overseers for the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
Next, I would like to introduce Kathy Calvin. She is the President and CEO of the United Nations Foundation. She leads one of the most innovative organizations advocating for the UN and the creation of public-private partnerships. Her leadership brings together the largest network of supporters of UN issues in the United States and a global network of corporate, civil society, and media partners. Previously, Kathy served as president at the AOL-Time Warner Foundation, where she was responsible for the company’s brand, social responsibility, and external relations.
In 2011, Kathy was named one of NewsWeek’s 150 women who rock the world, and in 2012 she was listed in Fast Company’s “League of Extraordinary Women.” Kathy was – this is my favorite part of your entire resume – Kathy was one of the first women to hold the title of Press Secretary, when she worked on Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign.
Kathy plays an active role in a range of philanthropic activities, including the Boards of International Women’s Media Foundation, City Year, Inter-News, the Newseum, Share Our Strength, the United Nations Association of the United States of America, and the East-West center. She is a graduate of Purdue University.
And last but certainly not least, Zeenat Rahman. Zeenat serves as Secretary Kerry’s Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues and is Director of the Global Youth Issues Office. She incorporates policy and practice, giving youth voices into critical debate that help shape global affairs. Her work partners the private sector and youth councils worldwide, amplifying youth issues and supporting youth-driven solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems.
Previously, Zeenat served as acting director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at USAID, building support for the extremely important programs Feed the Future, the Child Survival Campaign, and efforts to address the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Prior to her government service, she was Director of Policy at the Interfaith Youth Core.
During her impressive career, Zeenat has built and managed international youth programs in over a dozen countries, traveling abroad frequently – and I will note she’s leaving for India today, just a few short hours – and speaks about the importance of youth leadership in promoting civic engagement and harmony between diverse communities.
So now that you know our panelists, I’m going to turn it over to them for some brief opening remarks.
MS. PANDITH: Well, good morning to everyone. So as I came down here, I had the TV on in my office and was watching our President sit in the front row of pew in Boston, Massachusetts for the interfaith service that is taking place right now. There were three victims earlier this week: Krystle, Martin, and Lingzi, all of whom are young people. I would like to take a few minutes this morning for a moment of silence as we think about what happened this week in our country, and pray for the victims and those who are recovering.
(A moment of silence is observed.)
So this morning I join you to talk about the importance of youth. And it is really fitting that as I sit at this table with two other amazing speakers, I have the privilege of describing to you an overall sort of approach that we are taking here at the Department of State and on a demographic that is growing on our planet. You make up that demographic.
I started with Boston today. I am from Massachusetts, and so this event that took place earlier this week really hit home, but it made me think a lot about the many colleges and universities, the medical schools, the hospitals, the many youth-oriented NGOs and programs in my home state. And I thought about the power of youth and where it came from. When I think about you sitting in the chairs you are sitting in today and what your lives will be like, I think about the power of your generation to be able to do things that we were never able to do because we did not have the technological power that your generation has.
You heard in my description of my office one of the programs that we put together called Generation Change, and that is, in fact, the generation that I think that you’re part of. You are change-makers. You are people whose ideas matter. You are a generation that is going to revolutionize the world through the power of 140 characters on Twitter, through the power of your ideas, and the power to connect with peers all over the globe.
I think what you’re going to hear this morning is three very different approaches to how we think about the power of your generation and what we’re doing it. But if you’ll just allow me for a minute to tell you on this one slice that I’ve been asked to work on in conjunction and partnership with my fellow State Department colleague Zeenat Rahman, the importance of why we are looking at your generation. This is, for me, as I think about the perspective I’m taking as the Special Representative to Muslim communities, about the power of the demographics. When we look at the planet, one-fourth of humanity is Muslim; 62 percent of that number is under the age of 30. And when I think about the demographics and the importance from a foreign policy perspective of engaging your peers around the world, it’s because on both the short and the long term it is essential that we understand the ideas that are happening on the ground.
The work that I’ve done in the last four years in partnership with our embassies all over the world is to listen to the voices at the community level, to hear what young people are saying, whether they are social entrepreneurs or business entrepreneurs or students or faith leaders or graffiti artists or hip-hop artists. It doesn’t matter. What is important for us is to hear the voices that are coming organically, credibly from communities all over the world so we can hear what you have to say.
President Obama said something very important in his Cairo speech in June of ’09, and that is that we want to build relationships with Muslims around the world based on mutual interest and mutual respect. You cannot build toward things with partnership if you are not doing it with mutual respect. And how to get to that place and understand what those areas are of mutual interest means that you need to be able to listen.
So my job is about connecting with young people on the ground on a people-to-people level. You heard in the description that I have a global mandate. It’s Muslims and Muslim-majority countries and Muslims that live as minorities. And it has been my privilege and honor to serve our country in this capacity, but more important than that is the dedication that I’ve seen across our government to the importance the President placed on making sure that we’re doing more than we’ve ever done before to engage with one-fourth of humanity.
So during the course of today, I hope that you will ask questions about the kinds of things that we’re doing and understand that the pivot point for us moving forward, the creation of my office and why we’re doing this, is because President Obama found it extremely important, even on the first moments that he became President in January of ’09, in his Inauguration speech on the steps of the Capitol, speaking to all of us and the world, saying he wanted to engage in new ways with Muslims around the world, and that is what we are doing.
MS. CALVIN: Thanks. So I’m Kathy Calvin. And the one thing I thought she was going to say was her favorite part of my bio is that I’m an avid motorcycle rider – (laughter) – which grabs a lot of people’s attention. And I’m happy to be here with all of you today.
This is a great topic to me, and I think sometimes those of my generation talk about young people as a separate class and we talk about preparing young people and giving young people opportunities and treating them as something that needs to be nurtured and brought along.
And I was with Muhammed Yunus yesterday, who was in Washington to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. He’s actually the first Muslim ever to receive the Congressional Gold Medal and one of only six people to also have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Nobel Peace Prize. And I heard him speak at a university where he was being sworn in as a provost. And he said something so profound, and it’s really stuck with me as I think about how do we in the non-profit world, how do we in the government space, how do we in the private sector think about the next generation.
So he said this: “We always refer to young people as the future leaders. And at one time, probably this was true. But this is not true any longer, because they are not future leaders. They are leaders already. They are the leaders. They are creating a completely new breed of leaders to create a completely new world for themselves and all of us.”
And I think it’s that kind of understanding that this is not about preparing the next generation, but it’s really about your generation taking the reins and helping all of us understand what you want that world to be and what we should be doing to make sure we’re all working toward it.
So working with the United Nations is a real privilege for the UN Foundation. And I’m excited because the Secretary General also has this vision of young people, and is his five-year, second-term plan made youth and women two of his most significant priorities, and has actually put in place a first-ever special envoy on youth. So this is someone he’s brought in to advise him and the rest of his leadership on thinking about what the next generation wants from the UN and from all those member-states. So he’s got a plan of action to ensure that there’s participation, advocacy, partnerships, and – a UN term – harmonization, but all of it to say it’s asking the young people of the world to participate in the big decisions the UN is making over the next few years.
And I can’t stress enough to you how important it is that you, every one of you, take that responsibility on for yourselves. We’ve had a plan in place for the last 15 years called the Millennium Development Goals. They will be finished at whatever speed and rate we achieve them by the end of 2015. What we do for the next 15 years is not really for me. It’s not really for this Secretary General. It’s really for all of you to figure out what it is you want this world to look like and how do we ensure that the people and the planet are adequately cared for.
And we know that there are real challenges. I mean, young people are, as (inaudible) just said, over half of today’s population. In countries like Uganda, they’re over 70 percent. In countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, they’re over 75 percent. These are the populations that will change the world. But young people are still being left out. Only – one in five girls still is not in school around the world. Girls are more likely to die in childbirth than from any other cause, and yet we’re not making reproductive health services and supplies available to them. Young people are shut out of major decision-making in many parts of the world. So this notion that I think we’re talking about today, about how to provide voices for young people, could not be more important. And it’s not just that the young people have to exercise those voices, but those of us who have authority and power need to do it as well.
So here’s just a couple things that we’re doing at the UN Foundation with the UN. I actually came into office as president just a few months ago, and my first action was to create a youth taskforce. And I did it because I felt I really didn’t understand the issues, and they’ve not only talked to me about what they think we could be doing in partnership with the UN or other players, but they’re actually saying there are some things we can do at the Foundation to make it a better place for young people to work and thrive and succeed. So I’m learning a lot that way.
We run something called GenUN, which is a generational focus for our UNA members. These are people around the country who support the United Nations in their local communities, schools, and they actually are in chapters. And they themselves wanted to come together and create a strong force of young people who support the UN in its work. And they call themselves GenUN. We have campus advocates who do the same thing.
And we have a campaign called Girl Up. And the notion of this is taking the issue of girls around the world – keeping them in school, making sure they’re healthy, making sure they’re counted so that we can even find out if we’re serving them properly, and educating American girls in this case, and eventually, we hope, girls around the world about the plight of girls in the developing world. And so it’s been exciting to see girls in our country stand up and say it’s not fair that a girl can’t stay in school, it’s not fair that a girl has to be married before she’s ready, it’s not fair that a girl doesn’t get to choose when and how to space her family. That kind of powerful advocacy by girls in this country is giving voice to girls around the world. So we love this Girl Up campaign.
And we also are finding that girls in this country and other places around the world are born leaders and advocates, and they’re already giving back. This is not something that is waiting for their older years. They’re already, 75 percent of them, donating money, donating time, cutting off their hair, all the things that one can do to make a difference. And so we’re proud to see these philanthro-teens already joining the ranks of Ted Turner and other big philanthropists.
So I want to close by just quoting another thing from Muhammad Yunus, because I think this is so powerful. He said, “The power you have under your fist is so much power that you can change the world anytime you wish.” Thank you.
MS. RAHMAN: Hi, everyone. How are you?
I’m going to start by saying I feel very lucky to be on a panel with two kick-ass women. We always have to acknowledge when women leading change, especially because there’s such a close correlation between people who are passionate about young people and women and faith leaders, and just people who get left out of the conversation, frankly. So congratulations to both of you.
I’m just going to do a few quick thoughts that bounce off of what both – what Farah and Kathy have said. But I’ll start by saying we are going through a moment of profound transformational change in the world. And you feel it, and we feel it. And so what does that mean? I think as young people navigating the world, it’s a lot more complicated place than it was for my generation or the generations before me. The definition of what success is vast and changing all the time. So I want to look at a few trends that are just global trends that I think come to bear on this issue.
One is the shifting of power from what is called the global north to the global south, that countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Philippines, are ascending in power. The second is advances in technology and social media and how they’re accelerating the speed of social movements, and how they’re making the role of regular citizens far more powerful, and the ability of regular citizens to speak to their governments very different than traditional factors. And third, the ability to form networks and coalitions is changing the dynamics of civic participation. And so what do I mean by that? I mean, my network growing up was my cohort of people who are interested in what I was interested in, the people I went to school with, the people who did the extracurriculars that I did. Young people, today’s networks are vast and endless, and not just social networks but actual networks of change-makers in the world.
And I’ll ask you to remember a couple weeks ago, the President was in Israel, and he gave a speech to a largely youth audience where his call to action, his first call to action, was to young people, because what he said is, “Your voice is what’s going to make policymakers change and take action on this issue.” This is a call to action for young people. And to me, that’s – obviously that’s exciting, but it also speaks to the ability of young people to be change-makers in their – on these major policy issues. These are not small things. These are, like, the major things that we think about every day as policymakers.
So then you look at those trends and then think about the role of young people against that, that in global south countries, those are the countries with 60, 70, 80 percent of their populations under the age of 30, 25, 19. It’s young people. And I say that we should think of that as an opportunity. That’s not a problem; that’s an opportunity for these countries. And as was mentioned, I’m leaving for India later today, where – India has done a lot with their youth population to make this – these demographics a dividend for them.
Secondly, looking at technology and social media, young people are digital natives. You understand technology in a way that I never will, but a lot of people won’t. And you’re going to be the ones who adopt and create the new technologies, the new jobs, the new apps, the new things that exist. So you have a leg-up there. And then with your networks, for the first time in history, young people are a global cohort. And so Secretary Kerry spoke a few weeks ago, where he said, “Americans are more connected to the world than ever before.” And he’s talking about young people. Young people are leading the change in that aspect.
I was in Chicago last week, and I did a talk to 300 young leaders who are part of global health organizations that are connected to other global health organizations across the world, who are building wells and doing social service projects with their peers overseas. And this just kind of speaks to the interconnectedness and the power of that global network. So I’ll say that when we look at how does our foreign policy respond to all of these things and things that we see in the world, what does our diplomacy look like in the 21st century? Because that’s really what we’re talking about here.
We realize that young people are the agents and the key drivers of change on global events that are happening. We want to have a relationship and be in communication with those change-makers. We want to help connect you to networks, build opportunities where they’re appropriate, make those linkages between you and your peers around the world. We want to make sure you have an important voice in policy processes, that we don’t want to tokenize. We want to say these are major policy bodies and conversations that are happening, and young people have a voice. And through me, through Farah, through so many of us, those voices are getting elevated and those stories are being heard.
And I will just end with saying this is not easy. Change takes time. All of these kinds of big macro changes we want to make, they always take time. But I see my job as not one that guides young people, but rather that gives young people platforms and opportunities to lead and then for us to get out of the way.
MS. JENSEN: Well, I would just like to say thank you for the work you ladies do on behalf of the youth, and especially women, worldwide. It’s really impressive.
So we’re going to start our Q&A portion now. Please don’t be shy. This is an intimate setting and an intimate group, so if you would like to ask questions, I ask that you go to the microphones now. And I will rotate between each microphone, and then I will take questions from Twitter and DipNote.
But I will start off, so as you make your way, these ladies will give their answers. And the first question I want to ask is – I think you’ve already touched on it, but why do you feel it’s important to engage youth in global affairs? And what areas of their involvement has been fruitful and the most valuable?
MS. PANDITH: So I think all of us talked about the short and long-term components of listening to the voices of your generation, and the power that you have to make a difference on a wide variety of things. I think we’d be making a mistake to say that youth are only interested in this or this or this, and my experience talking to thousands upon thousands of young people all over the world, their interests obviously vary. Some people are really keen on talking about foreign policy. Some people want to talk about things that are closer to their communities – clean water, education, FGM, things that are happening within their community. And I think that’s a really important point, that we’re not looking at youth as a one sort of bucket and put everybody in it, but that we take the time to understand the nuances of the voices that are happening all over the world, even within – and this is really important – even within a country.
What’s taking place, obviously, in one city or community or village or town is not the same as the next. And so understanding that we – we’ve seen interest and solutions and feedback and compassion in a wide range of fields, and we should look to this generation to help us hear things in new ways on a wide range of issues, and not just say, hey, we’re going to look at them because we want to talk about the issue of this or the other. New ideas and amazing ideas come from the most unexpected places.
And that’s, to me, one of the most powerful things about what your generation is all about, that you have looked at things from a perch that often – sometimes pokes at government officials to say, “Wow, we didn’t even think about that from that way.” And even, by the way, private sector, who says, “Wow, that young kid is looking at this a brand new way, and why didn’t we – why didn’t we think of that?” We want to bring that person in and develop not just in technology, but in other sort of straightforward ways, solutions to human problems. So I think it’s a great question to ask, but I really think a nuanced approach and understanding the magnitude of the diversity of interest of this generation is really powerful.
MS. CALVIN: So I think one of the big challenges right now is with the worldwide economic uncertainty and peril, particularly in Europe. The unemployment numbers among young people are frightening. I mean, in Spain, where the unemployment number is 25, 26 percent, it’s 50 percent among young people. And I think there’s a – the danger, the flipside of what we’ve just been talking about, all the positives, is that we may have a generation of young, educated, and unemployed people with a voice. And that’s a risky business and tough place to be. So I think there’s a real issue that needs to be addressed here about anticipating and building in a new look at an economy that gives employment to people across all these different countries and regions.
Related to that, though, I think is just what we were just talking about, that innovation takes place everywhere now. And it’s just a likely we’ll find the next big idea sitting under a tree in Ethiopia as we’re going to find it in a garage in Silicon Valley. And that awareness, I think, will break open some of these challenges as we also recognize that jobs and the work of the future will look somewhat different. But again, I think this generation is really hinged on that critical thing.
A final thing I would say, I’m just struck that this generation is truly a global generation and feels the impact of what happens in different places around the world in such different ways than I think when I was growing up and it was here and there. It’s – I don’t find that at all anymore. I think here and here and there and there is even more common. Just within India, the differences between income levels is probably more dramatic than it is between young people here and young people in India. I mean, I think we’re just seeing all of the traditional assumptions breaking down, particularly with this generation.
MS. RAHMAN: I agree with everything that was said, and I’ll just say that I think it’s also – it’s utilitarian for us. We have massive challenges globally. We have unemployment. We have youth unemployment, climate change, health, education. We just – we can’t solve those problems without the participation of young people. I mean, you will remember that Secretary Clinton would often say about women’s issues that a society cannot be fully – a country can’t be fully successful not engaging 50 percent of its population. The same is true with young people, unless we’re unleashing kind of those ideas and innovations that are there already.
I mean, they – I will say that the other thing is young people aren’t waiting to be asked by us. They’re already doing it and they’re already driving and forging change. And so, yeah, I mean, I think it’s a very – it’s a necessary that I think policymakers understand, including us at the State Department but also at the UN and all these different countries and multilateral organizations. We get it. And so we need to partner with you to figure out how to solve for that.
MS. JENSEN: All right. We’re going to start with our first question over here. Please make sure that you introduce yourself.
QUESTION: Sure. Absolutely. My name is Jennifer Pekat. I’m here today representing an organization called the World Youth Peace Movement. It was started by a friend and I a little over a year ago. It was born, actually, in Morocco. There were a bunch of sort of youth leaders that were together, and literally Egypt erupted next door to them. And out of it, they said, how can we possibly take all of these leaders sitting in this room and create tangible takeaways and really not just wait for the next big issue to come, but how can we create a movement?
So actually, that kind of leads to my two questions, and it’s for all of you lovely ladies on the board, which is: I generally think – and I’ve been in politics for my entire career, so you usually see youth engagement very much like the tide. It kind of comes in, it comes very in robust, and then it’ll go back out. And you sort of see a drop-off in youth engagement in a dramatic way, whether it’s with elections where you see vote – the youth vote come high and then go low again, depending on where we are.
So I guess the question is sort of on a global scale. How do you foresee – and we chose the word “movement” to make sure it was in there because we don’t just see this as something that happens in a moment or just for one period of time, but something that will last – how do you foresee engaging youth better as a sort of long-term movement, number one?
And number two, how do you create – and one of the things that we were – we generally are most frustrated by, we get together in these great, wonderful situations, have wonderful meetings, but everybody sort of walks away not feeling like there was a tangible takeaway, a task, a teachable moment. So I guess the questions are for all the roles that you serve in: How do you foster the movement over the long haul? How do you create tangible takeaways for youth to really take home and engage more proactively?
MS. CALVIN: It’s a good question. There are a couple of things that I’m seeing right now. The UN has something called My – what is it called, My World? It’s the place where you can go to kind of weigh in what you want the MDGs to be. And I’ve been intrigued by what we’re hearing from young people in particular, that they want to own some of that. So I think we need to give people tangible places to go. And another one is One Young World, if you don’t know that one. I think that they’re doing some interesting things.
I was intrigued watching Invisible Children over the course of the past five years engage young people in interesting ways by being physically present in communities, taking a road show. So there’s something about the internet, social media that are – that’s wonderful, but there’s something else about actually being together and gathering. And I think we need to not let the new – (laughter) – wipe out the old, because in some ways the most important thing is for people to bond together and actually get something done. So I think, actually, what you’re trying to do through creating a movement that has both elements is extremely important.
And the last thing I’d say is people need to see young people as leaders so that they can begin to model that behavior. So to the degree possible, from your movement, if you’re putting those people forward and making them the spokespeople, I think that’s very important.
MS. PANDITH: So --
QUESTION: And we are, just to say that – yeah, absolutely.
MS. CALVIN: Great. I gather.
MS. PANDITH: So first of all, I really do want to congratulate you and echo was Kathy was saying. For you to take an idea and move it forward isn’t an easy task. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of time, so congratulations to you for doing this.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PANDITH: So there are a couple of things that I’m thinking about as you ask that question. One is you asked, how do you foresee engaging youth over the long term for a movement? And I think you meant “you” meaning sort of organizations, State Department and the UN. Here at State, this isn’t going to go away. We talked about the demographics. You cannot solve world problems if we are not engaging. And so it isn’t just Zeenat’s office or my office; it’s every part of the U.S. Department of State. It’s all our embassies around the world, who understand how important it is as we work on anything that it’s not just this is a youth thing that we’re doing, but rather incorporate young voices into many of the things that we’re doing. And so you’re seeing a shift in the way our ambassadors are engaging their embassies in new ways. You’re seeing a shift here at the Department of State in terms of day-to-day business, but including youth voices that are in there, and I think that’s really, really powerful.
So too –there’s a responsibility for us, but so too is there a responsibility for young people to often – to raise their hand and say, “We want to be part of that, and you haven’t heard our perspective,” and find ways that you can incorporate them in there. So I think it’s a give-and-take. It’s a partnership that goes on from both government entities or formal multilateral organizations to include youth. And sort of there is a pressure system that actually takes place as well when you see organizations like the United Nations or the U.S. Department of State or others out there that are beginning to do things in new ways. I promise you that there are other copycat things in a good way around the world going, “Gosh, they have a senior advisor for youth now. Oh, they have – maybe we should have one too.” And I think that’s very, very powerful. So it’s – that’s one piece of it.
The other thing is sort of – and this is a more granular thing – you asked sort of the tangible takeaway of how do you foster. I mean, look, I think I would – okay, so I’ll ask before I assume: How many people in this room, in your own capacity, whatever grade, whatever year, whatever, whatever – ever stood with your peers to say I was interested in an issue and you guys had a meeting, whether it was changing the lunch at your cafeteria, whether it was – how many people took part in something?
Okay. That is almost the entire room. We all have been in the situation where we have a cause, we really want to do something, and then everybody’s looking at everybody like, how are we going to do this? And I think that’s really the kernel of what you’re getting at. And how do you make it real? How do you change things not just with the spirit and the energy that’s happening in that room, but that it’s sustainable after you leave?
And all I would say to you is that what I can say from firsthand experience and really now from a more policy-oriented perspective: It’s the personalities involved, the commitment of the people. It really is people-driven. And this isn’t about class. This isn’t about race. This isn’t about what country is more privileged than the other country. Take all of that and put it aside, because I’ve seen some of the most inspiring and amazing movement by people in the most uncommon places.
So to find the teams of people who are actually doing requires sort of some talent-scouting on the ground, and knowing who you give power to actually help convene, mobilize, and move forward. And that’s a lesson you would hear – or hear that from anybody in sort of leadership – but it really is – it is really true, and I think all of us who’ve been in those rooms working on an issue know that the things that actually reach the goal line is because X person or Y person kept poking at you and kept mobilizing. So I wish you great luck.
MS. JENSEN: Okay. I’ll take our next question from out here.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Akfa Khan, and she actually – that was the same question I wanted to ask, but there’s a second part to it. It’s more of the digital component to making movements and how they’re coming about to change. And what I’ve seen in our generation is more of everybody using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and “like” something, but that’s as far as it goes. And you guys did touch on it a little bit, out of like being very, very committed. But I also feel that there is a sense of complacency with the digital component that goes on. It is extremely empowering, and you have more opportunity and opinions to look at, but it also gives a sense of there’s too much going on and I don’t know what to choose or – and I will just “like” it, but there is no, like, actual activism that is coming about from this. And I wanted to get your kind of opinion on what you have seen globally and in the Western states as well as what you think we can do to kind of change it.
Because I was a field organizer for the Obama campaign, and I was – it was mostly all mobilization and moving and getting people and talking to people one-on-one. But where the area that I was specifically, they didn’t use the digital component, and I don’t see the connection. And I just kind of wanted to get a sense of where is the middle ground that we can move forth, and also banking off of what you said, to create those long-term, sustainable movements?
MS. CALVIN: So I’ll jump in on that and then over to you. So you’re first talking about what some people call slacktivism, right?
MS. CALVIN: Where you just do that and that sort of takes care of it. But Bono called himself the other day a factivist, which I thought was a pretty powerful term as well, so taking the things we know are working and taking them on and becoming a champion for them, because there’s actually been phenomenal progress. We’ve reduced maternal mortality; we’ve actually reduced child mortality almost in half in the last 10 years. We need to talk about those things, because actually talking about success is part of the driver for continued success, and that’s something we all need to take on.
I’m a big fan of Avas. I don't know if any of you use it, see it, whatever. They are so sophisticated at testing what moves people and what constitutes real advocacy. And I think advocacy is a critical role for all of us to take on as a human being – where do we stand up and make our voice heard, where do we bring others on board, and where do we keep that movement pushing?
So I think you’re hitting on something there that is – I think we’re all struggling with is, what’s the tangible, what’s the ongoing, what’s the thing that keeps people engaged? And in our case, we do a lot to keep young girls engaged, because it’s a fickle thing. The attention span moves, and so we try to keep finding good ways to do advocacy, the last being membership or advocacy around child marriage. But I think it’s having those concrete things that people can rally behind, find their own piece of it, and then have facts to back it up.
MS. RAHMAN: So both of the questions asked about this, what’s the long-term plan for engagement? And that kind of – I think where that’s coming from is uncertainty. We just don’t know. But I think we have to just face the fact that – we have to embrace that we really don’t know two years or five years or 10 years down the road what the world will look like, what technology will look like. And so, in a sense, we – I think Farah referred to this – we at the State Department, we’re looking at: How do we have the architecture to respond to the highs and the lows of the youth engagement and the trends and the not-trends? And so do we have the mechanisms to train our Foreign Service officers in the things that they can do when they get to a new embassy to do good youth engagement, where we’re having two-way engagement with young people.
We’ve set up embassy youth councils, which is a convening of young people from cross-sector of society who sit down with our ambassador and talk about how each can add value to the other’s thing. So that’s kind of leftover from the first question, but also relevant to yours, that you have to set the architecture. The stories are important. The ability to look at your assets as somebody who’s in the Western world, has a high technological proficiency, yes, you’ll probably be an advocate. But I think from my travels around the world, I see that a lot of the innovation and the space is coming from the most challenging places. And so I think the way that your cohort or your peers embrace technology around the world is going to inspire you and innovate and create innovations for how you choose to participate.
And so one I think of is there’s a company called Suktel, which is – they send job announcements. They’re based in the Middle East, North Africa, and we’ve worked with them. They send job announcements out over a text message, because that’s how young people receive their – consume news, consume information.
Our two youth councils in – we have a youth council in Latvia and one in Macedonia who worked together to create an e-democracy platform, where they’re crowdsourcing ideas that they’re going to then feed in general into their government. And so I think the decision is, are you a creator or a consumer of information? And if you’re a creator, where do you want to create in that space?
And I think we are never going to be, as the Department of State, as a really big body, at the forefront of technological change. At the same time, we’re looking at – our ambassador’s tweet, Farah and I tweet, we have embassy web – Facebook pages. All of these things didn’t exist probably five years ago. We’re also looking at how to fund young people’s innovation around app creation in Africa or entrepreneurship initiatives in India, which is what I’m going to do in India. But channel the energy and see the technological pieces of support to that, but not as the basis of the engagement.
MS. PANDITH: Can I just say one quick thing? Because I know there are a lot of other questions, one of the things you’ve said – what have I seen on the ground? I think that’s one of the things you said. And what I’ve seen is the same problem that you say that you’re having all over the world. And one of the things that I think is really hard is you’re really passionate about something, you want to see that change, but you have an – not you – many people who are engaged have an unrealistic assessment of how fast they can see that change, or they want to do too much.
So one of the ways that you can do – because you cannot boil the ocean, right? You pick your thing. You pick your component of it that’s going to get you two where you want to be. And I think that helps to sustain. When you see a grassroots effort or a movement that is taking place and you see results, you can build off of that. If your goals are so gigantic and you don’t see movement in that direction, you see the falloff. So in many of the groups that I’ve talked to around the world, this has been definitely an issue. So I would say that’s the first thing.
And then the second thing is nobody’s talked so far about the importance of coalition-building. And I think with digital, the digital component, you are able to find the coalitions of people around the world who are doing things with you, so it’s not like you’re alone on the island trying to do something. You can reach out to someone who is an NGO in another part of the world or an individual who’s an activist in another part of the world and get power and sustainability from those other partners that you have. So coalitions are extremely important.
MS. JENSEN: Thank you. That’s great.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. JENSEN: To engage social media, I want to ask a question from Twitter. @GSBaharamian from Twitter asks: How can youth, women, and men from less developed countries become more active in their societies?
MS. RAHMAN: Yeah, I can take it. So, I did a Google hangout the other day – again, talking about using technology – with an entrepreneur from America, one from Uganda, and somebody who runs a startup accelerator in Egypt, and all young people. And we asked the same question to them: How do you start? Like, it’s so daunting – is that you just do it.
But Sarah, who was our entrepreneur from the States – she’s actually based not too far away from here – has an exercise. And so I think this is useful for everybody. I love this. She said take a piece of paper, split it down the middle. On one said, write everything that you’re really passionate about, everything that gets you excited to wake up in the morning. On the other side, identify the problems in your community, and then try to see if there’s any overlap between those two things, so that you’re taking something that you’re passionate about and you’re applying it to an existing problem.
And across the board, I think any time I talk to young leaders who are just doing it, I mean, in the most kind of difficult circumstances, they just start by just starting – just starting. And so that’s my advice, is that pick a problem you’re passionate about, look at the issues in your community, and just start doing something on it.
MS. PANDITH: The other thing I’d say – and I really love that, Zeenat. I think that’s really powerful. But the other sort of corollary to that is speaking in your own voice, because what is authentic to you, you will do it. Don’t do it because your parents are telling you this is a cause you should be interested in. Don’t do it because it’s the topic of the day and everybody’s doing it. Do it because – and you may be passionate about the thing that everybody’s doing, but when you take a step forward for something that is really – makes your own – that makes your heart excited and you see it from a very particular perspective, it gives you more energy and strength than you can even know.
And I think that this theme that Zeenat is talking about in terms of sort of just taking that first step is the most important thing, and not giving yourself undue burden by suggesting that because I’m not in the Western world, or because I don’t have a lot of money in my family, or because I’m not this, this, and this, and everybody else is, I don’t have that same skill set. Some of the most powerful young people that I’ve seen who are changing – literally changing communities in incredible ways are people, as I said when I began, in the most uncommon places you can imagine because they saw something, it spoke to them, and they just went out there and began the process of making change.
MS. JENSEN: Great. We’ll go to this side. Please introduce yourself and proceed with your question.
QUESTION: Hi. My name’s Arthie, and I just graduated from Boston University in December, and was actually up there this weekend. And as we were walking back, I had friends who were already at Mass Gen telling me there are so many people here already donating blood they’d filled their reserves, so come back later. So it’s very telling of the community there.
But my question is actually about a lot of cultural-based problems like FGM or child marriage and how to go about policy solutions to that and how to engage youth or engage the community to talk about something that’s so rooted in generations where people are passing on these traditions but are actually harming their health, they’re harming societies, and how we can go about, as Western nations, to aid without, I think, disrespecting various – or people down there who hold on to these family traditions so closely.
MS. CALVIN: So, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Tostan, that does great work in Western Africa on FGM – female genital mutilation. The woman, Molly Melching, who created it, is actually coming out with a book that I haven’t read yet but I’ve heard is terrific. And her theme is how she spent years listening to the communities to understand what was driving the commitment to and the holding on to a tradition that clearly wasn’t healthy for girls or women, but understanding what was behind it, and it had a lot to do with the women believing it made them more marriageable. And it had – it was less about men demanding it than women carrying on the cultural tradition. And over time she began to develop allies in the community until one community adopted a more progressive approach, and then the next community watched what was happening and they began to adopt it. But I think these are long-term efforts that really do require people who aren’t preaching or driving a particular point of view but coming in and listening and sharing and beginning to find those avenues where change can take place.
We had a program in Ethiopia that would give a goat or a sheep to a family who kept their girl in school for two extra years. And the big learning from that was that the fathers began to look at their daughters in a new light because suddenly they had economic value, and they wanted to keep their daughters in school. And it changed the dynamic, and then they would put pressure on other men: “Why aren’t you keeping your daughter in school?” So it’s all about finding those cultural touch-points and listening to the community.
MS. PANDITH: So just one really quick thing in terms – are the – you talked about sort of how do you do this, and I love what Kathy said about sort of being – giving dignity to the voices that are happening on the ground, and so it’s not somebody coming in preaching. But I think it’s policymakers also making that distinction between, in many of these cases, what is culture versus what is, let’s suppose religion, or let’s suppose a particular region, that you are actually calling it what it is. And I think that’s very important from the policy perspective.
MS. JENSEN: Okay. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Charlie from the George Washington University, and I’m here to represent Advocates for Youth. So my question is, as to globalization process, and there are more and more, like, students from international community to come to U.S. and to study, particularly in Washington or in Boston. And as you mentioned, like, one of the girl who sadly died, like, on the massacre was actually a Chinese.
So my question is, as we all talk about, like, how to engage the global community and the global youth into this international process, then how can we particularly ask, like, the UN Foundation or the Department of State to engage with the international community that are already within U.S.? Because a lot of people see we are the future leaders and we can help to facilitate this process because we have the U.S. experience that help particularly for these groups to actually take the lead into this global process, and not just like from more of a senior level, like such as the Department of State or UN Foundation, but as more of a personal level from our individual who is studying in the U.S. Like what kind of, like, approach and opportunities that you are given to us particularly?
MS. RAHMAN: That’s good. Yeah. So I was in here in this room about a month ago, and Secretary Kerry talked to a group of Fulbrighters, and the room was current people who are doing Fulbright fellowships or – who have Fulbright scholarships in the United States from all over the world. And he kind of talked about the importance of that inter-linkage and his own experience spending a lot of his childhood not in the United States. And so this is, like, a very active conversation that we are having right now about, how do you utilize the talents that exist through – not just through programs like that but through the large number of international students that currently reside in the U.S.?
And I think you started out by talking about globalization, which means this idea that we have to know something about people who are different than us, whether it’s a different religion, a different culture, a different ethnic background, whatever that is, that just saying we live in diversity is not enough. We actually have to engage that diversity. And we are very lucky to live in the most diverse country in the world, probably, religiously and culturally diverse.
And so it’s not – I mean, I think it is – how does the Department of State think about international students that are here, but it’s also international students kind of speaking about their countries, their culture, their heritage, to their peers. And maybe it’s through universities doing that in a more proactive way rather than just think it will happen. But I think it’s an excellent point and something we’ve been thinking about also: How do we leverage that?
MS. CALVIN: Charlie, are you from China?
QUESTION: Yes, I am from China.
MS. CALVIN: So, my alma mater, I was just told – Perdue University – 3,000 of the 30,000 undergrad students are now from China. It’s quite amazing. So there’s clearly a trend going on here. And I guess a question to me is, what’s happening to those students? Are they staying here or are they going home? And what are they taking home in terms of their global knowledge and their ability to change their countries? And so I’ll be curious to hear from you if you’re going back or if you’re going to stay here, because our own immigration policies are so challenging. So --
QUESTION: I think one of the thing that I’m realizing within the United States is particularly, I think, in Washington DC – for example, like, I would like to intern in Department of State, but for the most part they only accept U.S. citizens. So, it is – it’s a huge disappointment. So that really limits my choices into the nonprofit world. And also it’s very competitive, because there are only that certain amount of organizations that are within DC.
And also for a lot of us, the problem I realize is because most of the college campuses, they don’t have specific, like, job fairs for international students. They only have for the entire student body. So for a lot of time that certain companies, like, they are not seeking for international talents, because one in particular is they don’t want to provide the visa, the job visa for the people who want to stay within the United States. That can – I think that’s one of the thing that while a lot of students, they would love to stay within the United States but they can’t, just as a matter of fact that no one is willing to give their visa or they’re not able to find a suitable company that are willing to offer it.
So I think that’s one of the thing I’m really trying to change on my campuses, and I’m working with the student leadership council and also with the student association to hopefully we can make a change towards that, and that can really help more and more international community to be more involved with the U.S. community and then later on, and, like, to experience in the job world, in the real world. And also when they go back they are more experienced to actually tell rather than just what they learned from the school. Yeah.
MS. CALVIN: Good luck. Talk to Anastasia behind you about the UN Foundation.
QUESTION: My name is Hannah Weintraub, and I’m, I guess, a youth blogger on women’s issues for The Huffington Post and for this organization, The Reproductive Health Reality Check. And one of the questions that I have is, or one of the concerns that I have is the different structures in our society that are disempowering the youth and that are keeping us from becoming active citizens. And one of the major things that I see is the college process and the high tuitions for colleges now.
Like, I’m a senior in high school, so I’ve just gone through this process and had to realize how many of, like, the dreams that I’ve had are limited just by my financial resources. And for other students at my school, I know I have friends who are undocumented immigrants, and for them the resources are – like, and their options are incredibly limited by the kind of lunacy of our higher education system and the prices of these higher education systems.
So how do you see this issue of high prices of higher education and the limited resources or the limited access that undocumented immigrants have and other people, like, more impoverished people have in our society? How do you see this as limiting our youth participation in the future, and what do you think should be done about this?
MS. PANDITH: So you’re talking about a very domestic problem.
MS. PANDITH: You’re talking about something that’s happening here in the United States. And so for Zeenat and me especially, we are the Department of State, so we are looking outside of the borders of our country. So it’s important for you to understand the perspective. I can’t really comment on domestic policy.
I will make a general statement, though, from what I know of conversations that I’ve had at universities all over the world. This isn’t something that is unique to America, that there is a rising cost for higher education, specifically private colleges and universities. And – but I will say that the trend right now in the conversations that you’re hearing in higher education is to talk about the online capacity to engage more and more students from all different kinds of backgrounds so you’re not having the physical classroom experience here, but that you’re looking – and I think, what is it called, MOOC? The Massive Online – it’s like MOOC or --
PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible) online communities.
MS. PANDITH: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. That is the trending sort of conversation that’s happening among schools in our country, and I know around the world, to make it more affordable and accessible to get the top quality educations through a nontraditional means. I think that the Khan Academy obviously started sort of a shift in some of the thinking as well, and I think you’ll see some of the best colleges in our country are involved in the – in this movement. But I don’t know, Zeenat or Kathy, if you guys want to speak to it either, but really it is such a domestic issue that I haven’t touched it firsthand, so I can’t really --
QUESTION: But do you think that this would be something that ultimately could limit many of the youth advocates who could possibly come up and become empowered? That’s, like, my fear, is that people not having this access to higher education, it’ll just limit so many voices and – like future voices and future leaders in our communities.
MS. PANDITH: To be absolutely honest with you, I think it’s impossible for me to make a determination on that, because I can’t tell. And Zeenat commented on it, too. We don’t know where the technology piece fits in with the demographic piece. We don’t know how powerful the voices are going to be to move things and make a statement. I’m not sure I would agree. I mean, I have to think about this. But the premise that you put forward is that in order to be an activist, it means that you would have had to go a higher educational school, and I don’t think that’s what you mean.
You don’t want to bring a correlation between the two because, in fact, as I’ve saying all morning, the voices that come forward are rich and poor, cities and rural. It’s not about that, although, gosh, don’t I wish that every young person on the planet had an opportunity to go to the best schools in the world, obviously. But the power of your generation at this moment is the capacity to do what it is you’re doing on your blog, which is to speak out about things. And you are lucky because you are connected to a very major entity that publishes your name and your blog under it. But even those people that are tweeting out or using pictures on Instagram or creating a YouTube video or using Vine to connect voices and ideas and power are happening in ways that are not confined to a university setting, and I think that’s really important.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Anastasia. I work with the UN Foundation, and I have a question specifically for Zeenat. You talked a little bit about your trip to India today and whatnot, and I’m really interested, specifically, in the State Department’s role in working with youth and youth organizations abroad and how you support and partner with them.
MS. RAHMAN: Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, like, it’s my colleagues in the field who do that engagement on a day-to-day basis. And this office is about two years old; youth engagement in the State Department is much, much older than that. I mean, we’ve been engaging with young people through exchanges, through Fulbrights for a very long time.
But – so for example with India, in Delhi, in partnership with Microsoft, we’re doing something called Startup Youth, and it’s a youth entrepreneurship initiative that will be a two day kind of ideation seminar/boot camp around the ideas that these young people are bringing to the table. It’s about 150 or 200 young Indians from across the country. They’re not necessarily attached to any organization and we’ll stay in touch with them – and their embassy is part and parcel of that. So we always do everything kind of in lockstep and in partnership with my colleagues in the field.
Through our youth councils I think we get a good feedback loop with the cross-section of society and get to find youth from a lot of different backgrounds. I tend to do a lot more direct engagement with young people versus – I mean, bilateral meetings are important and I do those too, but I really want to sit down and hear what young peoples’ ideas are, what their challenges are in their communities. And then a lot of times I think the asset of me coming to a country is being able to connect them to youth councils or their peers in other places.
So if I’m in El Salvador, and it’s such a privilege to be able to do this, then – and I go to Sweden and I see that there is something around, I don’t know, they say like English literacy – Sweden wouldn’t be a country that that happens in, but maybe Uganda – but I make those connections and then we walk away. We don’t – I don’t hover over those connections and see what’s happening with them, but I think the catalytic role of connecting people is something that I focus on, affording young people opportunities through talking about their stories – something that’s been a theme of what we talk about – but also working with the private sector, working with our other multilateral partners in other offices within the Department of State to expose young people to opportunities that they might not otherwise know about, and then focusing on kind of skill and capacity-building. So those are the things I’m doing when I travel.
MS. JENSEN: Before I take your questions, thank you for waiting so patiently. I want to ask one question from DipNote. And Sayad in Afghanistan asks: For some people in Afghanistan, youth are the only hope for social justice and peace. How can we create a paradigm shift for the developing nations to trust in youth’s engagement?
MS. PANDITH: So I think we’ve kind of touched upon this in various answers, and I just want to echo it. I mean, I think it – from the policy perspective, it’s making sure that we are asking the question, “What does the young generation think,” and giving them a platform. So on one level that’s what governments can be doing. And I’m sure Kathy will talk about the role of multilaterals and other organizations that can do it and NGOs, but making sure that young people are part of that conversation. Certainly, the conditions in Afghanistan – I hear what he’s saying and I know that that’s a generation that is – excuse me – that is a country that has a very high number of young people under the age of 30. I think it’s in the high 70s, if I’m not mistaken.
So understanding that these are people who are looking at their future in a very particular way, making sure that from the U.S. Government perspective we are including them in the conversation. Zeenat can talk about sort of some of the work that they’ve been doing in her office and other ambassadors around the world to make sure that she talked with the youth councils. But – so it’s making sure that we are demonstrating our commitment to young people by saying, “Where are they?” You’re in a room – and we – by the way, we do the same thing with groups that are not diverse. Where are the women? Where is the diversity here? Where is the – whether it’s race or ethnicity or heritage or religion, we are consistently saying we’re bringing people together, that all voices are being heard. And it’s not just one piece of society that we’re getting our council from. So those are my thoughts on that. But I don’t know if –
MS. CALVIN: So I think that the case of Malala, the young student in Pakistan, has been really informative in watching how that country has reacted to one person, and how it hasn’t just been young people who have stood behind her, but it’s been people of all stripes in her country, but also around the world. And I think it’s been remarkable to see that she’s been able to set a higher goal than just her own situation and use that platform to talk about education, about girls, about the way people are treated. But it’s great that in that case the cause of the young person has been taken up by everyone else. So it’s not just young people advocating for young people, but a young person has become the symbol for all of us to rally behind.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Jessica Carsten from the Center for Global Development. My question is on employment. You mentioned earlier that people today are growing up well-educated, entrepreneurial, well-connected, and unemployed, and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how the State Department and the UN might connect broader policies on energy and electricity, infrastructure and trade to youth engagement policy rather than you th engagement as an isolated policy issue. Thanks.
MS. RAHMAN: I mean, it’s probably Secretary Kerry’s biggest priority around youth issues, is the issue of youth unemployment and underemployment, and especially in regions of the world that are volatile. And so we’re in a very – I mean, we’re in a kind of probably a long-term process of looking at how do we look at the macro factors coupled with the skills-based – the skills that we’re giving young people, coupled with what are the needs. And within private sector, within job creators, there are jobs available. Young people skillsets don’t often – don’t always meet those needs. And so education for employment – and so we have various initiatives, and we’ve actually funded, I mean, quite a bit of skills-based development, whether on entrepreneurship or skill building for young people over the last probably five or so years. But we are now looking at how do we web that together and then what does that mean for U.S. policy.
But I think it’s not – I mean, you will hear this about everything. It is not a one-size-fits-all. And even if you look at a region like the Middle East or North Africa, those countries are so vastly different from one another that it’s really focusing on a country, working with that country’s leadership and civil society and the private sector and the multinationals who want to be in there in architecting something. This is not something that started five minutes ago or five years ago. This is something that major thoughtful economists and others have been looking at for a very long time, and I would say we are part of that conversation as well.
MS. CALVIN: I’m so glad you mentioned energy, because it’s the key to so much. I mean, it’s the key to maternal health, if we don’t have hospitals that have the ability to keep an incubator going or to make sure there’s enough electricity to deliver a baby at night. It’s the same thing with young people being able to study. It changes a nation completely. So it’s funny, because we sometimes think there’s these issues over here, youth and education, and then we forget it’s those underlying development issues that actually make as much difference.
QUESTION: Hi, everyone. First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to speak here. My name is Ali Azar. I am a senior at the George Washington University. I’m here representing Advocates for Youth. And I kind of want to go off the energy and sort of ask a question about climate change, because I know that it’s my generation really that’s going to sort of suffer from the effects of climate change probably the most. So I just had a question regarding how the State Department is working with youth internationally to advocate on energy and climate change issues.
MS. RAHMAN: Yeah. You can talk. I would say I put – that is something that I would like to put back to young people who are passionate and care about this. What are the ideas out there? How are the ways that we can help amplify good works that are happening? And so some of our youth councils are focused on climate change. Certainly our youth council in Sweden is very interested in it, and we’re talking about trilateral combinations that we can make to facilitate kind of some more advocacy around the issue. But it’s something that the Secretary is deeply passionate about, and it’s an ongoing conversation. So I – I’m – in my mind, I’m brainstorming ways about how we can utilize your passion for this issue.
MS. PANDITH: So another piece is just sort of facts on the table. I mean, we do have somebody at the Department of State who is working on that all day, every day. We have an envoy that’s working on climate change. So that’s one thing for you to know. And that person is incorporating, as I’ve been saying all morning, different voices on the table, different ideas that come to the table. So it’s not in a vacuum that we think about this issue.
The other piece is now taken from a very – and this is why I wanted Zeenat to go first, because she’s doing more global. But on the Muslim piece of how the voices that I’ve heard, what you’re saying is something that I’ve heard from many communities around the world who are young Muslims who say the same thing you are saying, that, “Look, this is something that we have to deal with; what can we do to do more?”
And so what they – what I’ve seen them do through our initiative Generation Change, which are chapters of young people around the world under the age of 30 who are now – we have 30 chapters of Generation Change who are doing a wide range of projects, but climate change is one of them. They’re learning from others. They’re connecting voices, all the stuff that I’m talking about, the platforms and connecting the voices so ideas come to the table.
I think that there’s a robust conversation. And this is not something that’s on the sidelines of a cute little project that somebody wants to work on. It’s really front and center. It is policy. As Zeenat was saying, Secretary Kerry is very, very animated and very focused on the environment and climate change and our oceans and the whole thing. So youth are part of that conversation. You should just be aware of that.
If you want to learn more about what the State Department is doing on climate change, I want you to go to our website, state.gov, and take a look at what our envoy has done and what particular initiatives are taking place.
MS. CALVIN: And I would just add, it’s up to your generation to just to really firm on – this is not a two-sided issue. There’s – it’s us, it’s real, it’s now, scientists agree, and it’s fixable. And so I think people need to just not let the other side of deniers or doubters get in the way. We’ve – your generation needs to be really educated and stand firm.
MS. JENSEN: We have about 10 minutes left, so I’m going to try to get through all of the questions. And if we don’t, I apologize. But please go ahead.
QUESTION: My name is Panding (ph). I’m from China. I’m representing a nonprofit organization, Education Association for China Tomorrow. Our missions are youth cultivation, education enhancement, and cultural exchange. I want to bring out an interesting phenomenon in China. So due to China’s rapid development in recent decades, but people’s sense of public welfare and social responsibility falls well behind, so there is a group of young people called the second generation of rich. So they are – many of them are not appropriate (inaudible) very into consumerism, but are not very interested in social responsibility and they don’t care about the society. So I think it’s a huge waste of their resources.
So we have some programs to bring them to meet with the young leaders from the world, and we are happy to see that many of them change their mentality and want to do better with their abundant resources. So my question is: How can we better direct and guide the youth who enjoy abundant resources to make them realize how can they make a change with all they have and just also their intelligence? That’s my question.
So to add, because I don’t want to make a bad picture of the Chinese youth, I know a lot of people who studied abroad and get inspired from people like you and the others in the audience, and they went back to China and start up nonprofits, grassroots nonprofits, and also social enterprise and also a lot of well-educated youth from domestic China also join this effort. So that’s just another thing to add. So my question is how to – because – yeah. That’s my question.
MS. PANDITH: So I think you’ve put your finger on something that I wish we had a little magic thing that we could do that everybody who is lucky enough to be affluent and to have that power to be able to use it in a way that is socially conscious.
I remember a conversation I had when I was in Brunei with a bunch of really young folks who were in a mini-Silicon Valley kind of situation. They were all tech entrepreneurs, and because it was Brunei they were all – they were not wanting for anything. And we were having this conversation, and I said to them, “What are you waiting for?” And they kind of looked at me funny. I said, “Look at what you’ve been given. I’ve traveled to so many places in this world where people are – obviously they’re not as lucky as you. They don’t have shelter, they don’t have all these kinds of things. And yet the – that they are actually looking around and trying to see where they can make a difference.”
And there was one kid who looked back at me and said, “I’d never” – and I know this is ridiculous, but really, for him to say, “No one has challenged us before. No one has said to us, ‘So what are you doing?’” And I think, frankly, the most basic thing you can be doing is to not in a aggressive and terrible way, but to mobilize that sort of consciousness to say, “Look at” – it’s not that you can’t like nice things, but while you like nice things, you can also do others at the same – you can walk and chew gum at the same time.
And so raising the consciousness is the first thing, not in a preachy kind of way, but in an inspiring kind of way, is first. And the second is what you, yourself, my friend, already said, and that is this: If young people are activated by others who are of their ilk, right, of their peer group – they get inspired by that, it’s making them want to do things – the more exposure you can give to these young people of people like them in other parts of the world who are doing things, it helps to promote activism. And I really have to say, I’m really – I am inspired by what you are doing because I think that’s really tremendous.
MS. CALVIN: Can I just add, there’s something called “Giving Tuesday,” it’s #givingtuesday. We created it with a bunch of other partners in the U.S. last year to be following on Black Friday, which is the kickoff of the shopping season, and Cyber Monday, to be the kickoff of the giving season. Because we felt the same thing – until you ask people, they aren’t necessarily going to think about giving and then talking about giving and sharing their passions for giving. And we thought we’d have maybe 50 partners; in six months, we had 2,500 partners. It took off. It was in the U.S. I think it’s going to take off globally, because it’s an opportunity for people. So sometimes you just need that day or that event or that opportunity for people to start changing the conversation.
MS. RAHMAN: I recently did a digital video conference with the Indonesian Ambassador to the U.S., to an audience of young Indonesians in Jakarta who we were Skyping with. And he is an awesome guy and basically said this generation – “My grandparents’ generation did this. My parents’ generation did this. My generation did this. What is the legacy of your generation as young Indonesians?” Like, instead of complaining about what’s wrong – and he can say this; I wouldn’t say this – decide what your legacy is and be a change agent. And so that I think is – it’s very important to the context. I mean, this is true everywhere. It’s true in our country, it’s true in China, that you’re going to have a lot of people who just don’t want to be involved. And so I think what Farah said, the role-model piece is really important – you as a role model, as a change agent. And then also what was mentioned earlier about coalitions. Look for the other young agents of change. And then when you create campaigns and moments and opportunities, that’s what’s going to create – help create the ripple effect.
But I think the question really is, what is the legacy of – what are young Chinese people going to be proud of about their contribution to their community?
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one last question, and I’ll take it from you. Sorry, guys. Go right ahead. Please introduce yourself.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) And I more wanted to say that you realize these incredible women on the stage and others of our generation are there to support you so that you don’t need to feel isolated and alone taking on the world. And some of the questions you were coming up with in the beginning were particularly, how do you take it from thoughts to actual action and being leaders of change?
And I wanted to tell particularly you and the other woman who spoke in the beginning that our program, I Live 2 Lead, provides leadership training for young people such as yourselves that want to figure out how you take your social or entrepreneurial initiative where you want to create jobs, to address the most pressing problem of your generation; we help you take your concept and idea and break it down into a practical plan, give you the skills to go out for public speaking, social media, get your message across, build stakeholders to support your initiative, and more importantly, give you a support system where you meet other young people such as yourselves that are trying to do the same thing around the world – the coalitions that you were talking – so that you know there are other resources out there to support you.
So you’re invited. We have a program; it’s already full for this summer here in Washington. We actually do a program on the environment that is hosted by the Government of China, but Melanne Verveer with State Department was involved in that this previous year, for people that are interested in environmental sustainability. And we have another program that will be at (inaudible) in South Africa for those of you that are involved in entrepreneurial initiatives and want to have the skills, basic business planning tools to build a business.
So know that we’re here to support you. You’re not alone. And as our panelists have said, it is up to you to light the spark and go from just words to action. None of us can make you do something, but we’re relying on you all to help us change this world. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our panelists have so graciously agreed to take your last two questions, so I’m going to ask you to stand back up. But I will take your question now.
Please introduce yourself.
QUESTION: Yeah. So my name is Claire Cororaton and I work for U.S.-Asia Institute, which is a small NGO on Capitol Hill. And just to say a little bit about our group, we just submitted a State Department grant a couple of months ago to support a soccer exchange program for kids in conflict areas in the Philippines. So apologies for the shameless plug there.
But I have two questions. First is: What is the biggest challenge that your office or your organization faces in achieving its targeted mission? And secondly – so my second question kind of relates maybe more to more politicized issues. But my second question is: How do you balance conflicting voices within youth? So youth from different sides of the issue, or youth from I guess polar opposites. So how do you translate, like, this sort of nuanced understanding of the complexity of these issues? And I think Ms. Pandith talked about this earlier, like the importance of understanding the disparity and the nuances in different youth voices. So how do you balance that and how do you funnel that nuanced understanding into, like, a specific, definitive action plan?
MODERATOR: Okay, we’ll take your question as well.
QUESTION: So I’m Sal Pappalardo, the chief operating officer at the Meridian International Center. And we’ve been a partner of the State Department for a very long time through the International Visitor Leadership Program and a variety of other leadership exchange programs. The question I have for you really is, how do you see the private sector engaging with you on these issues? Because obviously the State Department can’t do everything, civil society can’t do everything, and we’re all looking for ways to engage the private sector effectively in this critically important issue of youth leadership and global engagement.
MS. RAHMAN: I’ll start on the private sector piece, which is – the private sector is not waiting for us to come to the table on what to do with youth issues. I mean, these are – I won’t speak for all of the private sector, but the companies that we’ve been engaged with are ones that are taking leadership in developing and cultivating the skills for the next generation, whether around employment or around leadership and different things like that. But I think it’s like anything, when you’re building a coalition you look at what are the – what is it – what are the drivers for the private sector? Why – do they have interest and equity in engaging youth? Is it as – do they see it as a target demographic? Because of what reasons? So understanding those strategic interests I think is really important.
We did a meeting last week talking about the unemployment issue, and we had a financial consumer company and we had a big products manufacturing company and we had a tourism company, and they all came at it from very different angles of why and what. For the tourism company, it was how do you train an emerging workforce for all the hotels we want to build in this region of the world? For – anyway, for the financial company it was something different. So it’s really understanding those incentives and not assuming, from the government point of view, that our incentives match what the private sector’s are.
The biggest challenge I would say that the office faces is – you say youth issues; what does that mean? I mean, it means everything, right? So it really is focusing on a couple of key target things that we want to see move, and then getting this big bureaucracy – having the building go with us. And so that change is slow. But we – I would say anecdotally, we have such a great reception, both from our colleagues at the Embassy, but also other meetings I do, whether at the UN or with colleagues here, because everybody gets it. So we are in solution mode. Like, how are we implementing solutions against the challenge/opportunity that we see?
MS. CALVIN: I think increasingly, maybe five years from now, we’ll be looking at the problem-solving sector, and that will include private sector, nonprofit and government. I mean, we’re all just sort of moving together and those lines are going to blur. And I think the creativity and how we recognize the skills and assets that each are bringing is really important. I think the biggest challenge is not – and I think, Farah, you may have said it earlier – not treating youth as the project over here, but infusing the understanding of the next generation all the way through everything we do. And that’s, I think, just harder than we think it is.
MS. PANDITH: So quickly, so the biggest challenge in my role as the Special Representative to Muslim Communities is the narrative that exists on our planet that there is an “us” and a “them.” And this manifestation of narrative has accelerated in a post-9/11 world, and for me, in my job, it is ever-present. And by lifting voices of young people who represent the demographic of Muslims around the world who are not part of an “us” and a “them” and the other, and the West versus Islam, and all these narratives that are swirling on our planet – some from terrorist organizations that pushed that out; some, in fact, from communities that don’t know any better.
So I have to unpack that in everything that I do, whether I’m in western Europe, whether I’m in Africa, whether I’m in east Asia, whether I’m in South America. It’s a prevalent thing, and so I feel it very acutely all day, every day. This generation of young people has grown up every single day since September 12th, 2001, with the word Islam or Muslim on the front page of a paper, online and offline. And no other generation in the history of our world has had to deal with that aggressive narrative in this way.
So for me, that is the biggest challenge, and I could go on for hours about how that impacts my life. And frankly – so, poor me – but it is a very important thing for us to understand it is a challenge that’s happening to these young people, and we have to understand where they’re coming from and their identity crisis and other things to come from it.
You also asked about the balancing of conflicting voices from young people. It is not the role of the United States Government to decide whose voice is more important here. In my job as Special Representative to Muslim Communities, we open up the door to the various communities that are out there and give dignity to those voices. There are red lines, obviously. I’m not engaging people who believe in violence. I’m not engaging – there are red lines any community would understand. But I’m not picking only this group, or this ethnic group, or not that ethnic group. We’ve opened the door very, very wide. We want all different kinds of voices. And importantly, my friend, it is not, “I’m only going to talk to you because you like the United States,” okay? So our – my audiences, the way in which we’re engaging with – through our embassies, it’s going deep, it’s going wide, it’s hearing a wide range of different kinds of voices that represent communities, not just the communities we wish to hear from, okay?
And finally, sir, on Meridian, obviously a wonderful partner with the State Department and you guys do terrific work. I don’t see a difference – I mean, sorry, I don’t see how we, any of us, anywhere on the planet, can solve human problems if it’s just the government working or just the private sector working or just the nonprofits. We have got to build coalitions more robustly than we have. I am tired of the conversation that suggests that on this particular thing, wouldn’t this be a nice public-private partnership? Everything must be a human response to how we do things. The only way to do that is to bring people to the table and to understand where the value is for that NGO to understand the issue, or as Zeenat was saying, you see different – people look at issues in different ways, and you can’t understand that unless you hear their voices.
But I go back to the thing we talked earlier about with the young lady at the end over here. You have to know how to ask. And one of the problems that we have is to identify where we need to ask the private sector, and to say – unfortunately, as somebody who actually worked in the private sector for seven years before I was – came to government, you can’t look at the private sector as this big monolith, that, oh, they have money and therefore they have to do – they have different reasons why they get engaged. We have to understand where to pull those threads and to make it work.
So I think it’s a really important question you ask. I wish on my – now, again, this is really specifically to my issue and what I’m doing. I wish that more private sector companies around the world understood that they have a role to play in what is happening to Muslim youth around the world. And if we can instill – sort of all of us together, as we think about the challenges that are out there – not about race and religion, and I’m taking my hat off in terms of my role, but in terms of understanding the capacity for us to make a difference. It is – I underscore, it is your generation that is going to move the ideas forward. But it is up to us in the roles that we’re in to listen and harness the initiatives that you guys put forward, and create the platforms that you can be heard.
Thank you very much for your time today, and I hope that you – I wish you great success. That’s all I can say. (Applause.)