5 Youth Events at UNGA You Might Have Missed

By Michael Scott Peters, 2018-2019 U.S. Youth Observer to the UN

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What an incredible week at the super bowl of diplomacy! The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was full of big decisions, new friendships, and exciting announcements. As the U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, my role is to take you behind-the-scenes at events like UNGA to provide a perspective that you might not read about in the news. During this week, I spoke with youth delegates and young leaders from around the world about strengthening our relationship with the United Nations. I raised key questions from American youth during high-level meetings focused on our well-being.

My goal is to represent your interests at the United Nations and help you get engaged in your community with the work of the United Nations. Through today’s post, I will focus on the highlights from the following events: the Youth Strategy Launch, Social Good Summit, Kitchen Connections for Zero Hunger, HeForShe Impact Summit, and UNA-USA’s “Uniting Students and Business” event at New York University.

Youth Strategy Launch

At the commencement of this action-packed week, the Secretary General and UN Youth Envoy honored the theme of the 73rd General Assembly by “Making the United Nations relevant to all people.” The event emphasized a world in which the human rights of every young person are realized; that ensures every young person is empowered to achieve their full potential; and that recognizes young people’s agency, resilience and their positive contributions as agents of change. I was able participate in the launch of the Youth Strategy 2030, which focuses on five key areas:  

  1. Engagement, Participation and Advocacy - Amplify youth voices for the promotion of a peaceful, just and sustainable world
  2. Informed and Healthy Foundations - Support young people’s greater access to quality education and health services
  3. Economic Empowerment through Decent Work - Support young people’s greater access to decent work and productive employment
  4. Youth and Human Rights – Protect and promote the rights of young people and support their civic and political engagement
  5. Peace and Resilience Building – Support young people as catalysts for Peace and Security & Humanitarian Action         

This strategy is a direct testament to the commitment of the United Nations in helping young people succeed. It will guide the UN system in stepping up support for the empowerment of young people, while ensuring that the Organization’s work fully benefits from their insights and ideas. One of my favorite moments from the launch was when the Prime Minister of Denmark briefly addressed the audience and then turned the majority of his time to the youth delegate from Denmark to show the importance of our youth voice. Youth should not be viewed as a problem but rather a key part of the solution. I am excited to use the Youth 2030 strategy over the coming year as a framework for our engagement with the United Nations. You can find the full strategy here: #Youth2030.

Social Good Summit

The Social Good Summit focused on how we can unlock technology’s potential to make the world a better place. In my first address at Youth Observer, I shared a story from Neil Gaiman to increase the confidence of young people (see video):

Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things.  And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”

And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.

I believe this story is especially relevant to us as young people. So often we advocate for a seat at the decision-making table, yet we sometimes are unsure of how to react when granted such an opportunity. Just moments before presenting this message, I introduced myself to a kind woman in the speaker lounge. I asked her what she did for a living and she responded, “Well, I am the Prime Minister of New Zealand.” Suddenly, I felt like the imposter! As a young college grad, I felt sheepish standing in the presence of a world leader. Nevertheless, this experience reinforced the conclusion from Neil Gaiman about working hard and hoping for the best. As young people, I know confidence is essential to our personal development and progress toward social good.

Kitchen Connections for Zero Hunger

If you like food and networking, this was the perfect event for you! In collaboration with New York University, Kitchen Connections hosted a cook-off between different countries to promote sustainable production and consumption. This competition encouraged me to think more about where my food is sourced and how much of my food is wasted on a weekly basis. As young people who are often pressed for time, we often find it easier to buy convenience food rather than prepare a home-cooked meal. Luckily, the chefs shared tips like meal planning and recipe collecting to improve our nutrition and consumption habits.

The key takeaway from this event is that the world has taken a step back from achieving zero hunger by 2030. Now is the time to recommit to our goal of a world without hunger by creating sustainable habits and making responsible choices.

HeForShe Impact Summit

The promotion of gender equality hit close to home when my sister nearly withdrew her application for highly competitive position at the university when she learned a male peer with similar qualifications had also applied. This inspired me to join a book club at Utah State University on Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. As I listened to my female peers answer the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I realized there were many other gender inequalities on campus. When it was my turn, I expressed my desire to work with these young women to create social change.

This group of girls ultimately inspired me to run for student body president where I worked to empower women and create opportunities related to our student-body theme “Everyone Belongs.” The HeForShe Impact Summit increased my desire to end inequality and prevent sexual harassment. It was powerful to see role models like Anne Hathaway and Winston Duke speak with business and government leaders about the progress being made in the private and public sectors. This summit showed me that we have made great strides in the last 100 years, but there is still much work to be done. It is up to us to continue the momentum toward gender equality so that we can create a world where “Everyone Belongs.”

Business Partnerships at New York University

At the conclusion of this incredible week, I had the opportunity to visit with students from New York University’s Stern School of Business. We were joined by executives from Coca-Cola, Skypower, Mars, BD, Intel, and Mastercard from the industries of digital technology, global health, and climate and clean water. During the luncheon, I listened to various students share goals like joining a Fortune 500 company or creating a startup focused on renewable energy. I encouraged these students to set smart goals and pursue their passions.

As the concluding speaker, I shared some of the top ways students and businesses are working together to make a difference. We can take action on global issues by using our purchase power to influence the workforce and private sector leadership. I also shared a story on the importance of meaningful work. As young people, we are at a critical point in our lives because the decisions we make now will largely shape our future. The story shows how meaningful work can often be found in the details of our lives. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the United Nations General Assembly presented a variety of topics with many opportunities for youth engagement. This week I enjoyed the opportunity to engage with young people from around the world, and learn about how we can work together to support social good. I encourage you to find an issue in your local community and partner with your peers to find a solution. Remember that change takes time and good things come to those who are persistent. Be confidence and remember that even Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter at one point. Good luck!

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