Rebeca Grynspan: UN Habitat Youth Forum Nairobi

Mar 17, 2012

Opening remarks for Rebeca Grynspan

UN Under Secretary-General and UNDP Associate Administrator

on the occasion of the

Global Youth Leadership Forum on Inclusive Democratic Governance

Nairobi, Kenya

Saturday, 17 March 2012, 9:00am


I am honored to have the opportunity to join all of you here this morning and wish to specially thank our Kenyan hosts that have always been a wonderful partner to us, as well as our co-organizers at UN Habitat. It is really great when the UN works together and makes use of our synergies and strengths to the benefit of so many people! So thanks to Joan Clos for his leadership on this.

UNDP is very pleased to co-host this Forum and I am particularly heartened that so many young leaders are here. Because we are really convinced that it’s by listening to your voices that we will be able to support you better and it is by sharing  with you that the development challenges and the inter and intra generational equity questions come most alive. And it’s through your initiative, that governments, community leaders and global organizations such as mine, will understand the importance of “Global Youth Leadership” for a better, more sustainable and inclusive future.

The United Nations is making an important effort to respond to the concerns of young people and call attention to young people’s participation as a global imperative.

The Secretary-General has made achieving this one of his priorities for the next five years. He has also announced that shortly he will appoint a Special Advisor on Youth to lead this effort.

The report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability calls on Member States “to include young people in society, in politics, in the labour market and in business development”.

But now we have to walk the talk! So I honestly hope that through our interaction over the next couple of days we can build on the discussions you’ve already begun, and, most critically, identify the actions each of us can take together and within our respective communities, countries and organizations to enable and empower young people, so that they have a meaningful say in the decisions that impact them. There is a huge difference on the results between working only FOR you, or working WITH you. So let me make my remarks short so we can start a dialogue and not a monologue! Let me then quickly share with you some thoughts on the current events.

In our 2010 Human Development Report we concluded that our world has experienced unprecedented development progress over the last four decades, leading to a global population which, as a whole, is healthier, wealthier, and better educated than ever before. And, as we approach the 2015 target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals, we must celebrate the good news that the targets on extreme poverty and water have been met, and that even the poorest regions of the world are showing strong progress.  

Let's also rejoice about the progress on malaria and tuberculosis, the near parity in primary education, and the improved conditions for millions of slum dwellers. Millions of people around the world are escaping extreme poverty and living healthier lives with hopes for a better future.  

But this success, although important, does not mean that we stop reaching those left behind or at risk of being left behind –like young people in many places in the world—, who are not well represented in the aggregate figures because of deep inequalities: the poorest of the poor and those disadvantaged, stigmatized, or discriminated against because of their sex, age, race, ethnicity, place of residence, or disability. We still have a long way to go in empowering women and girls and young people and protecting all from the devastating effects of multiple crises, be they conflicts, natural disasters, or economic and food price shocks.

When it comes to young people, while today’s youngsters are better educated than previous generations, many times educational and vocational systems fail to provide livelihood opportunities. In many countries, education systems and vocational training are ill-suited to meet the demands of today. ILO says that young people are the last to brought into the job market, but the first to exit it when there is an economic downturn.

Achieving sustainable human development as UNDP has advocated for, is about establishing a trajectory of human development which allows all people to exercise their choices and choose a project of life they value, both in this generation and those to come. Sustainable development must also increasingly be about enabling the benefits of development to spread to those left behind in the progress made to date.

The inconvenient truth, often disguised by aggregate and average figures of progress, is that many of the seven billion people on our planet live in highly unequal societies where extreme poverty persists, and/or in regions already contending with extreme climate variability.

Your collective voice, as young people - who will unfortunately bear the brunt of growing challenges - is critical to put the world on a more sustainable path. Your power is in part a reflection of your numbers. The world is now home to 1.2 billion young people; the largest generation of young people the world has ever known. In Africa, the young account for the majority of the population with almost 2 thirds of it under the age of 24 and a total share of 70% of the people under the age of 30.  85% of the young population of the world lives in developing countries, and 600 million of them in crisis countries.

Your action or inaction, and voice, therefore, will be decisive.  And your energy, commitment and intellect will be critical to overcome the increasingly complex and inter-related development challenges our world faces.

We must ensure your voice is heard and your energy is felt, not just someday in the future, but now, in communities, countries and conferences around the world.

In less than three months, global leaders will take decisions at the Rio +20 conference in Brazil that may significantly influence the trajectory of human progress.

To make decisions that put the world on a sustainable path, world leaders need to hear from young people. They need to understand that you don’t want a future where economic growth, poverty reduction, equity, opportunity, and sustainability are increasingly in competition, with one objective being traded off to pursue the other.

They need to understand that you want to live, instead, in a world which recognizes your aspirations, but realizes that our shared objectives are most effectively pursued together, so that by reducing environmental degradation, for example, jobs are created, and poverty is alleviated. That individual effort is not in contradiction with a collective shared responsibility, so thatour communities, countries and global efforts must be increasingly governed in a manner that is accountable, responsive, effective, and fair.

Where leaders and policy makers listen and respond to the concerns and aspirations of young people, policies and initiatives can be better targeted and more effective at addressing specific concerns and establishing future opportunities.

Accountable, effective and just governance fosters the social trust and legitimacy which enable societies to be stable and prosperous over the long run. Democratic governance is also an end in itself as empowering young people to be heard and participate, by definition enlarges their freedom and choices.

We have to change the notion that “there is a problem with young people”. Young people are the solution, not the problem! But for that to be fully realized, dialogue is key. Within the young –not everybody goes through the same and wants the same just for being young— but also a dialogue with the rest of the society.

I am most eager in our next session to learn from you and to hear your experiences both as young people - seeking to find your own way in the world - and as leaders striving to make the world a better place for everyone.  I am here to listen to your ideas and concerns and learn from your initiatives.


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