If we are to create a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world for all, to fulfill the vision of the 2030 Agenda, we need young people to actually lead. Credit: UNDP.

 

As prepared for delivery.

Link to the video of the delivered remarks.

Opening

It is an honour to join you today for the closing ceremony of the first ever National Model United Nations.

I would like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Achim Steiner and I am the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which was established by the UN General Assembly in 1965.

UNDP works in 170 countries and territories to eradicate poverty in all its forms and dimensions, to accelerate structural transformation to sustainable development and to build resilience to crises and shocks.

At the outset, let me congratulate you all for expressing, through your presence and actions, your trust in; and commitment to the United Nations and the concept of multilateralism.

Let me also commend the UN Secretariat for opening this new space in which young people can connect and learn more about how the UN functions.

You have engaged in discussion on how the UN supports the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), shared inspiring stories of your own involvement and have reflected on how to make a real difference.

Young people are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda

Our world today is very young. It is home to 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 – the largest generation of young people in history.

As you very well know, youth face enormous challenges - amongst others, those related to inequality, protracted conflicts, displacement, violations of human rights, shrinking civic space, gender inequality and climate change.

There are some very stark facts:

-More than 1 in 5 young people are not in employment, education or training;

-At least 1 in 4 young people are affected by violence;

-Millions of girls become mothers while they are still children.

Too often, young people are excluded from decision-making, development initiatives and peace negotiations; and if they are viewed as trouble-makers rather than solution providers, they are denied a seat and a voice at the table.

And when young people do make positive contributions to change in their communities or societies, their efforts often go unrecognized, or undervalued, in part because of persistent stereotypes or wrong assumptions about young people.

However, you are our main hope, as torchbearers for the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs - not least because you are a vast source of knowledge and expertise.

You are rightly pushing for the changes we urgently need in areas like climate action and in job markets.

You are calling for inclusive and just societies, putting new ideas on the table and speaking truth to power.

Supporting youth empowerment and making sure you can fulfil your potential are important ends in themselves - for everyone, everywhere.

However, even more than this: if we are to create a more peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world for all, to fulfil the vision of the 2030 Agenda, we need young people to actually lead.

The UN’s many roles in supporting and promoting youth leadership

The United Nations wants to support youth so that they have the tools to lead.

That is why the UN Secretary-General launched the “Youth2030” Strategy last September- the first-ever UN strategy to engage with young people and support youth empowerment across all the pillars of the UN.

UNDP also strongly believes in the power of volunteerism. UN Volunteers, who are a part of UNDP, work to mobilize volunteers for the United Nations and to advocate for the importance of volunteerism in worldwide.

UN Volunteers has a strong track record in youth engagement, with an emphasis on skills development, empowerment and youth participation in decision-making. UN Volunteers aims to give young people the opportunity to be agents for change. It also wants to elevate their voices into global peace and sustainable development efforts.

6,500 UN Volunteers are currently deployed in the field.

Consider what you could contribute through to UN Youth Volunteers programme – they are between 18 and 29 years old and work with UN agencies on the frontlines of political, developmental and humanitarian operations. You could apply your skills and expertise in a range of vital areas. That could range from everything to helping set-up a solar-powered school in South Africa, to helping empower isolated communities in Guatemala, to writing reports on security developments in South Sudan, to assisting refugees in the Middle East.

There are amazing opportunities right at your fingertips by going online and seeing what opportunities are out there and how you can make a difference.

Take the lead as young people

Young people today look at the world in very different ways than we did just even five or ten years ago. They are using social media a lot differently than the last generation. You are using it to influence positive change, for instance to protect the environment or encourage others to vote.

You have all seen the example of Greta Thunberg – a 16-year-old girl from Sweden who is leading from the front and drawing attention to the need to urgently tackle climate change. She is not sitting idly-by, but rather using the power of technology to mobilize young people, not only in her own country but around the world.

Look also at the example of Wangari Maathai in Kenya who led from the front to protect the environment and advocated for gender equality. Wangari, who grew up in a small village in Kenya, was an activist from a young age and later in life went on to be the first African Woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. While others deployed their power and life force to damage, degrade and extract short term profit from the environment, she used hers to stand up for the environment, mobilize communities and to argue for conservation and sustainable development over destruction. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement which has now planted over 50 million trees. Whoever met her was first struck by her as a person. As they learned about what she did, they became inspired to do more themselves. I think that is her greatest legacy - she showed that one person standing up for a cause is the beginning of many others joining it. She herself was a force of nature.

Today’s young people are being inspired by such voices. They have a unique stake in the global dialogue on a range of issues and you are making your voices heard in the most inspiring ways. You rightly demand bold action, from all corners of the globe.  

You have a different perspective on the world and the challenges we face, and I encourage you to speak up and push boundaries. Because with such an ambitious global development agenda, business as usual is no longer an option.

The UN is not only place that you can make change. There are countless ways in which you can meaningfully engage yourself at all levels. For instance, first think about positive changes within your family, school or community.  

Raise your voices; volunteer; vote; join youth-led organisations, movements and networks; start grassroots projects; contribute to data collection, analysis and research; hold your governments accountable; start new campaigns and contribute to existing campaigns, offline or online.

Read-up on government commitments to big issues like climate change and if they do not fulfil these promises, ask them why they are not doing so. Hold your countries to account.

Join forces with UN associations and other stakeholders and engagement groups. Don’t be afraid to knock on the door of UN offices to participate in our UN youth engagement platforms and partner on projects and programmes.

Take action against any discrimination that you see against young people.

Closing

The youth of today will have to contend with the world of tomorrow, so think about what kind of world would you like to live in?

While we live in complicated times, yet they are also very exciting times as you, the youth of today, have the ability to shape the future.

You have the ability to contribute to resolving some of the biggest challenges of our time such as climate change, conflict, or promoting much needed progress in gender equality or promoting human rights amongst a range of other issues. The fact is that you can change the world by firstly engaging with the issue.

You do not have to be a politician, a millionaire or a celebrity to lead change. Just look at the technology available now at your fingertips which you can use to influence and bring the positive changes needed.

I want you to leave here today feeling and knowing that you can make a difference.  

You should leave here impatient to effect change, with more ambition and with sharper sense where you can apply your skills and your network.

The United Nations strongly believes in your leadership and are committed to ensuring that you can realise your potential, lead from the front and drive positive change in the world.

We believe in your power to makes things better.

By being here today, you are embodying the Charter of the United Nations with begins with this powerful statement, ‘we the peoples…’ - you are the peoples of today and crucially, the peoples of tomorrow and this is your United Nations.

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