- Created on Tuesday, 04 March 2014 02:57
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 March 2014 18:37
- Written by Erik Lampmann
Institutions dedicated to the pursuit of the ‘common good’ will be unable to forge meaningful coalitions, strategize policy interventions, or "everage communities’ collective voices without integrating youth at the highest levels of spaces. invested with real decision-making power; this applies even to that most storied institution of collaboration, the United Nations.
A full one billion people fall into the category of 15-24 year olds. Our generation is one of the most diverse in human history. We’re polyglot, multicultural, and are connecting with each other across oceans, continents, and time zones. We’ve come of age during a lynchpin movement for the climate justice movement, beneftted from the gains of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, and are ourselves struggling against the specter of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Any way you spin it, our generation is facing social, economic, political, and ecological hurdles previously unknown. We’re expected to curb decades long bouts of inaction to mitigate the effects of climate change, find some semblance of balance in a chaotic global economic system, and find beauty in the cacophony of our 6 billion voices.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of spending time with 15 change-agents – 15 American youth who united with one voice in their demand for increased representation in the halls of government, both nationally and internationally.
Working with an American NGO, SustainUS, a youth-organized effort to increase our generation’s representation in international governance spaces, we advocated for a multidimensional policy platform at the 52nd United Nations Commission on Social Development.
It might sound empowering to be in a space so given to the diversity of the human experience. Yet, as many of us learned, many United Nations and the international state system is loath to admit a serious flaw in their understanding of how change happens: the necessity of intergenerational leadership.
The continued underrepresentation of the youth community is not only unjust – it’s strategically unwise given the power landscape of the coming decades, creates leadership gaps, skill mismatches, and unsustainable leadership structures. In fact, many youth change-agents would like nothing else than to engage in intergenerational work that isn’t consigned to continuously remake the wheel each time a new class of organizers graduate college.
Meaningful progress has been made by UN entities and member-states in the past. In December 2012, the UN Population Fund convened the Bali Global Youth Forum to review the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development Beyond 2014. The frameworks generated by the youth present (as well as thousands of youth delegates participating virtually) were quite progressive and focused a good deal of attention on the sexual and reproductive rights of all youth, including those traditionally marginalized by service providers.
From 2003 to 2005, the government of South Africa included a massive civic society engagement program to facilitate the development of a new Children’s Act that included consultations with children using accessible language and having provided appropriate legislative training.
Some Western European countries have even gone further and established new ‘youth delegate’ positions elected by popular vote. Youth delegates currently represent youth constituencies of countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, and Belgium with real decision-making power.
As these examples demonstrate, youth are sometimes present in policy-making spaces at the national and international level. There have certainly been occasions where members of the political class decided to include young people in a specific debate. Yet, the systemic validation of youth voices remains lacking in UN spaces. We are too often relegated to ‘side-events,’ NGO speakers’ lists treated only at the end of any formal session, and tokenized by moderators seeking a brief interlude between ambassador’s diatribes. As the world’s premier organization dedicated to building sustainable, resilient democratic spaces, the UN can and must do more in the coming months, years, and decades.
To begin, 2014 will see continued work across the UN system to articulate the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Additionally, Secretary Ban Ki-Moon continues plans to scale up his plans for a new Partnerships Facility to build the capacity of NGOs working in concert with various UN agencies, programs, and funds. Given the increasing severity of the global climate crisis, attention will also go to the development of additional Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) alongside the Secretary General’s “Sustainable Energy for All” Initiative. It’s in these conversations that SustainUS and other youth delegations will look to the UN to center the voices of youth and those directly impacted by policy shortcomings.
All in all, there are a host of impactful policy and framework discussions to come in the next twelve months which have the potential to impact international development practices for years to come. The silo of the youth movement prevents us from leveraging our potential most effectively to address these issues. In short, we’re tired of the kids table; what we need – and what you need – is for us to be at each and every table, fully integrated into the meaningful struggles to leverage our collective, intergenerational power to confront the world’s social ills.
- Created on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 21:03
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 21:03
- Written by Kelly McGlinchey
Kelly McGlinchey is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development – CSocD-52 – at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's Commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!
What will it take to transform words into action?
World leaders and experts on poverty and social welfare have assembled for CSocD-52, each poised to share his or her understanding of the frameworks that perpetuate challenges to social development, and to offer solutions to these challenges. While the reports and presentations have been varied, thorough, and thought-provoking in nature, most seem to lack the sense of urgency – the call for action – that must be voiced to address global issues as complex as poverty, corruption, social integration, unemployment, and empowerment. Perhaps it is for this reason that a presentation given by panelist and Queens native Jose Nuñez during the Civil Society Forum on the conference’s first day stands out to me as the most powerful statement made thus far.
Hosted by the NGO Committee for Social Development, the Civil Society Forum was organized to prepare civil society participants for the Commission, which officially opened the following day on February 11th. The first panel discussion addressed “Empowerment for Inclusive & Transformative Development: Building Partnership, Promoting Social Protection.” Among the speakers was Jose Nuñez – a father of two, husband, member of the International Movement ATD Fourth World, and current resident at a homeless shelter in Queens. More than once I was moved to tears by the candid openness with which he spoke, calling for “a shift in mentality…to remember what it means to be human.”
Mr. Nuñez challenged audience members and Commission delegates to hold onto the reality of why we gather at the UN for these two weeks. His frank description of what it felt like for his family to report to the office for temporary housing dared us to keep in our minds what empowerment means for families with no other options left. These families must report to social services offices, where they are often treated as items on a checklist rather than as individuals with unique experiences, feelings, and stories.
“Empowerment is not about money,” he reiterated. “A check is only empowering for the time being. It’s not transformative.”
What will it take to transform words into action?
Mr. Nuñez believes it starts with listening to one another. In sharing our stories we find common ground upon which to build a more just, equitable society. He spoke with a sense of urgency that has been largely missing from the conference since his statement: “People need meaning in their lives. People in poverty feel like they don’t have meaning, feel like they don’t have a voice…Listen to people, ask people. You’ve got to talk to people living in the shelters, and not just once…[They] have to be asked enough to build trust, and to establish a partnership based on that trust.”
It is with the simple act of intentional listening that our voices – the call for action – can be amplified, and positive change can take root. By listening to others’ stories and feeling their reality, we build a support network that empowers. As Mr. Nuñez stated, “Empowerment should be whatever lifts you up. It should make you feel like no matter what situation you’re in, you’re not any less of a person. It is about how you carry yourself. That is true empowerment.”
Listening, collaborating, feeling openly, sharing stories, and building partnerships – these are the building blocks, the actions we must take to generate change.
- Created on Saturday, 22 February 2014 17:09
- Last Updated on Saturday, 22 February 2014 17:09
- Written by Megan Barry
Megan Barry is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!
Empowerment has been a common theme throughout the 52nd UN Commission on Social Development – empowerment of youth, aging populations, the poor, LGBT communities, women, and others. There were side events devoted to the unique challenges each of these groups face, as well as how to address the things keeping them disempowered. The variables at play are often limitless; the diversity of nations being represented makes the discussions even richer.
Issues affecting empowerment receive varying attention in different nations, depending on political climate, cultural factors, and economic standing. An underlying question we must ask is how to confront established cultural practices that perpetuate inequalities. This question is particularly important when we consider the history of Western-led development and our tendency to impose on other cultures aspects of our lifestyle we view to be unquestionably superior.