Lead the change and the world will follow - Director-General’s message to young people

The world needs the ideas, vision and leadership of youth to build the green societies of tomorrow and this starts today, said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, addressing young women and men gathered in Okayama, Japan on 7 November, for events organized ahead of the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development in Aichi-Nagoya.

The Youth Conference brought together 52 young leaders from some 50 countries across the world, selected from a short list of 5000 young people from 180 countries, to exchange ideas and experiences with peers, and make recommendations to the World Conference in Nagoya. In a separate venue, over 150 high school students and teachers from 32 countries belonging to UNESCO’s Associated Schools Network gathered to share the spirit and experience of ESD.

The Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology of Japan, Mr Masaaki Akaike, commended the students for their actions.

“No country can exist in isolation. It is only by working together that we can establish a sustainable society. Your local communities and actions are directly connected to the world. I hope the spirit of ESD that you have learned at UNESCO ASPnet schools will be nurtured and practiced.”

“We need to craft new ways of seeing the world, new ways of thinking about our responsibilities to each other and the planet, new ways of acting as global citizens,” said the Director-General. “This is why education is essential, as the bedrock for sustainability, to shape new values, skills and knowledge.”

Praising the students for their achievements, she stated that “we need to teach sustainability in every school – we must also build greener schools, greener learning environments, to support positive change in both learning and lifestyles. Be relentless, continue with your engagement and commitment,” urged the Director-General. 

“We need your ideas, and especially your leadership,” she declared, highlighting the need to do more. “Lead the world, and I promise you, the world will follow!”

While in Okayama, the Director-General met with Mayor Masao Omori, who related his city’s longstanding efforts to integrate ESD into academic institutions and to promote sustainable development through community learning centres.  Ms Bokova expressed gratitude to the Mayor for hosting the Youth Conference and for the city’s commitment to ESD, which should be leveraged at the global level.