Building peace in the minds of men and women

International Youth Day

Opinion Piece: The Way Forward

The way forward can only be built through youth engagement

In our vision and work, UNESCO pays tribute to the boundless potential and power embedded within youth. Out of the 3.6 billion people under the age of 25, millions are continuously proving this. Equipped with resilience, motivation and agency, young people are exercising their capabilities to adapt to and transform cultural, political and social landscapes.

UNESCO’s work with youth recognizes the great attributes of young people and provides them with the resources needed to engage as active citizens and become impactful leaders. We are determined to strengthen our partnerships with youth and to maintain our support for youth engagement.

Over the last four years, young leaders from around the world have been invited to participate in several editions of the UNESCO Youth Forum. Their reflections have built the foundations for UNESCO’s Operational Strategy on Youth (2014-2021) and its implementation. The Strategy’s chief objective is to forge an environment where young women and men have the opportunity to participate as leaders and partners in meaningful cultural, political and social practices.

In 2017, a new cohort of young leaders from around the world participated in the 10th Youth Forum. They came together to share their deep understanding of local dynamics to motivate and mobilize populations to address key issues overlooked or unforeseen by outside actors. They epitomized the power that young people have to foster and propagate positive change.

The conclusions drawn from the UNESCO Youth Forums, as well as other youth consultation processes, put forward a convincing notion that the pace, depth and scope of any society’s development depends on how well its youth is nurtured, supported and given the space to exercise their rights and to engage civically. Essentially, the world’s ability to produce a culture of peace is contingent on how well we include and engage young people in meaningful processes.

Convinced by the resilience, motivation and agency of youth, we included a trio of guiding principles in our Operational Strategy on Youth that commits UNESCO to youth inclusion, empowerment and engagement. The principles are: enable youth to participate in the formulation and review of policy; aid young people in claiming and acting on their rights and responsibilities as active citizens; and develop the capacities of young people that are necessary for a successful transition into adulthood.

Moving forward on our partnership with young people, we believe that strengthening our relationship is essential to realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the international framework set by Security Council Resolution 2250, which proclaims “young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security.”

To further strengthen our partnership with youth, we have adopted two avenues for youth engagement: youth as our partners in co-shaping and co-delivering UNESCO’s work; and youth as leaders whom we support to scale up their outstanding actions. Both streams of engagement recognize the positive actions of youth and seek to cultivate inclusive partnerships that involve youth and youth organizations, while respecting their diversity, as well as the need to create youth ownership and transparency. These forms of engagement help frame the mind-set necessary to design our new flagship initiative, the UNESCO Youth Spaces. 

The Youth Spaces will be places where young people working on development issues within UNESCO’s mandate can collaborate. We believe that our Youth Spaces will lead to the cross-fertilization of dynamic youth-driven initiatives and bolster online and offline collaboration between young people. They will generate a series of connections between local communities around the world and provide young people with a safe space to share ideas across physical boundaries.

To succeed, we need the continued and resilient commitment of young people in all of UNESCO’s fields of competence. Our efforts must be joint, in the spirit of a true partnership, and involve our Members States and networks of partners. It is time to engage more innovatively with young women and men, as we put our respective resources and talents together to make good on the promise ‘to leave no one behind’, for the benefit of global development and peace.

Nada Al-Nashif
Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences