Rethinking multilateralism with young change makers


The major challenges of our era are global in nature, and require coordinated, multilateral solutions. Yet we are also seeing rising divisions in many places, with multilateralism increasingly being called into question. This is leading to a lack of cooperation and more fragmented, ineffective responses.

For the first time ever, a high-level panel gathered 6 young change makers, 9 Heads of State and the President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly, to exchange on multilateral solutions to our global problems. This epic dialogue was a way to shed light on youth perspectives on global cooperation, and to identify new ways to engage young people in decision-making and to deepen global cooperation and international dialogue. It was held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 12 November 2019, on the occasion of the 40th session of UNESCO’s General Conference, bringing together all its Member States every two years.

Youth perspectives for global cooperation

Young people have brought to light the value of global solidarity and mobilization across borders to drive change for more inclusive and sustainable societies. These values are of particular concern to UNESCO, which was created almost 75 years ago to “build peace in the minds of men and women” by promoting international cooperation and mutual understanding through education, science, culture and communication. They underpin our commitment to engage meaningfully with young people and to bring youth voices, experiences and ideas to global debates, building the open exchanges and collaboration that we need for positive change today.

Shedding light on youth perspectives on global cooperation and identifying new ways to engage young people in decision-making requires tangible commitments by both Heads of State and young people on ways and means to deepen global cooperation and strengthen the foundations of international dialogue.

“Our first responsibility is to remain united, to prevent the division that all too often results in inaction. Today, in a world of crisis, we can no longer afford the price of division. We are in the process of rebuilding this unity. It is not a goal in itself, but an essential prerequisite for action,” Audrey Azoulay, Director-general of UNESCO, stated at the opening of the panel. She also added that “right now, young people are taking to the streets so their voices can be heard around the world. (…) We have a duty to listen to them”.

Youth-led solutions to global challenges

Across the world, young women and men are driving change for the development of a healthier and happier world. At the occasion of the high-level panel, young change makers shared their ideas and solutions in an effort to strengthen global solidarity on issues such as climate change, education, and reinventing learning and disruptive technologies.

Climate change is an existential global challenge that requires an unprecedented level of internationally coordinated action. The critical CoP25 is less than a month away. Young people today are more outspoken now than ever before. They are playing an increasingly important role in designing, co-producing knowledge, providing solutions and raising awareness for climate action. Youth panelist India Logan Riley stressed the importance of Maori Indigenous rights in tackling climate change while Basima Abdulrahman discussed why Green Building has to be an inherent part of the reconstruction of Iraq, which is still overcoming the aftermath of conflict. H.E. Mr Felix Ulloa, Vice-President of El Salvador, H.E. Mr Emomali Rahmon, President of Tajikistan, and H.E. Mr Xavier Espot Zamora, Head of Government of Andorra, shared with them the same urgency for the planet, which must become an absolute priority in their national contexts.

Our world is changing rapidly. New challenges and the technological revolution require to rethink ‘what’ we learn and ‘how’ we learn. Yet, education does more than respond to a changing world. Education transforms the world. Looking to 2050 and beyond, UNESCO launched the ‘Futures of Education: Learning to Become’ initiative, at the UN General Assembly, last September. It seeks to reimagine how education and knowledge can contribute to the global common good. This involves a broad consultation with all those who are on the frontlines and who will be citizens of tomorrow, starting with teachers and young people.

It’s so incredible to see that young people can share the same stage with heads of state, which is something that you don’t see very often," said young panelist Victoria Ibiwoye, founder of OneAfricanChild Foundation, a youth-led NGO addressing inequality in education. "Youth already have a voice, what we want now is to be listened to." Juan Diego Vasquez, the youngest person to be elected in the Panamanian Senate, calls for urgent action for quality education. He joined her in declaring that individual needs in classrooms should be met by national standards. H.E. Mr Nikol Pashinyan Prime Minister of Armenia, and H.E. Mr Tijjani Muhamed Bande, President of UN General Assembly, shared their inputs on inclusive education, adding that the infrastructure for education should be revised within their national contexts.

© UNESCO / Christelle ALIX

The last panel presented the controversial topic of disruptive technologies. The youth panelists Paulius Serapinas and Serena Boukelmoun shared a unified view that teaching artificial intelligence and coding should be prioritized in education. Disruptive technologies such as Artificial intelligence and Genome Editing are drastically changing our world and challenging our basic concepts and values of what we are, who we are, how we relate to each other, and how we ought to build our future. In a world undergoing fundamental changes, the mission bestowed on UNESCO at its inception as the “critical conscience” of the United Nations is becoming more important than ever. Reflection and dialogue on the ethical, legal and social implications of disruptive technologies at the international level is a crucial component for responsible and engaged global citizenship.

Joining the conversation were several Heads of State, H.E. Ms Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, H.E. Mr Julius Maada, President of Sierra Leone, H.E. Mr Egils Levits, President of Latvia and H.E. Mr Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta. These leaders also stressed the importance of data protection and transparency with individual rights on data while individuals are responsible for reading legal texts.

 “The future is digital!” said Lithuanian youth panelist Paulius Serapinas. “Because we are heading towards a digital world and the digitalization of the world is a global phenomenon, we need to come together with decision makers to push for inclusive access to technology, we need to think global

Engaging (young) leaders for a better tomorrow

The high-level panel on rethinking Multilateralism was an inspiring debate with many concrete ideas and commitments. It was proof of how constructive a dialogue can be among young people and Heads of State. The challenge now is to deliver on these commitments and to work better together in addressing global challenges through multilateral cooperation. 

UNESCO is committed to supporting global action and youth-led solutions, and to keep bringing youth voices to the fore. It will help young people to raise awareness on the need for more visibility and consideration of youth perspectives. This UNESCO General Conference will be the breeding ground for greater intergenerational partnerships and for initiatives that allow youth-led solutions and ideas to contribute to making this world a better place.


Paulius Serapinas made the National news in his home country. “The high-level panel was an outstanding experience. That moment on the stage opened many new possibilities for me and my organization - I was invited to talk at the Lithuanian National Broadcaster at the morning show and the biggest news portal in Baltic states - I felt appreciated and had a chance to spread the word at national level. I have always said that I need to be heard at least by one person. I think this experience allowed me to do that. And now more young people in Lithuania will know how to talk and express their ideas.”