Last Friday I sat down with an influential figure who told me about several initiatives he is leading to increase youth involvement in international policy. Youth, he said, play a critical role in driving change. They have been at the forefront of every major revolution, advocacy campaign and movement for social change - yet, they are rarely incorporated in the development of new policies. Instead they are ignored, their contribution overlooked and their ability to contribute to progress denied. We fail, as a global society, to maximize the impact we can have when addressing major global issues because we do not effectively include youth advocates in the conversation.
I couldn’t help but notice that as he said this, a poster of Malala Yousafzai, now a worldwide figure of pacifism, female empowerment and education for girls, hung behind him.
This was someone worth talking to, I realized. He is someone who believes that individuals like myself can actually make a difference, that what we have to say and what we can do is not only valuable, but essential in order to effectively promote change and find solutions to international issues. He has faith that our generation is more than just a bunch of spoiled, lazy individuals who think they are entitled to have anything and everything they want. He is someone who will listen.
In my youth and time spent in the field of journalism and international studies, I have met a number of influential figures who have played an important role in promoting change. They have told me stories about their work, their experiences and how they got to where they are today. I listened intently and respectfully because I believed they all had something important to say, but rarely did they ask me in return what I thought or what I have would like to see happen. Because of my youth and lack of experience, I couldn’t possibly have something useful to contribute. Or so it seemed.
You would think that as drivers of change, as leaders of revolutions and movements that have significantly affected every corner of the world, youth would also be included in developing new policies. Yet in most regions, it is quite the opposite. After the movement subsides and the leaders are elected, our voices are ignored and our society suffers greatly for it.
I have seen my peers in action. I have watched them build houses, start companies and overcome language barriers to teach children from other countries how to manage revolutionary innovations. I have seen them tirelessly travel around the world to promote peace, cultural understanding and an end to environmental destruction with motivation that would exhaust most individuals.
There is no negating the fact that they played an important role in driving change and finding solutions. And there is no negating the fact that their youth helped them in doing so.
Thus, I stand beside my new friend in supporting the incorporation of youth in developing international policies. I will work alongside him, as a peer, to gain the recognition we deserve for our ability to act as leaders in society and find solutions to major global issues. I will not stop until we are seen as equals who have something important to say and contribute.