ICT4SDG | Youth
September 11, 2014

Youth Empowerment – how the UN can lead the way forward

By Gisella Lomax

Sixty-five carefully-selected post-graduate students representing forty-four nationalities and diverse academic backgrounds, recently gathered for the UNOG Graduate Study Programme (GSP) – the annual flagship outreach programme of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva – for two weeks of intensive learning, discussion and collaboration.

Working with youth is a priority for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and for the wider UN family, including ITU. Therefore, it was only natural to make this year’s GSP theme “Youth Empowerment – how the UN can lead the way forward”.  The GSP was divided into two strands; the first, interactive seminars given by youth experts from 19 United Nations and international organizations in Geneva. The participants also had a briefing by UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi, and a memorable question and answer session with UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

The second strand involved dividing the students into five Working Groups, each moderated by youth specialists from the participating UN organizations: ITU, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHCR), International Labour Organization (ILO), UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).  Each Working Group had an assignment to produce a deliverable to support the work of that organization during the course of six half-day sessions over the two weeks (e.g. a social media campaign or engagement strategy).

Selecting ITU as one of the five Working Groups was an obvious decision given its ongoing and impactful youth related activities. A high-profile example was ITU’s partnership with the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Mr Ahmad Alhendawi which sought to provide input from young people to the UN’s Post-2015 development agenda.

Furthermore, the ITU’s objective of ‘connecting the world’ resonates strongly with young people who increasingly rely on ICT tools as means of self-empowerment, whether through access to information, markets, people or ideas. The youth demographic is also the driving force behind many of the new and exciting applications which increased connectivity can afford; as avid and creative users of ICT tools and devices, young people are arguably the industry’s greatest innovators. It was precisely these thought processes that ITU sought to tap through its engagement in the GSP.

The 15-person ITU Working Group had the unique opportunity to engage with one of ITU’s key decision making bodies, the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14), assisting to draft a youth policywhich will be presented to Member States for approval at the upcoming conference in October. To illustrate the power of ICTs in connecting citizens to decision making people and processes, the participants were asked to help pilot an online application which would allow young people around the world to support, oppose or comment on the draft policy document.

The software, developed by an organization called the OpenGov Foundation, was originally intended for use in the US Congress to allow citizens to comment on bills and legislature during the drafting process, but can be applied equally effectively to issues of international policy. Regardless of whether it applies to local, national or international actors, the principals remain the same: a law drafted in consultation with those to whom it applies, can give such law greater support.

During public consultations spanning several years – many conducted in the context of the UN’s Post-2015 negotiations – young audiences have identified governance as an area of high interest. Reports point to a growing sentiment that young people need to be better integrated into policy-making and other political processes in order to build peaceful and resilient societies. Access to timely, relevant and accurate information is a major enabler in ensuring young people’s satisfactory participation in such processes, giving ICT networks, services and applications a crucial role therein.

We already have tools to connect policy-makers and citizens in an open dialogue on governance processes. The Internet is a vast and global public platform which is connecting people from diverse backgrounds around shared social interests. Welcome to the new world of e-diplomacy, where governments and elected representatives are using online applications like social media to reach constituents and engage in dialogue. Where government data is increasingly open and accessible, with ever new and complex algorithms to improve usability and forecast trends.

Welcome to a world where citizens are increasingly informed, responsive and engaged. As the United Nations, we are proud to continue showcasing and experimenting with such innovations.

Further reading:

Following an analysis of the online tool by the Working Group, ITU have subsequently made it available to the general public, where the draft policy will be available for comment until 20 October 2014.

For more info see: http://www.itu.int/en/action/youth/Pages/pp14youth.aspx

Support, oppose or comment on the ITU’s draft youth policy: http://itu.mymadison.io/docs/pp14youth-statement-v1 

Visit the GSP Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/GSP52

On Twitter, follow @UNGeneva and @ITU, and join the conversation at #PP14youth

Gisella LomaxGisella Lomax is Social Media Manager and a Public Information Associate for the United Nations Information Service at Geneva (UNOG). A former journalist, she is passionate about engaging young people on priority UN issues.

Gisella works in a range of public information areas, from outreach and coordinating events such as the Graduate Study Programme, to press coverage, strategic communications … and plenty of tweeting.

@GisellaLomax @UNGeneva

Photo by Miriam Höschele

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Youth Empowerment – how the UN can lead the way forward

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