On February 23, 2018, I had the pleasure of traveling to New York City with members of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) to participate in the 2018 Global Engagement Summit hosted by the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) held at the United Nations (UN) Headquarters. Over 1,800 people attended the Global Engagement Summit to show their support for the UN and to participate in critical discussions on the world’s most pressing issues.
The Global Engagement Summit could not have taken place at a more crucial moment for the United States and the global community. Although Congress and the White House are reconsidering the United States’ role at the UN, the vast majority of Americans remain clear on their support for the continued commitment to the United Nations. This sentiment was echoed by Chris Whatley, Executive Director of the UNA-USA who kicked off the Global Engagement Summit by sharing how diversity across generations, geology, and political ideology weaves us all together. He shared that 7 out of 10 Americans believe that the United States should continue to invest in the United Nations’ mission citing a poll by the Better World Campaign.
With the planet facing the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis since World War II, terrorism, and threats from the effects of climate change – youth have an unprecedented potential for economic and social progress. Munira Kahlif, U.S. Youth Observer to the UN, provided a call to action to the hundreds of young people in the room. Kahlif remarked, “It is easy to be daunted by the global challenges that we face, that we believe that our voices don’t matter. We are the largest generation of young people in history. There is power in our numbers. There is power in our point of view.” She called for keeping youth in discussions about peacekeeping, securing universal access to education, and to ensuring that any vision is sustainable.
Among the many discussions that took place at the Global Engagement Summit, one point came through especially loud and clear: youth are key to achieving the global goals. Her Excellency Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, affirmed that “Young people are the future, but they are the future now and so those investments were needed yesterday and we can see how far behind we are.” She emphasized the importance of seeing youth as partners in making the global goals a reality and asserted that through their energy and idealism, youth are the foundation of peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable societies.
His Excellency Miroslav Lajcak, President of 72nd General Assembly addressed five global challenges the United Nations is focused on including: 1) migration, 2) sustainable development, 3) peace and prevention, 4) human rights, and 5) reforms. He went on to emphasize the role of youth in addressing these challenges and announced he will convene a Youth Dialogue, on May 30, 2018. The dialogue with young people will focus on their experiences, their challenges and, importantly, their ideas on a wide range of topics – including education, employment and opportunities, and the prevention of violent extremism.
The 2018 Global Engagement Summit was a valuable learning experience and provided UNA members to connect with other changemakers and activists from around the United States. It is clear that young people are the leaders of today, not just of tomorrow. In a world in which this generation of young people is the largest in history, young people should certainly have a seat at the decision-making table. It is encouraging to see that the United Nations is including young people in its work towards achieving the global goals and it is exciting to see how the power of youth shapes our world.
Jordan Hibbs is a GenUN member of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) and serves on the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee.