One year ago, the UN Secretary-General launched Our Common Agenda – an ambitious process to put together a report responding to “current and future challenges” the world is facing. His deadline was the 75th session of the UN General Assembly happening this September.
The Secretary-General invited young people to “take a seat at the decision-making table, as designers of their own futures.” What has emerged is a parallel youth report: Our Future Agenda.
We sat down with Aya-Maria Rouhana, a Next Generation Fellow working with the UN Secretary-General to advance youth voice and leadership, to discuss the launch of the Our Future Agendareport, youth representation in decision-making, and how taking action can create a ripple effect of change.
Tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Aya-Maria Rouhana and I am a 19-year-old activist from Lebanon. I am currently studying economics at the American University of Beirut.
Around this time last year, I was a researcher on the Youth at Heart project with Restless Development and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The research focused on resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of education and work, and youth voices in society in the Middle East and Africa.
In addition to youth-led development, I am deeply passionate about gender equality, climate action, and digital transformation and accessibility.
You have been collaborating with the office of the UN Secretary-General for the past six months as a Next Generation Fellow. Can you tell us a bit more about the Fellows and what this collaboration has all been about?
The Next Generation Fellows are a group of eight young leaders from the United Kingdom, Uganda, Mexico, Spain, Saint Lucia, Nepal, India, and Lebanon.
Over the past few months, we have engaged 600 young thinkers, activists, partner organizations, and international and national policymakers to identify solutions to the major challenges facing future generations.
We have fed proposals from young people to the Secretary-General’s team to be included in his Our Common Agenda report while creating our standalone report – Our Future Agendareport – echoing youth voices.
The Next Generation Fellows are launching an exciting new report. Can you tell readers a bit more about the report – what are the big issues it covers and what do you hope will be the impact?
Our Future Agenda sets out a vision and plan for progress for our young people. It spans different core areas including education and skills, jobs and economic opportunities, sustainability and climate action, civic engagement, and youth representation.
These are the recommendations that I resonate with the most:
Invest in the tools and infrastructure that connect learners in remote areas to the internet.
Supporting young entrepreneurs by nurturing digital innovation and providing increased access to financing for startups at all stages of development.
Ending unpaid internships and zero hour contracts.
Setting up a new partnerships entity within the UN system to catalyze solutions for and with young people and increase impact.
All of these proposals are explained in our report and include concrete ways to make each of them happen in collaboration with public and private stakeholders.
The true impact of the report lies in two dimensions: representation and implementation.
In terms of representation, this report reflects the issues facing young people worldwide and presents innovative solutions to those challenges, based on what we have heard from fellow young people themselves and what we have discussed within our group.
In terms of implementation, the key to achieving our target is translating words into action. For that, we are counting on the multilateral system as a whole – from the United Nations, its bodies and agencies to the Member States, the private sector, and civil society – to be our allies. We need to work alongside them to ensure young people’s recommendations are reflected in policy and programs, entities, legislation and agendas and most importantly, that young people are involved in this process at every step.
We stand at a historic point in time in which young people are making themselves heard while the world – its policymakers, its ambassadors, its ministers, and all its leaders – is listening.”
This report represents a true chance to tip the balance in favor of what is best for our planet and its people, towards climate action, quality education, and all the promises found in our blueprints: the 17 SDGs, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
For any young people who are reading this blog and want to take action on the issues they care about like you have – to make this world a better, fairer and more sustainable place for current and future generations – what advice would you give?
My best advice would be: it starts with you.
When you see a gap, a flaw, an issue, take the initiative and be the one to tackle it. However, even if it starts with you, it doesn’t need to continue with you alone. Mobilize young people around you, reach out to grassroots movements and organizations or start one of those yourself.
Any small step you take can start a ripple of change around you, from your neighborhood to the world. Today, youth worldwide are fighting for the future we deserve, and you will never be alone in this fight; it is OUR fight.”
Harness technology as a channel to connect with youth around the world who stand for the same causes that you stand for, and take this as an opportunity to learn from each other and work together for the world we want to redesign on our own terms. The internet has shortened distances, and today allows us to be united in planning and implementation across the globe in multicultural and diverse groups.
Build Intergenerational bonds
Finally, in the process, there are the older generations who have in many ways failed us, but who can still be partners in Our Future Agenda.
Let us build those intergenerational bonds to learn from what the generations before us have done right or wrong, and blend their knowledge and experiences in the multilateral system with our sense of innovation and creativity to do better for our generation and those to come.”
Aya-Maria is a 19-year-old activist and economics student from Lebanon. She is a Next Generation Fellow at the United Nations Foundation, nominated by Restless Development. She has gained experience in the field of international development and policy through her work on the Youth at Heart project with Restless and the Dutch MFA tackling the future of education and work in the Middle East and Africa, as well as her position as Regional Youth Envoy advocating for digital transformation and accessibility within the International Telecommunication Union’s Generation Connect initiative. Other causes she stands up for include gender equality, youth
representation in the multilateral system, and climate action.