Foreign Policy Blogs

Op-ed: Empowering Young People for Sustainable Peace

Entering adulthood is never easy. For the 1.8 billion youth in the world today– the most in history– the challenges are particularly daunting. Not only are more than one-fifth of global youth not in employment, education or training, and a quarter affected by violence or armed conflict, but the world itself is facing existential threats to global peace and security. Climate change, economic inequality, and social and political polarization are just a few of the mounting dangers that must be reckoned with in the coming years. To overcome these challenges, the current generation of leaders must better understand, engage, and empower young people as partners– and leaders– in global development efforts.

Better integrating the voices and perspectives of youth in international institutions and initiatives is itself an ambitious task. Young people today remain largely excluded from development programs, ignored in peace negotiations, and denied a voice in most international and domestic decision-making. Yet it is critical and urgent that we do so. Young people today are connected to each other like never before, and are more committed to innovation, social progress, and a sustainable future. They are using and building disruptive new technologies, global social networks, the sharing economy, and clean energy networks. They exemplify the ability of innovation and creativity to transform our world. Investing in these young agents of change is not just essential, it has the potential for a tremendous multiplier effect.

The recently released United Nations Youth Strategy is a step in the right direction, and could serve as a model for countries to begin developing and implementing their own plans. The strategy is the first attempt at an umbrella framework to guide the work of the international body with and for young people, and reaffirms the UN’s message that young people are “an essential asset worth investing in.” Within the strategy, the role of youth is incorporated in the global sustainability agenda via three key pillars: peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. At its core, the strategy aims to provide a blueprint for joint initiatives and implementation of effective practices before it is too late.

The strategy also outlines the unique position of the UN to challenge and support States to ensure the protection and support for young people, and provides a platform through which their “needs can be addressed, their voice can be amplified, and their engagement can be advanced.” Further, it calls for the coordination, governance and operationalization of a forthcoming action plan that will be applicable through 2030, noting that it will require collaboration between all UN bodies and States in order to ensure its full objectives.

Despite its ambition, the UN’s report is lacking in many ways. The language is often without definitions or even brief substantiations of ideas its presents. It even fails to adopt a single standard age range for “youth”, offering various ranges including 10-24 years, 18-29 years, and 15-24 years. This open-ended approach leaves many more questions than answers, and is not conducive to achieving what it describes as “the realization of sustainable development in the prevention of crises and in the advancement of peace.”

At the end of the day, the UN Youth Strategy is just a first step outlining basic principles for incorporating youth in the global development and sustainability agenda. It is not yet a concrete plan of action that countries can adopt. Substantive explanations and plans for broad concepts must be provided first. For example, the UN should outline mechanisms to include youth in high-level discussions on intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and establish a youth chapter in official negotiations. In addition, the UN should elaborate on the creation and mechanism of youth-specific indicators and how directly applicable they are to pilot projects, initiatives and plans that lead to the goal of achieving the strategy by 2030. One such indicator could be a number of supported and self-sustainable youth initiatives that participate in UN decision-making and consultative bodies, both regionally and globally.

The challenges ahead of us are certainly daunting. The world will need all the innovation and energy it can find if we want to stop climate change, end poverty, and advance social justice. The world’s youth must be empowered to achieve their full potential, and they must have a meaningful role in the global decision-making process. The UN Youth Strategy has set an ambitious objective, but it is up to all of us to get behind it and work to make its vision a reality.

Ally Dunhill is a non-resident fellow working on youth & sustainable peace at TRENDS Research & Advisory, an independent and progressive think tank, based in Abu Dhabi. Emina Osmandzikovic is a researcher at TRENDS working on the intersection of human security and migration.

Ally Dunhill Bio
Ally Dunhill is a researcher, writer and consultant with a wealth of experience gained through teaching, research and leadership roles within the Education sector. She specializes in the study of human rights education, and the participation of children and young people in all aspects that impact upon their lived experiences. She is currently a Non-Resident Fellow of TRENDS Research & Advisory and is currently working as a consultant on a Youth & Sustainable Peace project. She is also an Associate of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE), UK and a Visiting Researcher at the Energy and Environment Institute, University of Hull, UK. Ally was formerly Associate Dean for Student Experience in the Faculty of Arts, Culture and Education, University of Hull. Born in Scotland, Ally has worked for a range of organisations supporting children, young people and their families in the Gulf, Netherlands, Germany and the UK. She has managed and led teams in a range of organisations, including the private sector, mainstream and special schools and multi-agency teams.

Emina Osmandzikovic Bio
Emina Osmandzikovic is an expert on human rights, forced migration and displacement, and big data analysis. She is a researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory with a focus on the intersection of human security and migration. Previously, she worked for the UNHCR Protection Unit in her home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she conducted extensive field research on highly vulnerable refugee communities and returnees. She also had the opportunity to apply her Arabic skills and interview vulnerable refugees in Jordan with UNHCR/IOM. Additionally, she worked for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (France), the United Nations Headquarters in New York and as a research assistant at New York University in Abu Dhabi on human rights and zones of security in the Middle East. She holds a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Cambridge and a BA in Political Science with honours from New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD). In 2017, she published her work titled “Immigrants’ Integration Experience in the European Union” in the NYUAD Journal of Social Sciences. Her regional focus includes the European Union and the Middle East.