September 27, 2016

United with One Youth Voice

Written by Crowd360 Coverage Team

Group of young adults

“Nothing for us, without us” was the rallying cry during last week’s Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Global Citizen Festival Experience, which brought together 17 young leaders from around the world to attend the star-studded Global Citizen Festival, and collaborate with peers who have also dedicated their lives to achieving Global Goals success. From mental health to HIV to essential surgery and every issue in between, each of these young leaders were unanimously steadfast in their desire to promote and secure the health, well-being and rights of the world’s youth population.

With 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10-24, the global health and development community recognizes that youth are our greatest resource in achieving the 2030 agenda, and must be appropriately positioned to spearhead the charge as the leaders of both today and tomorrow. While we’re aware of the impact young leaders are making, it’s still far too easy to count them out because of their age or lack of formal experience. However, we must acknowledge the impact of J&J’s youth leaders to understand why we should harness the power of our youth to tackle the world’s largest problems. Young people are unique, passionate and engaging, but most of all, their voices are crucial to achieving the Global Goals.

Here are the top three reasons we must not only give young people a seat at the table, but take care to listen to what they have to say.

  1. Youth know their communities.

As a group that often faces stigma when seeking health information and services or has no access at all to these essentials, youth understand the need for services that are tailored to their own experiences. Tokozo, a young leader from South Africa, uses her role as a DREAMS ambassador to disseminate HIV prevention and treatment information to adolescent girls in her community. Neo from South Africa works with UNFPA South Africa to design advocacy frameworks created for youth by youth to ensure their perspective is accurately incorporated into Global Goals efforts and solutions.

  1. Youth are innovative.

If we are going to eradicate poverty, guarantee health for all and achieve gender equality by 2030, we will need Global Goals solutions that are innovative and inspired by new thinking. Our youth leaders are interested in anything but business as usual. “If we have Uber to find a ride and Yelp to find a restaurant, why can’t we use an app to find health services?” said Jasmine from India. Her organization, Hidden Pockets, maps and identifies youth-friendly health services and resources, bringing information into the palms of young people’s hands. Barbara from Mexico channels her passion for gender equality and social entrepreneurship into her work with Girl Up, where she uses lessons learned from working at a business accelerator to encourage her peers to better understand their mental health and express themselves in a healthy way.

  1. Youth are hopeful and passionate.

Young people fully understand the gravity of the issues the Global Goals aim to fix – and want to be part of the solution. For example, “We’re aware of what’s going on and we’re taking action,” says Alina from the Dominican Republic assures us.  Her work with Operation Smile puts her on the frontlines of care delivery as a volunteer at sites in her community that provide affordable and essential surgery to children born with cleft lips and cleft palates. And Lonjezo from Malawi, a former Global Health Corps fellow shares his personal motivation. “I see my work as a chance to contribute in my own modest way in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” he says. He staunchly believes “health is a fundamental right” and in his role as a monitoring and evaluation officer at the Malawi National AIDS Commission, Lonjezo works tirelessly to achieve just that.

As one of the final moments of the 71st United Nations General Assembly, the J&J Global Citizen Festival Experience reminds us that it is no longer enough to simply have youth voices in the room. If we’re serious about realizing the 2030 agenda in time and for all, we need to make room for youth leaders at the head of the table, and listen to what they have to say.