Listening To The Youth of The World: The Path To Restructuring The United Nations

“As the clamour for a restructuring of the United Nations (UN) intensifies across the relevant stakeholders including youths around the globe, one is often reminded of the prominent role the UN as an intergovernmental organization played during and after the world wars. The UN is the largest, most internationally represented organization in the world, established on 24th October 1945 with the aim of preventing another major conflict as was experienced during the first and second world wars. It is headquartered in Manhattan, New York City, but with offices in Europe and Africa. Finances of the UN comes from the voluntary contributions of its member states. Other goals of the UN are to assist in maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of natural disaster, and violent conflict.

Unfortunately, the above stated goals that brought about peace in the 1950s through the different multidimensional peace-keeping approaches the UN took part in after the world wars, while helping to end armed conflicts and prevent its escalation especially in nations like Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Guatemala, Guinea, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste, are no longer reality instead there seem to be a disregard for the UN and in many cases, known allies are now in dispute with themselves e.g. Canada and the U.S. over trade. In other parts of the world, there is the renewed escalation of violent conflicts, a growing influence of authoritarianism among emerging nations, and much older nations who took part in drafting and adopting the UN charter at a conference 1945 in San Francisco, USA.

Furthermore, the threat of use of nuclear weapons by nations having them have been common lately along with the existential threat posed by climate change, it has only made the situation worse by creating a new challenge we now call the “climate refugees”. Climate refugees refer to people who are forced to leave their home region due to sudden or long-term changes that greatly compromises their well-being or secure livelihood in their local environment. Though not the story that I am writing, it is worth stating that the world has changed as we all have come to accept. Hence the need for an organization like UN to reappraise their current practices or mode of engagements among her member states and take up her true role as the organization that will be the rallying point for government, NGOs, CSOs to lead humans in the world to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

There are signs that some senior UN officials may have been listening to the idea. With a Secretary General being in office for just 17 months, the stakes only get higher. Three reviews in the past two years have highlighted serious inadequacies in UN peace and security responses at large. Many of the recent challenges are due to real world shifts in the nature of conflict and geopolitical dynamics an example is the ongoing tragedy in Syria, with the renewed escalation of violence in Yemen and South Sudan, continued crisis in Libya, difficulties in preventing a political and humanitarian crisis in Rohingya, longstanding missions that are struggling to deliver sustainable peace in DRC and Haiti, and newer missions in Mali and CAR where geography creates sustained cross-border security risks. These situations are also affected by divisions amongst the Member States that have prevented agreement on action in some cases. Part of the weaknesses, however, are said to managerial and structural.

The sense of urgency to bring back the past glory and the perceived exclusion by stakeholders have been lurking around the Member States at the UN General Assembly, with the growing radicalism of youths, the President of UN General Assembly Mr. Miroslav Lajcak, decided to call for series of engagements to help mankind return back to the path of SDGs. One of such engagement he embarked on was to reach out to relevant stakeholders that may have been shut out of the UN deliberations or whose voices have not been heard, these stakeholders are the “youth”.    


He did this by organizing a dialogue summit which he called the “Youth Dialogue“, and conditions to be invited were spelt out that it was strictly for youth and youth-based organization doing great work to establish SDGs. After a thorough selection process, I was fortunate to be invited to the summit. I head an organization with a global network spread across 169 nations while working with 103 passionate country coordinators and a wonderful chairman of my organization board of directors, Mr Matthew Bonnstetter, who truly are committed to the global climate actions. Furthermore, with a membership strength of over 108,000 persons, we have been able to contribute our own little quota using our skills and talent which helped us secure an invitation to be part of a historic delegation of extraordinary youth forging ahead to ensure a sustainable future for mankind.

Along with over 80 other outstanding young minds, we were invited to a cocktail reception a day before the event at UN headquarters. It was a wonderful reception and an experience I will not forget in a hurry, while the soft music was floating in the air a gentleman in a cool suit with a colourful lapel pin attached to his suit symbol walked into a gathering of few people, he barely said anything but asked which countries we came from and what organizations we represented and what we were doing to change the world. Then he asked about me and I told him everything stated above and he shook his head and said that he was Mr Miroslav Lajcak, to my surprise others seemed to have known it was him with the security detail surrounding him. He said to me that whenever he thinks of dialogue, the most important part of the dialogue is the listening part and not necessarily the talking part, and that the UN more than ever before must begin to listen to youths across the world, like the ones he just invited.

He stressed the fact that the youths are now the biggest age group distribution in the history of human existence and must no longer be relegated. They must now have front row seat in all global discussions that affect mankind and their voices must be heard. In 15 minutes, I had experienced the awesome power of listening, he was able to understand what binds us all together and what must be done to ensure we continue to make the world a better place, the support and inclusion of our ideas and voices whenever decisions that affect mankind are being deliberated. I thanked him for at least listening to us and for him appreciating our individual contributions. This was a fulfilling experience for me in particular, he smiled and went ahead to the podium to welcome every one of us to the reception. He reiterated to us that he was convening a youth dialogue summit the following day, Tuesday 30th May 2018 because he wanted to assist in breaking down the walls between young people and the UN. Mr Miroslav explained that as the head of the UN General Assembly, an arm of the UN responsible for policymaking decision that has a far-reaching consequence on peace and security, that now is the time the organ of the World needs a generation of self-empowered youths who are ‘superheroes’, for the sustainable development goals. He restated his earlier comment that he made to me that he convened the youth dialogue solely to listen to all the wonderful youth of the world and not to give or issue instruction or push the blame and punish agenda of the past but be a listener, more of the young minds that attended the engagement were surprised and summarized by saying he was looking forward to the opening ceremony event, we all clapped and then it was photograph time and I had my photo sessions and so others then he left.

The cool music continued after his speech, and I then spotted the ever charming Ms Jayathma Wickranayake of Sri Lanka who is UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, I went ahead to introduce myself, then I discussed my organization stating that climate change is a challenge that no one country or organization can solve by themselves, therefore we must collaborate and harness the talents and skills from every citizen especially youths of today who most likely will be left with this challenge which is an existential threat to mankind. Other delegates engaged in discussions with her and every one of them had a satisfactory response. She then turned to me with a request that I get other delegates not present at a time after the opening ceremony of the youth dialogue for a brief chat. I agreed to experience a more in-depth working of this intellectual lady from Sri Lanka, who is believed by many to be one of the future leaders in her country. In a closing remark, she explained that her major role in the UN was to build globally the capacity of youths, particularly young girls, to be able to participate actively in the quest to achieve the sustainable development agenda across the world, insisting that we all must work together to ensure that we expand on our youth engagement, participation, and advocacy efforts across the four main pillars of the working of the UN: peace and security, humanitarian action, development, and human rights.

For me, meeting Ms Jayathma was a wonderful experience, the inspiring story of her travels and interactions with other youths across continent motivated me. In addition, I got to appreciate the awesome effect of listening that Mr Miroslav Lajcak had taught us, the power to deconstruct and reconstruct the aspiration of others in order to keep their vision afloat carried along the path of sustainability with the view of getting them back on the path. So with a listener as the head of UN General Assembly and a reformer as the current UN Secretary-General who has signalled his determination to reform the UN, this indeed provides the best opportunity to take a more fundamental look at what would make the UN be able to deliver the functions that it is called to serve, now and in the future.

The purpose of this article is to support the argument for an organizational restructuring of UN and also to appreciate that subtle direction the current leadership may have started, making the preparatory moves to deliver better results in the field, from prevention through crisis management to post-conflict recovery and with the sweeping wider reforms extending also to all the UN’s pillars. This restructuring will better Strengthen the UN Preventative Diplomacy and Peace System and will have a more all-inclusive representation of the youth as an important partner of the United Nations that are pivotal to the realization of the sustainable development goals.”