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Internal Voices interview with United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth- Ahmad Alhendawi

The United Nations has declared the 12th of August International Youth Day. This year’s theme for the International Youth Day is “Youth Migration- moving development forward”. To mark the day, Internal Voices met up with United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, to discuss issues related to young people of the world.


The International Youth Day recognizes the young and their imagination, ideas and energies as vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live in. Young people today face pressing challenges such as unemployment, marginalization and limited resources. In a changing political, economical and social world, the youth is all too often left to fight for their own rights. The situation of youth worldwide remains precarious. In both developing and developed countries, the needs and aspirations of young people are still largely unmet. 


United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, was appointed as the first ever Youth Envoy in January 2013. His mandate is foremost to bring the voice of the young into the United Nations. He also works with different UN agencies, governments, civil society, academia and media, empowering and strengthening the position of young people globally inside and outside of the UN. Ahmad Alhendawi is the new face of youth at the UN, himself only 29 years old. Alhendawi has long been a strong youth advocate both in his home country of Jordan and abroad.


What do you see as the greatest challenges with youth unemployment?


Globally there are 73.4 million young unemployed , which is a big challenge. Unemployment is not just a number for me, it’s personal, co-students from my university are still unemployed and it is a global, difficult situation. Europe is also experiencing dark times when it comes to youth employment, especially in the south.


How do we tackle the issue? First of all we need to look at what it means. It is not just about being unemployed, it is a psychological problem too. The youth have the will and energy to work, but are not wanted. To tackle the issues there are a few things that need to be done: 1. Join forces; increase partnership in the private sector, governments, and other sectors for a concrete strategy on opportunities for youth. 2. Stop talking about unemployment and start talking about economic empowerment for the young. The young are not only jobseekers, but innovators that need access to credit. We need to create an enabling environment. 3. Politicians and governments need to increase investment and allocation. The issue should remain high on the agenda and we can see some positive developments, for example the European Council meeting in June endorsed a comprehensive plan for youth employment .


A lot of young people are very frustrated with the economic situation and government actions, causing protests and riots globally. How do you see the current development of youth protest activism?


We need to realize that young people are no longer only a voting power every four years, they are, and will continue to demand constant participation. The governments need to start to listen to what are at times legitimate demands by the youth. There has been a shift in political participation and more channels of communication are needed. Some governments are still not aware that young people are not voiceless or powerless. If the youth is not listened to and feel that participation is not meaningful, they will protest. As an example, in December 2010, only two months before the Egyptian revolution, according to a national youth survey only 4 % of Egyptian youth participated in voluntary work, leaving the government under the perception that youth are lazy and do not care. But two months later, hundreds were in the streets demanding change. We need to learn the lesson that youth only participate when convinced of change. They are a tough number today and nobody can ignore them.


How could the youth be engaged in institutions such as the United Nations and in issues related to these institutions?


National and grass root level participation is crucial. For example, for the UN there are new entry points for youth such as the Youth advisory boards for UN country teams, the Regional Youth Forum, the UN Youth Panel and the Youth Delegates Program. Engaging the youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda is crucial. I see the agenda more as a contract of joint commitment for the next 15 years and I encourage young people to align their work and get involved in shaping the new agenda. The agenda is a commitment to action that we will all benefit from by making this world more sustainable. The Post-2015 Agenda is for everyone; the youth should keep following this process, be more active and demand concrete action.


What role does the youth have in the Post-2015 development agenda?


The young should be a cross-cutting issue on the agenda. There are four main areas young people should be especially focused on: 1. Education, not just access, but quality of education and access to secondary and vocational education. 2. Economic involvement, establishing an enabling environment for young entrepreneurs, giving them skills and coaching. A clear target should be set. 3. Governance, including civic participation and youth participation in government should be set up as a specific target. 4. Health, a comprehensive approach is needed. We need a healthy, well educated, able young future.


What is your message for the International Youth Day?


This year we are celebrating the youth with a focus on migration and my message goes out to all marginalized young people. We should all work to empower them and give them a voice. We need to make sure they have a better future. My message to all young people today, is to join forces and efforts with the United Nations as the UN is leading a new momentum for development. Let’s make next year a significant year for youth and youth development.


Mr. Alhendawi was interviewed by the Internal Voices theme editor Johanna Lillqvist.


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