Engaging the next generation in current affairs and decision-making processes © UN Youth Office

Paving a way for the future
Assistant Secretary-General for Youth Affairs, Felipe Paullier, reveals how he aims to support generations to come
1 Jul 2024

How do you see your role? As the voice of young people at the UN, or as the representative of the Secretary-General to young people?

This recently established position – leading the new UN Youth Office – marks a significant shift in the organization’s commitment to young people. Backed by solid political support of member states, it’s a real game-changer.

As the youngest senior appointee ever at the UN, I’m genuinely optimistic about the impact we can make. My role isn’t about representing the voice of young people in the UN; it’s about ensuring they have a seat at the table in decision-making processes at every level.

This means elevating efforts to engage youth in a meaningful way, with all their diversity, while also revitalizing the youth workforce within the organization itself, recognizing the important contributions young people make at all levels of the UN’s work.

Young people today face higher educational costs, harder access to stable employment opportunities, and for many in developing countries, the need to migrate. How can the UN help them?

Today, the world is home to 1.9 billion young people, and half of the world’s population is under 30. Many of them – almost 90% – live in developing countries. Today’s younger generations face complex multifaceted challenges, which often disproportionately affect them – like the climate crisis, ongoing conflicts, persisting inequalities, and discrimination. The most affected are often the young people who were already vulnerable and marginalized to begin with, including young women and girls, young refugees, and young persons with disabilities – to name a few.

To give you a scale to the problem, worldwide:

• One in five young people are not in education, employment, or training.

• 250 million children and young people are out of school.

• Unemployment rates among youth are almost 3.5 times higher than the generation before them.

• Mental health is a serious concern, with one in seven people aged between 10 and 19 years old experiencing a mental health disorder.

Although there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for these issues, at the United Nations one element is clear: if we want to create solutions that will lead to positive transformational change for the current situation of young people worldwide, we must involve them as full-fledged partners and not only as beneficiaries of this process.

Young people are experts in their lived realities. If we want to tackle the education crisis, barriers for youth to access decent jobs, or the various reasons that lead a young person to leave their country of origin, we need their perspectives, recommendations, and expertise.

Ensuring young people worldwide, and in all their diversity, can be engaged in a meaningful manner in all decisions affecting their lives, livelihoods, and futures is at the core of the mandate UN member states gave the UN Youth Office in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/76/306. It is also a top priority for the United Nations Secretary-General, as outlined in a policy brief on the topic published in April 2023.

Within your limited resources, how are you ensuring that youth matters are a priority across UN entities?

Integration of youth perspectives, needs, and priorities into policymaking and programming remains paramount. This entails actively seeking input from young people and incorporating their viewpoints into decision-making processes across all sectors and levels of the UN. The implementation of the UN Youth Strategy, Youth2030, serves as a cornerstone in this endeavor, emphasizing the mainstreaming of youth issues throughout UN operations. Efforts should focus on effectively implementing this strategy to ensure that youth concerns remain central to the UN’s agenda. However, merely including youth in decision-making processes without meaningful participation and empowerment undermines the effectiveness of such efforts. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that youth participation is truly meaningful.

Furthermore, despite progress, challenges such as limited resources, capacity constraints, and the need for greater youth engagement persist. Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts to enhance resource allocation, build capacity within UN entities, and promote greater youth involvement in decision-making processes.

This September, world leaders will gather at UN Headquarters for the Summit of the Future. This will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance cooperation on critical challenges, address gaps in global governance, and move towards a reinvigorated multilateral system that is better positioned to positively impact people’s lives.

At the Summit, member states will adopt an action-oriented ‘Pact for the Future,’ with a full chapter focused on ‘youth and future generations.’

I am committed to working together with young people around the world in advocating for a Pact that paves the way for more meaningful youth engagement in policymaking and decision-making processes at all levels. 

* Ian Richards is Deputy Editor of UN Today.
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