At the UN and online, young people are talking about sustainable development

July 31, 2011

UNITED NATIONS, United States — Increasing numbers of young people are expressing their views about global problems – and how to solve them – in a wide range of settings.

That was among the insights that emerged at a workshop for young people held here titled, "Our Voices, Our Aspirations: A Youth Dialogue on Sustainable Development."

The meeting was organized on Tuesday 26 July at the United Nations offices of the Baha'i International Community, as a side event to this week's UN High-level Meeting on Youth.

Representatives from 400 youth groups joined ambassadors, NGOs and UN officials for the two-day UN meeting, held 25-26 July, titled "Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding." Talks ranged across a wide variety of issues of concern to the younger generation, including jobs, poverty and sustainable development.

"Our workshop was designed to complement those wider discussions and offer the participants a platform to have a dialogue about sustainable development," said Ming Hwee Chong, a representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

5 images
Young people from around the world gathered together in New York at the UN High Level Meeting on Youth, 25-26 July 2011, to discuss solutions to such global challenges as poverty reduction and environmental degradation. This workshop, held at the UN offices of the Baha'i International Community on Tuesday 26 July focused in part on how new communications technologies can foster an improved dialogue among youth around the world.

Some 30 participants gathered for an opening panel presentation, followed by conversations in small groups.

During the panel, Nathan Forster spoke about a project by his organization, Alas de Rio, which examines ways in which video and social media can be used to communicate ideas about sustainable development across conventional barriers of language and culture.

"We have seen success in a lot of projects, in terms of mobilizing for action or for a social cause, through various online networks and platforms," said Mr. Forster, whose organization is focused on involving young people in the Rio + 20 environmental conference scheduled for next year.

Iyinoluwa Samuel Aboyeji of the World Youth Alliance expressed his hope that young people would focus on mobilizing for change with families and communities, as opposed to merely lobbying governments.

"In families and communities, values are passed from generation to generation," he said. "So the general idea is that in order to promote sustainable development, the main contact should be the family and the community," said Mr. Aboyeji.

Nur Shodjai, a Baha'i, introduced a pilot project called "Voices of Youth" that strives to capture the views of a younger group, aged 11-15, through video interviews.

Ms. Shodjai explained that the views of the young are not necessarily given due attention since they are not considered to have mature opinions. "But they have a lot to contribute," she said.

"At this age, they are at a special time of their lives; they are developing the capacity to understand and analyze events around them and to come up with a creative solution. So they have a great deal to communicate in terms of ideas and attitude."

After breaking into groups for focused discussions, participants reported the results of their deliberations back to the larger group.

Among their suggestions for action were: working to improve local decision-making, so that decisions are decentralized and better matched to local conditions; emphasizing environmental education; and focusing on families and local communities in efforts to promote sustainable development.

"It was particularly interesting to see how social media and information technologies can be used by youth as they try to play a more active role in this dialogue," said Ming Hwee Chong.