UNON Director General Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde Remarks at the Opening of the Youth21 Day conference

(Nairobi, March 15 ,2012 ). Your Excellency, Mr. Arvinn Eikeland Gadgit, Junior Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, My colleague, Mr. Aeneas Chuma, UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya,  Dr. Joan Clos, Executive Director, UN-HABITAT, Mr. Ananthakrishnan, Senior Advisor, Youth Empowerment Programme, Youth Representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the United Nations Office at Nairobi. UNON is one of the three United Nations Offices Away from UN Headquarters in New York and as such is considered as the UN Headquarters in Africa and the only one in the global south.  We are proud to host conferences in which global issues are discussed.                                         

Such as this one: Youth 21: Building for Change, where young people have the opportunity to debate together with representatives from governments, academia, civil society, and private sector, and influence agendas and decision-making on critical issues that have great impact on their future. We are at a unique moment in history. We face global challenges, such as climate change, environmental destruction and the scarcity of natural resources. At the same time, significant numbers of the world’s population continue to face fundamental challenges, such as poverty, unemployment, crime and violence, lack of access to quality education and jobs, gender bias and discrimination.

Decisions made by world leaders to address these challenges will affect many generations to come. At a time when young people now represent approximately 50 per cent of the world’s population, and as the future custodians of our planet, you are a major stakeholder. It is therefore vital that you are given a voice in the decisions that will shape and change your world.

In recognition of this, the UN Secretary-General of the United Nations has prioritized youth in his second term as an area where we must make significant progress. He has given particular emphasis to employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights and education. In order to advance this agenda, he has decided to appoint a Special Advisor on Youth, as you have just heard.

I am therefore particularly delighted to be with you at such a significant event in the youth calendar, where stakeholders from youth organizations, governments, United Nations agencies, the media, academia and private foundations are meeting to discuss the engagement of youth in inclusive democratic governance, including the United Nations governing processes. I understand that the mandate for the Special Advisor on Youth will be finalized after this Youth 21 meeting. This is indeed a very good way to start actively engaging youth in United Nations governance processes!

I would take this opportunity to congratulate UNDP and  UN-Habitat for organizing this Forum, which will undoubtedly generate important contributions to the Secretary-General’s new youth action plan, which will have an impact at both local and global levels. Recognizing the importance of youth in shaping the world they will live in as adults, the General Assembly adopted the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond in 1995. The Programme focuses in particular on measures to strengthen national capacities regarding youth, and to increase the quality and quantity of opportunities available to young people for their full participation in society. In the introduction of the recently released Youth Report for 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General said, and I quote, “…today we have the largest generation of young people the world has ever known.  They are demanding their rights and a greater voice in economic and political life. We need to pull the UN system together like ever before to support a new social contract of job-rich economic growth. Let us start with young people.” End of Quote

I encourage you to use this Forum as an opportunity to be creative and to strive for new, innovative and ambitious ideas to help address the challenges that face the world, especially young people, today.

I thank you very much for your kind attention.

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