UNON Director General Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde Speech at the opening of the Annual Kenya Model UN conference

Your Excellency [Ambassador Gill Haskel, Embassy of the State of Israel - Nairobi]
Prof. Githu Muigai, Attorney General,
Secretary-General of 11th Model UN,
Deputy Secretary-General, Officials of MUN
Dear Delegates,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to the United Nations Office at Nairobi, one of the three offices away from the main Headquarters in New York. Others are in Vienna and Geneva. The third, UNON, is the only Headquarters in Africa and in the global south. The Office represents UN-Headquarters and services two main Headquarters, UNEP and UN-HABITAT, in the Complex. UNON also provides support to other UN entities. Close to 4,000 staff work in the complex. UNON is happy to open facilities to meetings not only of a classical kind but also these types of meetings.
It is a great pleasure to be here with you today, and to have this opportunity to address young leaders of future generations.
Model United Nations meetings have become an increasingly effective and popular means of educating young generations of students about the United Nations and global issues.

More than 200,000 students worldwide participate in Model UNs every year.  But what pleases me enormously is how KMUN has grown in popularity since we first began this partnership in 2001.

At that time, we had only 50 delegates… from one University, including one from Tanzania.

Just over 10 years later, we now have 700 delegates from 20 universities, including one from Tanzania.

That is dramatic growth by any standard of measurement.

During your time here, you will meet, prepare policy papers, debate issues, draft and vote on resolutions as true leaders.

I hope that it will clearly demonstrate to young people that the UN's agenda is also their agenda; that the issues that concern the UN concern us all as human beings.

By tackling issues facing the real UN and by experiencing first-hand the challenges of working with colleagues representing different parts of the world, you will develop an understanding of the complexities of international issues, an appreciation of the dynamics of group interaction and cooperation, and an awareness of the purpose and the capability of the UN to make this a better world – not just for the privileged few, but indeed for everyone.

We, at the United Nations, have long recognized that the imagination, ideals and energies of young women and men are vital for the continuing development of the societies in which they live. 

In early February, the UN published the 2012 World Youth Report which focuses on the disproportional rate of unemployment, underemployment, vulnerable employment and working poverty among youth across the globe. 

As troubling as the report’s findings were, it was, for the first time ever, a collaborative effort with youth.
The Report includes inputs from young people with many participating in an online discussion on youth employment.

As you are best placed to know, young people are rarely consulted in meaningful ways during the creation of strategies. Nor are they identified as a major group experiencing unemployment and poverty. Few of the action plans link youth-focused strategies to specific targets and budget outlays or regard the youth situation as a major cross-cutting issue.

Therefore, I wish to congratulate my UN colleagues for having the foresight to include the views of the very groups they are targeting.

In the Report’s introduction, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 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 never before to support a new social contract of job-rich economic growth. Let us start with young people.”

The Report brings to fore issues that many of you here are familiar with or are experiencing. 

I am sure it will surprise others, but not you, to learn that:

  • Young people are worried about the quality and relevance of the education they and their peers receive - whether or not it is relevant to available jobs, and how their knowledge and skills will serve them in the long-term;
  • Youth are especially worried that the education they received was overly theoretical, leaving them to acquire practical skills on their own;
  • Many also expressed concern about their governments not doing enough to help them overcome unemployment, stressing that without a lack of opportunities, they cannot apply their skills;
  • In the aftermath of the economic crisis in 2009, global youth unemployment rate saw its largest annual increase on record.  In 2010, for example, the youth unemployment rate was 12.6 per cent, compared to 4.8 per cent for adults;
  • The Report also reveals that even after finding work young people face unstable conditions, as they are often the last to be hired and the first to be dismissed; and,
  • It also noted that young women face greater challenges than their male counterparts when accessing jobs, with many having to work part time or in lower-paid occupations.

But it is not all pessimism and bad news…

Despite the many obstacles they described, young people are hopeful and optimistic that they will be able to enter the job market and make significant contributions to their society.

They are placing increasing importance in creating their own opportunities and becoming entrepreneurs, including in growing areas, such as green technologies.

That said, young people make up a significant portion of the population in developing countries, and investing in youth provides the longest and most effective dividend towards building the social capital needed to foster pragmatic and sustainable development.

As such, the Secretary-General has made youth a priority for his second term in office, as an area where we must make significant progress to meet your needs and create opportunities, particularly as they relate to employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion, citizenship and protection of rights and education.

As the future leaders and decision-makers of your countries, you are the agents of change.

I encourage you to be creative and strive for new and innovative ideas as you deliberate on your ambitious agenda items for this conference, and these items are very critical to our work.

I hope this exercise will inspire you and provide you with a first hand opportunity to understand, learn and debate the complex issues and challenges that face the world today.

I look forward to the outcomes of the meeting.

Thank you very much.

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