International Youth Day – Celebrating young changemakers and their ingenuity, dedication and passion

Recognizing the contributions and limitless potential of young people of the world

Manuela Radelsboeck
International Youth Day Graphic
Generation Unlimited
24 August 2021

What does it mean for you personally to wish young people, colleagues and friends a “Happy International Youth Day”?  

At Generation Unlimited, we want to acknowledge and celebrate the collective power of young people all around the world. We work to put a spotlight on all the amazing young people who pursue opportunities for action to change the world; who master their fear and leave their comfort zones; who push boundaries and make change a reality – demonstrating that “impossible” is not part of young people’s vocabulary, as a young leader and winner of the digital storytelling contest #WatchOurImpact expressed it. 

Through youth education, engagement, innovation and entrepreneurial solutions, this year’s International Youth Day provided a platform for young people to continue the momentum from the ECOSOC Youth Forum (EYF) in the lead up to the high-level Food Systems Summit. During the 2021 EYF, the issues and priorities highlighted by young participants included the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly related to its effect on human health, the environment, and food systems. Building on these focus areas, Generation Unlimited celebrated this year’s International Youth Day with several exciting events orchestrated in collaboration with young people and partners! 

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Youth & Digital Skills

Empowering young people to shape the digital agenda was a key theme of the first-ever Youth Innovation Festival hosted by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy.  

“We have nine years to achieve the SDGs and this can only be achieved through gender parity, digital education, and connectivity. I challenge all of us to have a real sense of urgency to ensure that every young person especially young women, rural and indigenous communities are empowered to participate in digital livelihood”, urged Jennifer Brooks, Director of Global Partnerships at Microsoft Philanthropies during the Innovation Festival’s Economic Empowerment and Employment Session that was co-organized by Generation Unlimited, Decent Jobs for Youth, Solutions 4 Youth Employment and the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.  

“Where connectivity is available and affordable, young people are enthusiastic adopters of technology and active users of the internet. However, there are still 2.2 billion young people aged 28 and younger who do not have internet access, many being young women and girls”, said UN SG Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake in her video address to the Youth2Connect session as part of the Road to ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference. “Young people are the natural adopters of technology and if connected and provided with necessary skilling opportunities, they stand ready to contribute to their communities, propose innovative solutions and drive social progress and change.”

In addition to access to the internet, young people also need the skills to navigate the digital world. Dr. Kevin Frey, CEO of Generation Unlimited, highlighted: “Young people need to develop a comprehensive skill set, which according to the World Economic Forum, spans beyond digital skills and contains deeply human skillslike critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, resilience, or emotional intelligence. The good news is these skills can be learned and developed.”  

A group of Argentinian youngsters protesting against climate change, holding up signs and a megaphone
UNICEF/UN0364326/Gil

Youth, Climate Change & Community Action

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our times. We believe that young people have the solutions to this crisis. Therefore, as part of the Innovation Festival, GenU and the World Association of the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) brought together young people and partners to explore Youth-Led Solutions to Climate Change: “This generation not only understands more about the challenges caused by climate change more than previous generations, but you can also visualize and advocate for a future that looks quite different to the one you have inherited”, commented Germaine Umuraza, Climate Change Advocacy Manager from WAGGGS. Omar, a 18 year-old Youth Challenge Finalist from Syria and Founder of Guardians of Nature, urged young people that, ‘”next time you see the effects of climate change, step back, take a breath and remember, a challenge is simply a solution ready to be solved!”’ 

Human-Centered Design was explored as a successful vehicle for enabling youth-led action and solutions by putting young people in the drivers’ seat, especially the most marginalized. When asked how those who are interested in human-centered design can get started, Raghda, a young volunteer said: “The solution is in the problem, so you need to deeply understand first what the problem is. Start with practicing empathy. Know your user and get into the community and reach your audience in their language. Instead of asking what do I want to do with my community, ask yourself what does my community need.”  In order to create solutions for the challenges we face and services/ products for the future, it is paramount to closely involve users of the future, today’s young people. Praise Majwafi, moderator and GenU Youth Volunteer captured it perfectly, stating that “You can’t solve a problem with the mentality that created it.” 

The Human-Centered Design webinar marked the very first of a learning series, launched by Generation Unlimited with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, that will explore meaningful youth engagement in action.  

Andrea Remes, Generation Unlimited Youth Challenge Global Winner and co-founder and CEO of the edtech venture ‘Erandi Aprende’ reminded us that only if we work together, we can tackle today’s challenges: “I would like to invite all stakeholders involved in the sustainable development world to join forces in order to assure that every human being will be able to become a better version of themselves.”  

Andrea Remes, Kevin Frey, CEO of GenU, and UN SG Youth Envoy spoke in one voice: Today’s challenges can only be solved via multi-stakeholder collaboration that involves the policymakers, industrial leaders, the Un; civil society, grassroots networks and young people themselves working together to realize this vision. Therefore, GenU has been rallying Heads of State, CEOs, civil society, UN agencies and most importantly young people to join hands in the world’s first Public-Private-Youth Partnership. 

USAID Administrator Samantha Power having a discussion with the youth winners of the USAID digital storytelling contest

Documenting Stories of Change

Young changemakers around the world are making lasting impacts in their communities, yet their efforts are too often minimized. USAID’s Global Leadership and Education Advancing Development Initiative, YouthPower2: Learning and Evaluation, and Generation Unlimited, along with other global partners joined forces to show how youth are using the power of change to make the world a better place.

During the Global LEAD #WatchOurImpact Celebration Event, USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, highlighted that, “Young people are not just making a difference; they’re telling stories of impact and progress. They’re communicating urgency. They’re generating awareness with compelling images and persuasive messages. They are better at this than my generation and other generations that have come before them; they are inspiring others to follow their example.”

Ineza Umuhoza Grace, one of the winners of the digital storytelling contest who leads The Green Fighter, an environmental NGO in Rwanda, encouraged her fellow young people to take action. “Don’t be scared to show your true colors! We are the ones responsible for our future, and there is no one to take the action, if we are not committed to act day in day out!” 

Hearing all these inspiring young leaders on International Youth Day demonstrates clearly that now, more than ever, young people all around the world are ready to lead the change! The world must be ready to empower young people and guarantee them a seat at the table as we build a world based on inclusive, fair and sustainable development for all, as António Guterres, UN SG urged us on this World Youth Day.  

Let us seize this moment – together!