Remarks by Ronan Farrow, Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues, at a High Level Meeting on Youth, in the General Assembly

Ronan Farrow
Special Advisor to the Secetary for Global Youth Issues 
New York, NY
July 26, 2011


Thank you so much and good afternoon. I am very grateful to be here today and to be a part of this conversation as we confront what is both a great shared challenge and a great shared opportunity.

Now, more than ever, as we all know, young people are at the very core of changing world events. More than 60 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 30. And that demographic, increasingly empowered by the new technologies that we’ve discussed in this session, is increasingly a potential driver of great economic and social reform. However, it is also the case that we all acknowledge that that demographic can be one of the great threats to national, international, stability and security. 86 percent of all nations with new outbreaks of civil conflict have significant majorities under the age of 30.

 Those realities obviously aren’t lost on the countries in this room. I’ve had great conversations over the last several days with many of you, and many of your countries have made tremendous strides to attract the world’s best and brightest youth to your job markets, to your universities. Nor, unfortunately, has it been lost on our shared adversaries. Extremist and criminal organizations too have sophisticated and comprehensive youth strategies, offering young people empowerment, a sense of belonging, a sense of political participation. Boys and young men are often the prime targets of such extremist recruitment, fueling unrest around the world. Girls and young women are very often the most vulnerable victims of disenfranchisement and oppression, and an under-tapped resource in the fight for economic growth. And all young people, as we have seen in the tragic events of recent days, can be targeted as they express their political rights. We stand in solidarity with Norway today.

President Obama said in his seminal Cairo speech in 2009: “To the young people of the world, of every faith, and every country - you, more than anyone, have the power to remake this world.” But who gives them the tools to remake that world –will profoundly affect security around the world and the prosperity of all of our nations.

The ball is in our court. We cannot afford to wait.

Youth engagement has already been a priority at many United States embassies. We have developed effective approaches to interacting with young people, from exchange programs, to democracy training, to development, health and livelihood programs. We have sought to give young people a voice on the global stage. Last December, Ambassador Susan Rice chaired a UN Security Council session where youth set the agenda themselves: the first time that young people had an opportunity to influence the course of the most influential body on international peace and security.

But we recognized that the United States could be doing more. We needed to make challenging institutional changes at the very highest level. Last year, Secretary Clinton launched an exhaustive review of America’s international youth policy and programming. That review was targeted at changing our capacity to empower the next generation of leaders, and it resulted in a pledge. A pledge to empower young people as positive economic and civic actors through our programs; to work hand in hand with countries like those in this room today to create enabling environments for youth in all of our borders; And to explore new ways to talk to – and perhaps more importantly, to listen to – young people.

To oversee this historic effort, we are launching a new State Department Office of Global Youth Issues. And it is my privilege to be leading that initiative as Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Global Youth Issues.

The United States is focusing on economic empowerment, through programs around the world that educate, create employment opportunities, and foster entrepreneurship for young people. Programs like Youth:Work, which has trained and employed thousands of young people in Latin America.

We are launching initiatives that encourage civic participation, create local leadership opportunities, and develop linkages between young people and their governments. Take, for example, the Yemen Student Councils project, which has established councils for young people in hundreds of schools across that country, familiarizing people of that age group with community participation and the basics of democracy. 

We’re pushing the envelope to involve young people in the execution of these programs too, with successes like the Yes Youth Can Initiative in Kenya, which features an innovative youth-led and managed social innovation fund.

And accompanying programs like these around the world is a new focus on youth issues in our discussions with the international community. That conversation begins here and now. And The United States welcomes, and will continue to foster, follow-on activities to ensure that it does not end this summer.

I look out at this room and I am excited – excited because I see a group of nations that understand this watershed moment and that stand poised to lead the response to it. Leaders like Nigeria, which recently hosted the first African Urban Youth Assembly, gathering youth from across Africa to guide their leaders on urban development. Like Brazil, which completed an 18-month Youth Dialogue, surveying young Brazilians about their views on democracy and their role in society. Like Austria and Benin, whose efforts as co-facilitators of this event, I commend. This is a moment where we are prioritizing listening to young voices and responding to their call for action: the call to provide young people with access to livelihood and to employment. To promote gender and minority equality, to confront the human rights abuses that so often drive and deepen poverty.

That call as I said, is both a challenge and an opportunity. And it’s one we cannot wait to confront. The young people of our nations are, as we speak, transforming our security and prosperity. They are not just the future as several pointed out: they are now. And we can work with them to create a better now.

So I look forward to this event being just one of many catalysts in a long and fruitful process of joining hands with each other, and with young people around the world, to accomplish just that.

Thank you very much.


PRN: 2011/149