UNDP Resident Representative, Frode Mauring keynote speech on the International Youth Day 2017

Aug 9, 2017

9 AUG 2017, Dubai (UAE) - Over 600+ Emiratis celebrating International Youth Day in UAE © UNDP UAE/ Soha Afify

The successful entrepreneur “Jack Ma” of Ali Baba, once said: “A peace talk is always difficult, always complicated”

That’s what I had in mind while writing my words for today. To have a talk, not to deliver a speech.

The world we live in, has never had so many young.  Globally, there are nearly 2 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24.  This is the largest population of youth in history; and these young women and men are our future.  Sadly, many are unable to realize their full potential and become true agents of change where it is most needed.

This is why we have International Youth Day.

For the last 20 years, 12 August has served as a reminder of what it means to be young, and why we need to embrace our youth.  It is a testament not only to the opportunities faced by young people, but also the challenges.  Of which there are plenty.

How do we help young people take on all these challenges?

First, we need to do away with any notion we have of what it means to be young.  Today, being young means a lot of things. It means entrepreneurial. Millennial.  Technologically adept, as my children can attest to.

But being young also means being vulnerable.  It means being underestimated -being overlooked.  Young people today are often exceptionally entrepreneurial. But they can also be hard-working labourers.  Many of the young people are already demonstrating leadership, while some, particularly in this broader region are refugees or displaced.  Many are having fun on Instagram, while many more, are threatened in war zones.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people in countries marked by armed conflict or unrest, are young people.  Considering the needs and aspirations of youth in matters of peace is therefore a demographic imperative.

Since its announcement by the UN General Assembly in 1999, International Youth Day has been an annual celebration of the role of young women and men as essential partners in promoting human rights and development.  It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges and hardships facing the world’s youth. 

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the theme chosen for this year’s Youth Day is “Youth Building Peace”.  The youth as change agents are crucial in the peace process.  And in a world that goes on facing one crisis after the other, it is our role as governments, civil society, international organisations and individuals to be the standing rock for the youth.  The focus in the upcoming years shouldn’t be on one niche in society over the other.  It’s a global effort and collective role to build our communities and make them rise.

Recognizing this is vital to tackling the different issues faced by young people around the world. This couldn’t be more true than in the Middle East, where 105 million young people are stretched out over areas of war and economic disparity.

Arab youth today are more empowered than they have ever been, with wider access to quality education and to knowledge through digital means.  But they are also facing great challenges.  Economic and political exclusion and social inequality continue to frustrate youth throughout the region.

Think about it?  What would make young people being a threat to peace.  The answer is “lack of hope, lack of a future.”  I have spent most of my career in conflict places.  When asked, young people cites lack of jobs rather than men with guns as threat to human security.  And these days, there is also an added dimension to the threat to the future that frustrates many young: Climate change.  It is not a coincidence that a lot of global unrest are in regions affected by changes in climate, causing threats to livelihood, access to water and grazeland.  Last year 24 million people were displaced due to natural disasters, a lot of it caused by climate change.  This will grow to a major source of discontent, threaten the future for our young, cause discontent and fuel conflict – threaten peace.

In this context UAE is an oasis in more than one sense.  In its vision 2021, Dubai is identified as green economy capital of the world.  Setting the vision for a positive future for the world and its youth.  We have to look to the young for future innovation, that would create green, sustainable jobs and a pathway of hope.  Likewise, it is from the young, we would see climate change adaptability and disaster resilience.  We need to overcome challenges to take a step towards rebuilding Arab societies.

It is in this context that I wish to shed some light on UNDP’s support to the UAE’s national endeavours to empower youth.  We at the UNDP work relentlessly to mitigate challenges affecting our youth.  We are proud partners of “the Carbon Ambassador Programme”, with Dubai Carbon, in collaboration with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA).   This programme is a youth engagement initiative providing UAE youth with the know-how and skills to fulfil the ambitious Emirate energy and green economy roadmap to 2030.

Another significant achievement for UNDP UAE in past years came from the partnership with the Government of Dubai, by establishing the World Green Economy Organization (WGEO), launched in October 2016.  The WGEO would pioneer a new way of promoting the green economy by bringing together governments, the private sector, foundations, UN system, academia, the banking system and civil society, working together to achieve green economy goals through an innovative model.  Green economy is a pathway towards sustainable future, for prosperity for the next generation, and consequently also preventing future conflict and maintain peace.

And we are well positioned to so, drawing on global and regional experiences in facilitating dialogue with governments, civil society organizations, private sector and actors at sub-national levels with regard to youth participation in decision-making and youth policy development.  That is also why we have supported the Youth Leadership Programme in UAE.

UNDP offers global perspectives and local insights to help empower lives and build resilient communities in more than 170 countries and territories.  Young people—informed, empowered and engaged— are the key to our efforts.

How do we do it? A lot can be achieved by simply building skills and having access to jobs.

By increasing employability of young people through the development of skills, capacities for critical thinking and knowledge.  And by supporting the development of institutional and policy frameworks conducive to youth employment and entrepreneurship.  These efforts have been proven time and time again to reduce youth unemployment and poverty, and enhance empowerment.

In my capacity as the UNDP representative, I wish to reiterate our readiness to work hand in hand with the public and private sectors present here today out of our true dedication to achieve the desired goals of UAE vision 2021, and the global 2030 development agenda.

Before my speech comes to an end, I would like to quote my friend and colleague Mourad Wahba, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Arab States when he said, “At this time of disruption and conflict in the region, it is good to remind ourselves of what brings us together.

By amplifying the voices of youth, we ensure that the progress is oriented towards a better, sustainable future.  What better way to ensure peace.

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