The Bozar in Brussels, Belgium on the afternoon of the 27th of May was filled with over 2000 young people from all over the world, with the air heated up, waiting for him to arrive. With him, I’m not referring to Usher, Robert Pattinson, nor Ryan Gosling; rather the Secretary-General of the United Nations – the South Korean Ban Ki-moon. Being in office for more than eight years, the Secretary-General came to Brussels to not only visit the European institutions but also to meet with youth leaders to talk about the role of youth in the post-2015 development agenda. The event with the slogan ‘Our world, our dignity, our future’ was live-streamed to audiences across the world.
Before going into more depth, two questions first need to be answered, with the first one being: Who is Ban Ki-moon? The best known fact is certainly that he is the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the most powerful international organization promoting international co-operation, made up of 193 members states and headquarters based in New York City. The role of the Secretary-General in the UN is described by the UN Charter as ‘chief administrative officer’ of the organization. While this definition does not outline specific obligations, the Secretary-General is seen mainly as the symbol of the ideals of the UN and as spokesperson for the interests of the world’s people. Having held high political positions before, Ban Ki-moon was elected as eighth Secretary-General in 2006 and took office in 2007, succeeding Kofi Annan. He was re-elected in 2011. In 2013, he was named the 32nd most powerful person in the world by Forbes.
Second question: what is the post-2015 development agenda? There is talk of a ‘post’ agenda, but what about the pre-agenda? The current UN development agenda is centered on the Millennium Development Goals which were established in 2000. They include eight globally agreed goals and were targeted for 2015. The goals include central issues such as the reduction of poverty, education, gender equality, and environment sustainability. With this year being 2015, progress is evaluated. Not all of the goals were achieved fully. Hence, 2015 is crucial for global action as in September new goals will be set. That is why the UN is now aiming to help to define a new future global development framework. What is unclear is the role of youth in shaping this new agenda. Therefore, Ban Ki-moon met with youth ambassadors in this event to ask the paramount question ‘What kind of future do you want?’
Back inside the Bozar: When finally entering the stage, Ban Ki-moon seemed to be surprised by so many young people eagerly waiting for him and the loud clapping welcoming him like a rock star. He started his speech with ‘I believe in the power of young people. That is why I am here.’ Sixteen youth leaders from the ages of 14 to 25 had been chosen to be on stage and ask the Secretary-General their questions. Coming from different backgrounds and countries, their questions touched upon various topics, each one raising a pressing issue for the post-2015 agenda.
“Why did the sanitation goal fail? Today, more people have access to mobile phones than toilets. Why?” (Ivory, Kenya)
“We are the most educated generation, yet have trouble finding employment. What to do?” (Elena, 24, Cyprus)
“How do you plan on improving the welfare of children and ensure that children are involved in the decision-making process?” (Maruba, 14, Zambia)
“How can a woman who is being abused or discriminated against in India and another woman who is being abused or discriminated against in New York cooperate?” (Tambi, India)
But not only the sixteen young people on stage were allowed to ask questions but also the audience was given the chance with the hashtag #AskBanKimoon. Next to the stage a twitterwall was set up, with the audience posting selfies while creating slogans and hashtags, which connected Ban Ki-moon and the UN with the young generation sitting in the hall or watching the event via the internet. The use of social media in connection with the discussion about how youth can take part in the shaping of the post-2015 agenda created a special atmosphere in the hall. It felt like everybody was engaged. Moreover, it showed that social media tools utilised by the young generation can be combined with the effort to raise awareness for severe global problems that need to be confronted. One sentence that in particular stuck in my head was “You are the first generation to end poverty and the last one to combat climate change.” The engagement of everyone in the discussion made clear that our generation is not as often portrayed a ‘Me me me generation’ which is self-focused and egoistic, but that we actually do care about other people and our environment, striving to find ways to eliminate injustices and inequalities.
What I took home from the event was inspiration and greater belief in our generation. We might love to take selfies but that does not mean that we are not committed to making the world a better place. And we should not wait, because tomorrow might be too late. The only ones who hold us back are ourselves. As Ban Ki-moon said “You are leaders of today already. Raise your voice and claim your right! Whether political, social, economic, or educational!”
Photo Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider