Youth Participation In International Fora

United Nations Headquarter, New York
At a meeting at the United Nations Headquarter, New York City

This article — unlike any others published on this website — does not describe my experience of studying abroad but focuses more on what follows after, in terms of my choice of career in an international setting and what it means for me, you and us all — the youth — to optimize our potentials and to actively challenge and seek to contribute in making the world a better place.

Youth at the heart of the world’s development agenda.

Putting young people at the heart of development is one “trendy theme” currently buzzing in the United Nations. This could have a real potential in influencing the still rather conservative, adult-led society structure, approach and system to the more youth-centric development efforts and leadership. Young people under the age of 25 represent nearly half of global population and 87 per cent of those live in developing countries, signifying the largest youth cohort in history. The main concern is, therefore, no longer about trying to find the answers to the question of  ‘Why should young people get involved?’ but more about ‘How do we best involve the young people?’.

One of the most — if not the only — important development agenda is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)the eight goals that range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and providing universal primary education. MDGs have been made a milestone in the global and national development efforts and helped guiding various global and national development priorities. Nearing the end of the MDGs in 2015, global communities, including the youth, are making the post-2015 development agenda as their platform to push their agenda forward. Since the United Nations (U.N.) is one of the main international organizations that provide the channels (for the youth to give inputs) and networks (for the youth to make significant impacts and to fight for a cause), it has been closely monitoring each country’s MDGs achievement and has also been actively involved in global consultations to find out “what kind of world we (the people) want”. It is on this note that the Rio+20 Summit, which was held in June 2012, generated an important document called ‘The Future We Want’, which will build upon the MDGs and converge with the upcoming post-2015 development agenda. As a follow-up, the UN held its 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, last September 2013 in its headquarter in New York, with the theme of ‘Post-2015: Setting the Stage’, in which I was privileged to attend as one of dozens other Youth Delegates to the UN

All of us young delegateas were all excited to be able to participate in this important event and to look forward in embarking on a new page of development that is more youth-centric and inclusive. We had a pre-meeting dedicated to consolidate inputs from the youth and to disseminate our message. My colleague and I, Angga Dwi Martha, another Indonesian Youth Delegate to the UN, were appointed to convey the messages from Asia Pacific youth out of the previous consultations we were involved in: the Bali Regional Meeting on Post-2015 Development Agenda (December, 2012) in Bali and Youth Multistakeholder Meeting at the sideline of the Fourth UN High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons Meeting (March, 2013), also conducted in Bali.

When I came to New York that September 2013 and attended the UN General Assembly for the first time, little did I know that I would be going back to that city so soon to be at the very center of the formulation of post-2015 development agenda through series of Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals meetings. 

Natasha Ardiani speaking at the UN Headquarter, New York
Natasha Ardiani speaking at the UN Headquarter, New York

We only “young” once – make the best out of it!

The series of global meetings and engagements have taught me a thing or two: we will not be young forever and from what I have learned from these past few years engaging in multiple youth affairs, sustainability is important and there are still plenty of rooms for Indonesian youth to have roles at. Below are some foods for thoughts:

1. Exercising the right to associate, assembly, express –the right to participate

The preamble of our Constitution states that, as citizens, we have the freedom to associate and assemble, to express written and oral opinions (Article 28)…and to express his/her views and thoughts, in accordance to his/her conscience.

In international fora, through the UN and other international organizations such as the World Bank, Group of Twenty, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), youth are being given the channels and platforms to engage and give input to the various development agenda and yet, not all young people seem to realize this great opportunity to do so. 

It even saddens me that a lot of young people haven’t yet able to grasped how much they could actually “shake up the world” and make their voices heard: to truly contribute to development and bring about significant changes. Lack of information about what is there to do, where to begin and how to get involved can be considered as the main cause of an overall youth’s lack of interest towards social, political and other development-related issues surrounding our everyday lives. 

This is where multiple efforts coming in to give platforms for young people to express the views of their peers and these platforms should be utilized fully. One example is the Youth Assembly at the United Nations, an annual event which gather up to 500 young people from around the world at the UN headquarter in New York to talk about current and most pressing issues.

I was honored to be invited to speak at the Youth Assembly panel on ‘Bridging the Gap: Youth and Employment’. Many people were surprised when I brought up the fact that last year alone, Indonesia’s creative industries employed 11.57 million people accounting for 10.63 percent of the country’s employment, contributing 6.3 percent of the GDP or 7.4 billion US dollar. Approximately 80 percent of this new and emerging creative industries is carried out by young people. Ten years ago, who would have thought young people can contribute so much and in such a short period of time?

2. The Need to shift the paradigm: putting the youth at the core of development

Today’s policies support young people more in the context of jobs and entrepreneurship, which means, seeing youth only as an economic entity, profit-generating group of people and not as an independent entity that has its own particular set of needs and concerns. Indonesia has never had this kind of demographic experience before, where youth is the largest population constituting the country. If not harnessed well, this could lead to various social and economic problems.

In this regard, I hope that the following four concerns can soon be addressed: (1) the lack of understanding on youth’s capabilities – and identity – can directly underutilize the youth and their potentials; (2) to view the youth merely as economic entity resulted in youth not being given enough platforms to voice their needs and concerns; (3) discrepancy in access to and availability of information available among and to youth from Sabang to Merauke, combined with lack of formal education in some less-developed areas, could encourage them to some reckless behavior of “youth activism”; (4) there seems to be an increasing trend to put the blame on young people for their attitudes and behaviors, while simultaneously put a blind eye on the adult behaviors they learn those from. Our society is at the brink of failure in creating a culture where young people are supposed to be valued and where adults are the positive role models around. 

With risen interconnectivity in the era of information-based economy, youth can just be the secret ingredient that will link information to action. Thus we need to see more pro-youth policies, more youth-savvy policy-makers and real commitment from the government, private sector and other stakeholders to include the youth in various development progresses and efforts.

One credit to Indonesia, in its effort to empower youth, is the recently launched Presidential Scholarship’, in addition to Lembaga Pengelola Dana Pendidikan (LPDP) scheme, which is a full-scholarships scheme worth nearly 1.3 billion dollars for any Indonesian citizen who can be accepted to a Master’s Degree and/or PhD programs at the world’s top 50 universities. The scholarship is unconditional as long as the person has a letter of offer from any of those top 50 universities. I am sincerely hoping that this is one among many other future policies that are pro- youth that will make lasting impact for our society and future generation.

3. Get involved

At the moment, only less than 60 countries have their own UN Youth Delegate programs. This means less than 60 countries of which youth’s voices are being heard. There are not so many countries in the world that have a dedicated Ministry for Youth. We cannot just sit still and watch decisions being made upon us without ourselves being included in the conversation. Therefore, I encourage all of you to find means to channel your input and engage in actions for a better future.

Socio-preneurships and youth-based organizations are growing rapidly in Indonesia and this is a good sign, although it is not yet enough. The Indonesian Youth Diplomacy, a youth-led organization I am currently co-chairing, is privileged to take part of this trend.

Our organization recruits and trains young Indonesians ranging from the ages of 16 to 30 (Indonesia’s definition of youth) to represent Indonesia in international diplomatic engagements. We started by getting involved in the Group of Twenty (G20) Youth Summits and now we have expanded our outreach. Check our site for further info.


UN CSD Major Group for Children and Youth
UN CSD Major Group for Children and Youth

I have always dreamed of seeing more Indonesians being at the centre of global decision-making efforts, to have more worldly role and to take part in global efforts of diminishing poverty and spreading equity. I believe that this is not only my dream but also every Indonesian’s dream with red-hot blood running in their vein. My shorter-term dream is to see policies resonate to young people; not in just some vote-getting campaign platitudes but in real policies that could be translated in acts that become the law that can be implemented across provinces Indonesia — that kind of policy.

I would like to end this article by quoting the person who has put the youth in the map of the global fora: the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, “Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies.”


Photo Credit: All images are “owned” by the author (or friends or colleagues of the author). Images were incorporated into the article from the author’s social-media account by the staff editor of Indonesia Mengglobal with the author’s permission.


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