Include Young People in the Conversation

As I had the privilege of being a delegate to the High-Level Political Forum these past several days, I couldn’t help but think back to the very first conference I attended. 

I was 16, and I got off of the bus and walked into the conference that day, and immediately felt the sinking feeling that I was out of place. Everybody was walking around with binders, pressed suits, and an army of advisors behind them. I looked down at my shirt. It was a blouse I had to borrow from my statistics teacher because I didn’t own any professional clothes. 

Throughout that conference, I tried my best to sit up straight, follow the rules, and fit in. I can still recall that genuine fear that someone might find out that I didn’t know what I was doing. As I’ve gotten a little older, I found that that fear gets better, but doesn’t go away completely. 

Flash forward to the HLPF, and throughout the various talks at the conference I kept hearing a familiar refrain, “we need to listen to youth voices and the next generation.” I couldn’t agree more. I also couldn’t help but think about what that takes in practice. I encourage organizers of programs and events to consider back to those first moments where you were asked to be in spaces not made for you. What could you have done if you felt more welcome? How can you make sure young people have more access than you did?

Throughout the forum, I was reminded time and time again of the power that virtual events, organizing, and conferences like these can have in extending opportunities to young people like me. I was able to have a front seat to conversations and expert opinions all while sitting in my bedroom. I didn’t have to worry about how to afford to fly to the conference location, how I would make conversation with people in the hall. No logistics needed. I was able to focus wholly on learning as much as I could instead. 

I encourage people to see how the accessibility of online forums like this can empower our youngest leaders in a way we could have never imagined. Use the onslaught of virtual events not as a hindrance, but rather as a way to expand our reach to young people intentionally and consciously in new ways.