Being the Youngest Person on the National Council: Why We Need More Young People Supporting the UN 

Like most young people, I had only ever heard of the United Nations in history class when talking about World War II, and it was only really mentioned for a moment. “The United Nations, also known as the UN,  formed after World War II to ensure world peace and still exists today.” That’s all I really knew, and I didn’t think too much about it. I never would have imagined how the United Nations would change the direction of my life, allowing me to impact the world positively in the way I’ve always wanted to,  and how heavily involved I would be with it in a few years later. 

Sanskriti Deva, the youngest elected National Council member at an United Nations event.

My name is Sanskriti Deva, and I am the youngest elected official on the United Nations Association’s National Council. I was elected when I was 17 years old and I proudly represent the Southeast Region which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Puerto Rico. As a National Councilwoman over the last couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to:

  • Lead important grassroots and international initiatives supporting the betterment of our world
  • Build greater support for the UN in the Southeast region
  • Increase transparency and education across generations for what the UN does
  • Build my skills in diplomacy and public speaking
  • Represent my region’s unique interests and needs to the UN
  • Support the Sustainable Development Goals
  • Serve on committees like the Nominations committee, helping increase diversity and representation on the National Council
  • Organize and be youngest Chair for the Global Engagement Summit in UN Headquarters in New York City, bringing together over 1500+ grassroots and international activists
  • Connect with some of the most amazing changemakers in the world!
Sanskriti speaking at the Global Engagement Summit. She is currently serving as the youngest Chair of this summit.

So how did I go from not knowing about the United Nations to being involved on such an international scale? The answer is Instagram! I think this is quite an untraditional answer from what my other council members would probably say about their journey. You see, I was scrolling on Instagram when I found the account of the Youth Observer to the United Nations.

Sanskriti in high school, soon after founding a UNA-USA campus chapter at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. It all started here.

At the time I was highly involved with local grassroots efforts with STEM educational accessibility and had recently interned with a city councilwoman in my area which ignited a newfound interest for civil service within me. I had also become interested in sustainability after entering an engineering competition in my city and inventing a trash can that sorts out your compost and your recyclable materials through image processing. As I went through the Youth Observer’s account, and then through UNA-USA’s website I realized that the importance of the work the United Nations did and how getting involved would greatly align with my interests at the time. So I filled out a form on the website to start a campus chapter at my high school, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

Our campus chapter was able to do a lot of important local work to support the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) and was able to educate more young people about the UN. As a chapter president, I got the fruitful opportunity to learn more deeply about the United Nations’ values and goals through action, as well as make a deep impact in my community. I highly recommend starting or joining a chapter near you of UNA-USA.

I was in the midst of doing this work when a staff member I met suggested I run for the National Council. “Me, on the National Council??” I thought. I felt like I would be an impostor if I joined the National Council. While I was passionate about civil service and activism, I wasn’t even pursuing anything related to political science or international relations in college. I had applied for engineering degrees because I wanted to build a career in technology.

Why would anyone want an engineer on the National Council to represent them? Why would anyone want someone so young?  Even though I had done a lot of powerful work for the United Nations and the SDGs I felt unqualified and out of place for these reasons. I mentioned this to the UNA-USA staff member who had encouraged me to run, and she said one thing that has stuck with me: ”It’s important to take up space as a young person, and even if you aren’t elected, by just running, you’ll motivate more young people to run.”

Sanskriti speaking at the UN General Assembly hall 2023.

Before this I had never thought about the importance of taking up space or what that meant, but she was right, as young people it is so important to do so and bring our fresh perspectives to the table. As one of the few with an engineering background on the National Council I am able to use my skills to break apart problems and issues we discuss in a way those with other backgrounds may not see. And while age can be seen as a limitation, it’s also a tremendous advantage. Believe it or not, a lot of major scientific breakthroughs have occurred due to the discoveries of younger scientists, who are able to break past tradition and find solutions to problems from other sides. For example, penicillin was discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming who left Staphylococcus bacteria uncovered in his laboratory. Upon returning from vacation, he observed that a mold called Penicillium had contaminated the dish and inhibited the growth of the bacteria. Instead of dismissing it as a mere contamination, Fleming recognized the significance of this accidental observation eventually leading to penicillin, the world’s first widely used antibiotic, which revolutionized medicine by effectively treating bacterial infections and saving countless lives. If Fleming had taken the traditional point of view, he probably would have thrown the dish away. I believe the same can be said for the importance of young people in international advocacy and support for the United Nations. As I have learned, the power of new perspectives to complex issues like those the United Nations and its supporters are faced with is truly important, and young people can bring that perspective. We need diverse representation on the National Council, because as it has historically been shown, a diversity of perspectives is what breeds innovation and progress.

Outside the UN Headquarters in New York City.

So, I decided to run for the National Council, unexpectedly winning. And I was recently re-elected during the last election cycle. Being the youngest person on the National Council has been an incredible journey, one that has allowed me to witness firsthand the power of young voices and the impact they can have on shaping policies and driving change.

Through my experiences, I have come to realize that youth representation is not just a symbolic gesture but a necessity for the United Nations and its mission. I have gotten the opportunity to meet with young people across the country and world, and seeing the change they’re creating in their communities is truly inspiring. We bring unique perspectives, innovative ideas, and a deep sense of urgency to address the pressing challenges our world faces. We are not burdened by the constraints of tradition or complacency, but rather driven by a desire to create a better future.

Moreover, young people are natural bridge-builders. We can connect diverse communities, facilitate dialogue, and foster collaboration to tackle global issues effectively. Our ability to embrace technology and navigate interconnected networks allows us to amplify our voices and mobilize others towards collective action. By involving more young people in supporting the United Nations, we can harness this collective energy and create a global movement for positive change.

Sanskriti with the 2022-23 US Youth Observer to the UN Himaja Nagireddy, German Youth Delegate Johanna Lichtschlag, and Swiss Youth Rep Arlinda Ramqaj.

In a rapidly changing world, the United Nations needs to adapt and evolve. It requires fresh ideas, bold initiatives, and the courage to challenge the status quo. By embracing the perspectives of young people, the UN can ensure that its work remains relevant and responsive to the needs of future generations.

Why do we need more young people supporting the UN? Because we bring passion, determination, and a relentless pursuit of a better world. We are the voices of hope and the architects of change. As the youngest person on the National Council, I am proud to represent not just my region, but the millions of young people around the world who are eager to make a difference.

I encourage every young person reading this to get involved. Whether it’s joining a local chapter, advocating for the Sustainable Development Goals, or running for positions of leadership: your voice matters. Together, we can build a future where peace, justice, and sustainability are not just aspirations; they’re realities.

The United Nations belongs to all of us, and it is our responsibility to shape its future. Let us embrace our roles as global citizens and work hand in hand to create a world that is fair, inclusive, and prosperous for everyone.

Remember, age or background is not a limitation; it is a powerful catalyst for change. So, let us stand together, young and determined, and support the United Nations in building a better world for all.