The Importance of Social Inclusion – My Time at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum
In late October I attended the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris, France. It was a very special opportunity to represent the voices of American youth on my first trip as the United States Youth Observer to the United Nations abroad. The theme of the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum was “Youth and Social Inclusion: Civic Engagement, Dialogue and Skills Development.”
Having worked for the International Labor Organization as a young journalist and being an advocate for multicultural and social justice, I was very excited to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes when policies are proposed, recommended, and adopted on behalf of youth. Even more exciting to me was the prospect that youth would have a large impact in the policies affecting us on such pertinent issues such as unemployment, civic engagement, and social inclusion.
Before arriving in Paris for the UNESCO Youth forum, I volunteered to be a rapporteur. Being a rapporteur meant that I would be able to co-lead a working group that would include international delegates sharing their ideas, proposals, and/or recommendations on how to get more youth involved in civic engagement. There were three working groups broken into three axes. My job was to focus on engaging over 100 delegates in Axis Three, which focused specifically on “Civic engagement, democratic participation and social innovation.” However, I had no idea how difficult being a rapporteur would be!
I began by making it my priority to ensure that the recommendations written reflected the opinions of all the geographic regions. First, I made sure that during voting sessions there was only one vote per country (for example, Guinea had only one delegate present, while Ireland had two) to make sure there was fair representation. I also allowed delegates to submit recommendations in Spanish and French (many of the delegates did not speak English). Thirdly, I made sure that each recommendation had presented the ideas of the delegates from all the regions: U.S. and Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Australia and the Pacific. I began speaking to many delegates, often in Spanish and French, in order to make sure their voices were heard throughout delegations. I even went so far as to reach out people to speak from countries throughout the Middle East and Africa. Trying to get every region’s opinions incorporated as concisely as possible was extremely difficult. However, it was worth it.
I learned from my time at the UNESCO youth forum the importance of always encouraging people—especially youth, those from developing countries, and those who don’t speak English—to express their ideas. Mid-way through my time co-leading a working group, I realized that the only delegates speaking about their ideas on policy recommendations were delegates from the Western world. In particular, the European delegates had dominated the discussion. Ironically, as we were speaking about the importance of social inclusion, we were not even making sure that we were fully engaging with all of the international delegates. After speaking with my peer rapporteurs, we began to enact rules to change this, so that we could equally engage people from many different countries, particularly those outside the West. The result was the formulation of policies that would represent the ideas of youth throughout the entire world, and not just a continent. Once all the delegates became involved in the sharing their ideas, we became more innovative and enlightened. The quality of our policy recommendations skyrocketed!
To see videos showcasing the experiences of some of the delegates throughout the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum see below, andcheck out the final outcome document: