Prepared by: Timothy Wong & Yaya Norazman
From 14 to 16 February 2018, we attended the Youth Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, United States of America. We had the honour of representing Malaysia at the Assembly along with 2 other delegates who are from University of Malaya and Maktab Rendah Sains MARA respectively. The Youth Assembly is a gathering of youths from around the world to share and learn from each other. With a global population of over 1.8 billion people, youth are the world’s greatest untapped resource, possessing the talents and ambition to overcome society’s biggest challenges.
Organized with the theme of ‘Innovation and Collaboration for a Sustainable World’, the 21st session of the Youth Assembly is a forum to open up new pathways for cooperation and social entrepreneurship, while harnessing the creativity and energy of youth delegates for global impact. In alignment with the upcoming 2018 High Level Political Forum, the conference focused on the environmental dimensions of the 2030 Agenda, particularly Goals 6, 7, 11, 12, and 15.
The youths are particularly impacted by environmental degradation and climate change, which disrupt economic stability, compound gender and social inequalities, and threaten peace and security. To address these interconnected and mounting problems, young people must be equipped with the skills and tools to develop forward-thinking solutions that can have a positive impact for generations to come.
In this very spirit, the 2018 Winter Youth Assembly aimed to strengthen collaborative networks and foster innovation to enable youth to engage in the global sustainability movement, as well as to consider critically how cross-cutting issues can be addressed through international cooperation. With an emphasis on building inter-generational and cross-sector partnerships, the conference brought delegates from over 100 countries together in conversation with representatives from the public sector, industry, faith-based organizations, philanthropy, academia, and civil society.
The opening ceremony was held in the General Assembly Hall and started at 7.30PM. In attendance were UN high-level officials, namely:
– H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly,
– H.E. Mr. Jan Kickert, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN,
– H.E. Mr. Sukhbold Sukhee, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Mongolia to the UN,
– H.E. Mr. Richard Galbavy, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the UN, and
– H.E. Ms. Simona-Mirela Miculescu, Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UN Office in Belgrade / Youth Assembly Honorary Chair.
The presence of these dignitaries added to the sense of importance the UN placed on ensuring the voices of the youth were heard, not to mention the pomp and circumstance that came with attending a United Nations conference.
In consultations with technical experts on water and sanitation, clean energy, urban development, green consumption and production, and biodiversity, we had the opportunity to explore these topics from new perspectives and gain insight into challenges that face the international sustainability movement. Workshops and training sessions with activists and civil society groups also offered a chance to develop entrepreneurial skills and hone talent in advocacy and organizing.
One can’t help but to ask: In the abundance of international organisations providing platforms for young leaders to brainstorm and tackle global issues, what makes the Youth Assembly stand out? To us, it is how every forum was strategically designed to encourage 2-way dialogue, although time-restriction was a massive obstacle. Throughout the session entitled Smart Cities: Tech for Development, open-ended questions were thrown in the air by the panelists as an effort to stimulate independent discussions amongst the crowd. How are humanitarian agenda and innovation for sustainability connected? and How do we use data for empowerment? were among the questions asked and left the room to decide on the best answers. We made contact with one of the panelists, Regine Guevara, who is currently part of UN Habitat Youth. She has previously worked and studied in Malaysia and indicated that she was interested to work with us in the areas of urban development.
In another session, the topic was Innovation and Technology for the SDGs. This session was conducted by PwC. It was a popular session amongst the delegates and the room was packed to the doors. We discussed the impact on technology in enabling the SDGs to be achieved and how it complemented and accelerated the process of achieving the goals. We also tried out virtual-reality prototypes, that gave an insight into how technology could help humankind. As for innovation, the session focused on start-ups and social enterprises that have taken steps to integrate technology in their solutions.
It is worth noting that the conference, however, did not breeze through without a hiccup in the process. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the assembly is the disconnect in the regional narratives offered by the panelists, particularly during Q&A sessions. For delegates who are either Asian or African, many of the proposed solutions to their questions simply do not run parallel to how the demographics or governing systems in these regions work. While much improvisation is due for the aforementioned matter, it undoubtedly gave us a broader perspective on the importance of inclusiveness within a cross-cultural context.
Apart from the conference, we also took the opportunity to call on the Malaysian Permanent Mission to the UN. We met with the mission’s First Secretary, Miss Nurul Syaza Azlisha and had a short discussion on our objectives post-conference and how best we could collaborate with the mission in the future. This could open a pathway for UNAM Youth to have stronger links with our Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Ultimately, our participation in the Youth Assembly was a wholesome experience especially in terms of exposure. We are grateful to be given the chance to bring young Malaysians’ voice to the iconic General Assembly hall, at the same time learning so much from the conference and the people we networked with. Here’s to more youth development opportunities in the future, for the greater good of our beloved Malaysia.