It's not quite American Idol, but we think we have a pretty good contest heating up here at the State Department.
Every other year, before the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) holds its General Conference, the organization also hosts a youth forum, where delegates from around the world identify common concerns and shared experiences. The delegates, all of whom are under 24 years old, then deliver their suggestions directly to the UNESCO General Conference.
It is a unique opportunity for young people to influence the global agenda. This year we decided to conduct our own on-line competition to select the two American delegates. The response has been incredible. We have received numerous fantastic responses--both essays and YouTube submissions--to the question, "What is the greatest global challenge facing youth, and how can American youth help to address it?"
This week, we are proud to announce our finalists.
They are quite a dynamic a group. While the selection committee is in the process of making its final determinations, I do know we can't possibly make a wrong decision. Their essays and videos are excellent reading and viewing for anyone interested in hearing from the future leaders of America about the challenges facing today's global youth.
For example, Noelle Little, a sophomore at Northern Arizona University, argues for a free internet and challenges other American youth to support internet driven revolutions around the world. She writes, “While the youth of America cannot control whether or not these authoritarian governments block access to the Internet, they can still demonstrate the power of the social media. They can [help] to exhibit its power by continuing to reach out globally, post and repost videos, tweets and status updates of those individuals whose voice has been silenced.”
Blair Brettschneider, who helped start her own afterschool program for teenage refugee girls in and around where she lives in Chicago, thinks we need to support a global fight against gender inequality but ought to focus first on developing local solutions. She says, “In my community I work to address the problems faced by teenage refugee girls so that they can become educated, competent and independent, and then become advocates not only for girls in their immediate communities, but for girls in their home countries and in other places around the world.”
Water scarcity is another growing problem, according to Kelsey Leonard, currently studying at the University of Oxford. She writes that water scarcity, “…affects one in three people on every continent of the globe and poses the greatest global challenge to today's youth and the security of their future. Water is embedded in most issues of concern to the world's youth, including poverty, health, food security, climate change, industrialization, cultural preservation, and education…”
Limited access to quality education is what is on the mind of Alexandria J. Croom, a senior at Howard University. Her solution? A network of global mentors, individuals and communities willing to support disadvantaged youth around the world.
George Demetrios Papadopoulos from Lincolnwood, Illinois, says it is time yesterday's leaders make way for a new generation of youth leaders who have grown up in a globalized community. He writes, “The youth of every country cannot be held accountable for the mistakes of a past generation, now is the time to allow the youth to hold a greater stake in the political future of their countries…”
Our finalists each identify a different problem, some closely related, others entirely distinct. But what unites them is an absolute and unequivocal belief that the solution to all these problems must include youth from around the world. They also challenge American youth to help lead the way. As finalist Fernando Cutz from the University of Arkansas says, “We are change agents in this world.” I couldn't agree more.
And every applicant deserves to have their opinion heard, and I encourage you to check out more of the finalists' essays and videos, or visit the playlist of video submissions we created on DipNote's YouTube channel here.
America's two official delegates to the 2011 UNESCO Youth Forum in Paris will be announced next week. Stay tuned!