When I was invited by the Office of the Vice President of Panama to speak at the Young Americas Forum as part of the Summit of the Americas, I knew this was a rare opportunity to get the youth voice to the eardrums of world leaders.
I was penciled in to speak on the panel titled "Intergenerational Dialogue," the purpose of which was to have young leaders from the Americas address global leaders from the UNDP, UNFPA, World Bank as well as the UN Envoy on Youth, telling them what young people need in order to further their development globally.
But, of course, I wouldn't be much of a representative if I just went up there and told the world what I thought without actually consulting the people that matter: youth. So, I did what any millennial would do when faced with a big question in need of input: I took to social media to see what young people would do if THEY were the ones taking to the stage.
I asked: "If you had a chance to tell your leaders what young people need from their governments, how they could be better involved in advancing the Post 2015 Agenda, and how youth could drive that agenda better, what would YOU tell them?"
My Facebook feed was flooded with responses. I chose several of these to read aloud on stage that day to demonstrate that young people have strong opinions and ideas about the world around them and are willing to create solutions to some of the world's most pressing issues. Sadly, I couldn't read all the responses I received but I did my best to sum what I read up.
"It's really quite simple," I told our honored guests, "nothing about us, without us." Youth must be included in every step of the process.
So, what might that look like?
1.) Firstly, consider us. We count on you, our leaders, to create the safe space for young people to exist, learn and thrive. Without the basics - there isn't soil from which the seeds can grow. Consider our well-being in all your policy decisions. Protect our interests so we can thrive.
2. ) Consult us. We need inclusive and ongoing dialogue. Young people's opinions must be valued and cherished. Of course, the Young Americas Forum is exactly the perfect start. We need more of this sort of engagement at the local, national and international level. Create these forums for our voices to be heard.
3) Work with us. Next on the to-do list is empowering action . Don't just consult. Bring us in to the process. Let us be part of the solution. We want to get our hands dirty. Let us.
I recited these suggestions on stage directly to the UNDP, UNFPA, World Bank and UN Envoy on Youth in front of an audience of 500+ young people from the Americas and many more who were watching from home.
Our leaders listened. They scribbled notes. They took the suggestions in- and echoed our sentiments when it came time for them to speak. We heard that they understood and agreed with all these points in theory -- but were at times having difficulty with implementation. We heard about accountability and how it's a two-way street (they must be accountable but we must also hold them accountable). What I certainly heard was more of a commitment to bringing young people on board in board meetings, and in political decisions. A step in the right direction, certainly.
One thing was very clear from the entire conversation however, we must do this together. There is no better way.
Young people have much to offer. We have energy, creativity, innovativeness, while our experienced leaders have know-how and a compass for navigating the world as-is. If we combine those strengths, surely we can reach greater heights and much faster.
So, if you're a young person -- I urge you, go out there and take action. Share your voice. Be part of the solution by taking responsibility for being part of it. If you're a seasoned leader in any field, please, open your minds and doors to young people's ideas around you.
We can learn so much from each other - and accomplish even more together.