December 15 , 2020

Marielza Oliveira:UNESCO believes in the power of youth to change the world


On December 15, 2020, Marielza Oliveira, Director of UNESCO Cluster Office in Beijing spoke at the launch of the Global Young Leaders Dialogue (GYLD) Program. The following is an abridged transcript of the speech, which has been edited for length and clarity.

You know that the protocol requires me to salute, the most important people in the room first. So, since this is a dialogue for global young leaders, global young leaders. Now, let me salute Deputy Director Guo, Mr. Du, President Wang, S Jim Yao, and the ambassadors, and all the experts and participants and guests here present. Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this Global Youth Leaders Dialogue promoted by CCG. It is such a special pleasure for me that I’m taking a day off for my annual leave to be here with you. I also have the special honor of bringing to you personal greetings from the UN resident coordinator, Rama Kami Sandy, who met you and spoke to you over video.

UNESCO believes in the power of youth to change the world. We don’t consider that the youth are the future, we don’t feel the need to empower youth, or to ask youth to become agents of change. Young people have already profoundly changed the world, are changing the world right now, and will continue to take this leadership role in the future to come. People’s magazine now has a “30 Under 30” session, Forbes has a “Young Billionaires” sessions, Nobel physics is won mostly by people whose work was done when they were in their 20s. So, let me just give you four simple examples of the most astounding transformations that young generations have already helped to create.

Youth have changed the economy. 7 out of the current list of 10 largest corporations in the world by market value were created by young visionaries, several of each were not old enough to vote. They show that college graduates want to start a business more than take a job. Of course, one of the reasons is that youth know that paying jobs and benefits are becoming scarcer and employment requirements are more demanding, particularly for those with less experience. Opportunities for decent work are therefore number 1 concern for young people, who are showing their resiliency and entrepreneurial spirit by launching startups, cooperatives, incubators and even creating completely new professions. Youth are major players in fast growing culture and creative industries which are one of the best sources of decent work nowadays.

Another example, youth have changed the worlds demographics. The median age of the global population is estimated nowadays to be 30.9 years, in 2020, up from 26.3 years in just 2000. In part, because younger generations are postponing getting married and having children until they can complete their education and earn a decent income. Opportunity for quality lifelong learning, including acquisition of soft skills needed to function well in a global knowledge society, technical and vocation education and training and higher education is the second most important concern of young people. Young innovators are creating platforms that allow us to learn and to remain connected to our communities, including AI power translators that allow us to overcome language barriers.

A third example, youth have changed what and how societies consume. People below 25 years of age now represent 42 percent of the global populations, so companies nowadays are tailoring product lines to young preferences, while supermarkets around the word sell 200 billion plastic bottles every year of water, young people’s wellness and social consciousness is driving fast food chains to adopt recyclable packaging and buy organic ingredients from sustainable sources. Scientists warn of the tremendous urgency in developing greener, more sustainable, less wasteful for ways of life, and we already consume 50 percent more than our planet can regenerate in a given period, and the effects of climate change are truly fast becoming irreversible. Environmental degradation is among the top five issues concerning young people. Greta and her generation peers are leading way in climate action, demanding that world leaders, old world leaders take immediate measures to address the looming climate disaster.

A fourth and final example, youth have changed urban landscapes. 55 percent of the global population now live in cities, because young rural migrants got fed with no opportunities being delivered, through our neglect, to rural development, and moved. Around the world, every week, not now maybe during the pandemic, but every week, 188,000 young professions form new single-person households. City planners are grappling with crowded urban spaces, but young innovators are working to make cities smarter, less polluted, more livable. Green shared transportation replacing cars, reducing carbon emissions and traffic jams. Young architects are transforming decaying areas into thriving cultural hubs, and designing micro-housing, and multi-purpose furniture that are comfortable and affordable. So, yes, you have changed the world already and we expect to continue doing it.

The United Nations and UNESCO is inspired by the real concerns of young people, such as: decent work, education, the environment, inclusion, which are fully reflected in 2030 agenda for sustainable development. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are based on the vision of leaving no one behind. They must be achieved for young people who are facing with courage and creativity the tremendous hardships imposed by global challenges: pandemic, climate change, dwindling labor markets, conflict, rising inequality, exclusion and vulnerability. The four examples I shared clearly demonstrate how the decisions and choices made by young people matter, not just to them, but to all of societies. Younger generations seek possibility and act to effect change on a global scale. Under the vision of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, the entire United Nations is determined to open more and more spaces for youth dialogue and participation. This is how we build peace; we deliver fundamental social and economic justice that leaves no one behind and preserve the planet we share. If young people can do all that they have done through individual decisions, can we imagine your power, your capacity, what you can do by coming together, deliberately in a platform for acting and dialogue.

As the logo of this beautiful dialogue implies, it reminds me of water, you are like drops of water that need to come together, merge into mighty rivers and wash away the challenges that we are facing today. This is why having a platform for global youth leaders to dialogue, to come together, is so important. So, let me congratulate Center for China and Globalization for convening it and to reaffirm UNESCO’s continued support to all initiatives that open real space for young people’s decision making and participation. And to you, young leaders, I hope to see you do what you do absolutely the very best, unleash creative destruction and reform, terraform this planet to a better one. Thank you so much and I am looking forward to working with you.

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