It’s almost time to board my flight, I have my ticket, passport, and suitcase all packed, and I can’t wait to get to New York. Let me tell you why I am excited: I am going to be a delegate in the 2016 Annual Youth Summit at the United Nations.
Sounds fun doesn’t it! Well, I am hoping it will be, but I am also hoping I will gain a lot from this experience. The whole point of the Summit is to promote a dialogue between young leaders and professionals, UN high officials and staff, the private sector and civil society, in order to discuss and examine the important role of youth in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (which include working towards no poverty, zero hunger, and gender equality amongst many others).
My role is to work alongside the other delegates and come up with new solutions to tackle the sustainable development goals one at a time. We will do this through a series of workshops, round table discussions, plenary sessions etc.
So why me you ask, short answer is “I have no idea”. Longer answer is, I am really interested in tackling social problems using innovation and an entrepreneurial mind-set. And having been a regional finalist and won funding for “Ireland’s best young entrepreneur award”, and also being one of the youngest ever to win the “presidential award for volunteering” for my work in starting social enterprises, they thought I would be a good fit.
A quote that was mentioned repeatedly throughout the summit was: “you aren’t the leaders of tomorrow, but rather the leaders of today”. It wasn’t meant to be something only spoken in words, but something that should be showcased through action. Throughout the summit they tried to integrate UN officials and ambassadors into workshop sessions in order to utilize the power of the youth present at the assembly. By hosting workshops and having inspiring panellist speakers, they were hoping to inspire a new generation of change-makers to act now!
The first day was the most exciting, we walked into the UN Headquarters, got our passes and sat down at the cafe talking to all the other delegates and listening to each other’s stories. It was amazing to hear about everyone’s background and how people got to where they were. We were all so diverse but at that time we were all united in one place, working on one cause, and that was special.
Our first talk took place at the general assembly hall, and I remember walking in and just being in awe of the place. For years I have seen this room on TV through different agendas where global leaders sat down and discussed world issues, and now I was here, with a chance to leave a lasting impact and learn from the leaders before me. The first panel session was given by H.E permanent mission ambassadors and was a nice ice-breaker into the life inside the UN as an organization.
We then had a couple of more hands-on panel sessions, Q&A sessions with guest speakers which included representatives from companies (Pepsi, Microsoft, etc.), policy makers in NGO’s, and self-made entrepreneurs/social entrepreneurs working on real change. This diversity brought on a more lively debate where people had multiple views on the same issue and came up with different ways to tackle existing social problems.
Another interesting aspect of the Summit was the diversity of the speakers’ nationalities and it was amazing to see how different cultures tackle the same question, whether on gender equality, poverty or social injustice. This variety not only brought on new innovative fresh ideas, but also inspired the young leaders to engage in conversations post-workshops and try and be part of a new movement.
I also managed to talk with the Irish permanent mission at the UN. This was another amazing experience, where I was able to bounce ideas and discuss projects I am working on with senior officials. They were incredibly helpful and it was an amazing experience to sit down and discuss social goals with them.
In the end the summit boiled down to 3 main questions: What does it mean to be a leader? How to achieve the UN’s goals? How to cause a real change?
As I always tell people, my end goal is to be able to look back at my life in 20 years and see a positive change I left even if it is only on one person. It is never about the mass quantity, as real change takes time and hard work. But by going to these summits and meeting likeminded individuals, we get to expand our network and grow our ideas and affect more lives.
Be the change you want to see in people.