UN Youth Winter General Assembly Feb 1-3 – Dana Kurniawan, Singapore

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“If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of the world.” Upon hearing this, the room fell silent.

The United Nations Youth General Assembly was a chance for me to embrace exactly what “changing the world” meant for me, and how to consider my responsibility as a global citizen rather than an unclear burden. I say burden because, as the more fortunate 25% of the global population, we not only consider ourselves lucky but we realise the inherent moral obligation we have for the notion of “making the world a better place”. These two words “changing” and “better” connote a progressive direction and sense of hope, yet in our shared reality, they also leave us with an open-ended and vague question that can often give way to cynicism. In fact, I realised that many common questions asked by youth delegates started with “So how do I, as a youth…”

With our 24 hour news cycle and constant barrage of advertisements, information and notifications in this contemporary society, we often harbour an underlying and even subconscious sense of cynicism that can, without warning, make us self-absorbed and insensitive, even with the best intentions. In the multitude of conversations I was able to have with youth delegates from all over the world, I realised that these sentiments were similar across cultures and borders. With the increase of globalisation, I had avid discussions with delegates about how our collective world view should be expanding with the increase of globalisation. Yet, we collectively agreed, the rise of far right populism, nationalism and fear of terrorism are contracting our worldviews instead of enlarging them, such as being committed to open borders and relocating refugees, buying locally to reduce global waste, micro-generating our own energy, sharing intelligence for progressive development and coordinating relief aid for conflict ridden areas, among others. While every country has always had it’s own national agenda, there is also the reminder to live up to the global mandate for every country to simultaneously balance its international commitments and cooperation with neighbouring countries. After all, what our leaders do today sets a precedent for passing the baton to the next generation. So how do we start taking action and responsibility now? If there was one thing I learnt during the 3 days, it is that any action, movement or revolution starts at the grassroots level.

I would like to rephrase the start of that question to “How do we, as youth…” because the inclusive pronoun “we” will take us unimaginably further than if we simply thought “I”.

With the uncertainties that every new day brings, I would like to leave you with a definite conclusion, a comprehensive approach to start advocating for the issues you care about.

The comprehensive approach: Involve and be involved

  1. Practice what you preach – use your voice beyond the podium and engage with the immediate people around you by starting a conversation. Everything is of your own initiative and the onus is on you to see your idea or action through to completion.
  2. Identify your stakeholders and bring them together to develop or create a local initiative by outlining key goals and discussing a common strategy – bringing everyone relevant to the issue into the conversation is key to making that conversation evolve.
  3. Expand your horizons – consult and get expert opinions on what you feel unclear about. Take online courses, read widely, write actively on a blog/make a video/create a photo album – use your creative medium for expression to update your progress and findings.
  4. Aim to disturb the comfortable way of thinking and systems around you. Rethink, reshape, react.

Know that all this begins with you and it cannot start until you choose to take action. I hope that through your own unique and varied ways, you too will actively start finding clarity on what the words “changing” and “better” mean to you.

With that, I will leave you with a quote that has stuck with me since the conference:

“All the time in college I wanted to just change the world. To say I had this impact or I changed this person’s life. Now, I realise it’s much more complex than that and I’ve had to reconceptualize what change means for me and for the world – and then acting in very intentional ways to fulfill that, even though it might only be partially fulfilled and that change slow and inconsequential.”

– Panel Speaker working at International Rescue Committee for Refugees.

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