5 things to consider in choosing the next UN Youth Envoy

Ahmad Alhendawi takes a selfie with 35,000 scouts in Japan in 2015

One contemporary issue in the youth development space today is the choice of who becomes the next UN Youth Envoy. In January 2012, the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon outlined 5 key strategies for his second term in office in what was called the Secretary General’s five-year action agenda. The fifth agenda was ‘working with and for women and young people’. He went further to promise that the UN System will develop and implement an action plan, create a youth volunteer program under the umbrella of the UN Volunteers and appoint a new Special Adviser for Youth.

However, the idea for the appointment of a UN Youth envoy was first muted in a groundbreaking document developed by the Youth Unit of UN-HABITAT titled ‘Youth 21: Building an architecture for Youth Engagement in the UN System’. A special representative of the Secretary General on Youth was presented as the second of a set of three scenarios.

It is important to set this background because the tenure of the current UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi has come to an end and there is now a search for a new envoy, this background will help those jostling for the position to have a proper framework to understanding the history of the position and the weight that it carries:

In appointing a new UN Youth envoy, I hope those who are nominating candidates as well as the UN Inter agency Network on Youth Development who will make an initial shortlist consider the following:

1. Young Woman: Antonio Guterres, the Secretary General has narrowed the space when he declared earlier in the year that he would appoint a young woman as the new youth envoy. This is a smart move, considering that there are very few (young) women in leadership positions across the world and while the UN in itself was unable to confirm a woman as the SG for the first time, the current SG has committed to ensuring that women take 50% of leadership positions in the UN. A woman as Youth envoy is a smart move and a good beginning to Guterres’ commitment!

2. Age Matters: Ahmad Alhendawi was 29 years old when he was appointed the youth envoy in January 2013. Ahmad was born in 1984. While the youth age in the UN is 15–24, it is important to appoint a youth envoy that is less than 30 years. Anything above 30 will be limiting. Consider someone 35 going to speak to young people in a country where youth are 15–24, he/she will clearly be seen as an adult and not part of the global youth constituency.

3. Experience Counts: While a new youth envoy can learn on the job, it is important that the envoy hits the ground running. I’ll be interested in a youth envoy who has some multi-cultural experience, has previously worked or being part of an international network and has some UN engagement experience. A youth envoy would have to relate with young people from different backgrounds, beliefs and ideologies, as well as promote the UN ideals. It is a big plus that she comes with some experience under the belt. Yes, I just said ‘she’ again! I will love a youth envoy adept at even pronouncing names from various cultures the right way and has good understanding of today’s heterogeneous yet homogenous world.

4. Let them Debate: We watched as the top candidates for the UN Secretary General position debated last year, we also watched as the candidates for the top job at the African Union debated last year. It is important that the youth constituency have a key role to play in the appointment of a new envoy. Nominating is a good step, allowing the top candidates to debate as well as answer curated questions from the youth constituency allows young people to set the agenda for the new envoy as well as have a feel of what their priorities will be if selected as an envoy. From the abundance of their heart, their mouth will likely speak!

5. It is time to institutionalise youth involvement at the UN: While appointing a youth envoy is a good step in the right direction, it is time to ask for more. The Youth 21 document created 3 scenarios. Most practitioners believe that scenario 3 that includes the setting up of a UN Permanent Forum on Youth, a youth platform assembly and appointing a special representative on youth is the best way to go. While we now have a youth envoy, its time to take the discussion further and begin the process to set up the permanent forum. A Youth Envoy who can commit to this process is my choice.

In clear terms, I am asking that commitments to the office of the new Youth Envoy should go to that under 30 year old lady who has some work experience under her heels and belt and can clearly marshal her thoughts convincingly in addition to a promise to commit to institutionalizing youth involvement at the UN. At the end of the day, I pray that the best person emerges as the UN Youth Envoy. It is a lot of responsibility and an immense opportunity to make a big difference!

Let’s have more conversation on this subject. Share your thought with me through @rotexonline

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I run youthhubafrica.org by day, and my other interests (photography, documentary film-making and trying to understand public policy) in my spare time

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Rotimi Olawale

Rotimi Olawale

I run youthhubafrica.org by day, and my other interests (photography, documentary film-making and trying to understand public policy) in my spare time

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