Believe it or not, the U.N. knows how to use Snapchat.
by Robin Happel
As millennials, it is both our duty and our privilege to help older generations understand social media. And, out of the many exhortations to this end I have received in my life, by far my favorite has been the U.N.’s youth outreach efforts.
Since Fordham is registered as an NGO with the U.N., it’s relatively easy for us as students to schlep ourselves to briefings should we choose to, which you should – and I’m not just saying that because I got a free sticker for promising to recruit more of us. U.N. NGO briefings are genuinely a really cool and unique opportunity, with topics ranging from poverty to AIDS Awareness Month to sustainable fashion. (They also gave me a free pin.)
This particular workshop was geared towards NYC college students and youth reps from U.N.-affiliated charities. We opened with a pop quiz on the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Supplanting the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs set ambitious targets for clean energy, social equality, and ending hunger by 2030. As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs are sweeping in scope, with well over 150 target thresholds, and are arguably the most ambitious plan for global progress in human history.
Similar to the old climate activist mantra “to change everything, we need everyone,” Secretary-General Guterres stresses that youth involvement is critical to achieving the SDGs. (The same day as the briefing I went to, he gave a speech on the role of young people in countering terrorism.) The Secretariat sees our generation “not as leaders of tomorrow, but as leaders of today.”
Ben Dotsei Malor, Chief of UN Radio in New York, adores this aphorism. Like many within the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI), Malor believes that the U.N. should do more to actively reach out to millennials and Gen Z, rather than simply hoping we stumble upon U.N. news channels. This means more youth-led chat series, more public forums, and – of course – more social media campaigns.
Although many people follow U.N. politics, especially the recent clamor in the Security Council over Syria, relatively few Americans, especially our age, get this news from the U.N. directly. This is a source of some frustration within DPI, especially in an era when propaganda predominates. Recently, however, the U.N. News Reader app and SDGs in Action app have been becoming more popular, making DPI hopeful that an increased mobile presence may help raise awareness of both the SDGs and ongoing U.N. policy. DPI’s pivot to video – many with star-studded casts, perhaps most fabulously Beyoncé for World Humanitarian Day in 2012 and again recently for International Day of the Girl – has also sparked increased interest in the SDGs.
Throughout several panel discussions, DPI reps stressed the importance of finding unbiased sources of information. (As noted previously, the paper has no conflict of interest here, besides our desire for possibly more free stickers in the future.) In the words of Jeff Brez, Chief of NGO Relations, each of us should strive to be “opinion makers, not opinion takers.” In our era of fake news, the U.N. News offices are a bastion of unbiased, up-to-date reporting. Felipe Queipo, an outreach officer with DPI, perhaps put it best in saying that the U.N. “has no bias – our bias is for humanity.” Hawa Diallo, another DPI officer who formerly served as a peacekeeper and currently helps manage special events, similarly stressed the importance of our generation as “information multipliers” countering the spread of false stories and propaganda.
In addition to DPI officers, almost every panel discussion also included youth reps themselves, representing organizations as wide-ranging as the Women’s National Book Association to Baha’i International Community. While seemingly slightly more than most briefings, it’s worth noting that every DPI NGO briefing I’ve attended has had at least one youth rep as either a moderator or panelist. Putting young people in such leadership roles shows the U.N.’s genuine commitment to inclusion, beyond simply symbolism.
In short, although many of us have been subjected to varying levels of “how do you do, fellow kids?” by either prospective employers or professors struggling to seem like they understand Snapchat, the U.N. genuinely does take young voices seriously. Both its Youth Reps program within DPI and its broader Youth Delegate program, as well as its Major Group for Children and Youth, make it much easier for our generation to get involved in global politics than arguably any time in the past. Especially under the current Secretariat, our voices carry more sway than ever before.
As millennials, we have been blamed for killing so many industries – everything from diamonds to disposable cutlery. If we’re powerful enough to take out fabric softener, is it really so much to ask that we at least make an attempt to take on global poverty?