UN Reps and Global Issues

UN Youth Rep Blogs

FAWCO's new Youth Rep at the UN is Vali Mitsakis from AWO Greece. Vali is spending a year studying in the New York area, and as a former Model UN participant, is excited to be a FAWCO UN Youth Rep. She will post blogs about her experiences. 

Valia Mitsaki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAWCO's first UN Youth Rep was Gavin Higbie. Gavin is the son of Erica Higbie (FAUSA, AWC Perth), FAWCO's UN Rep in New York and former Chair of the Human Rights Task Force

Gavin attended UN meetings live in New York and via Webcast throughout 2014 and reported via a blog. From August 6 - 8, 2014  Gavin attended the Summer 2014 Youth Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City. Read his daily blogs. Gavin also attended the Winter 2014 Youth Assembly on February 5 and 6, and posted blogs about his experience which you can read below.

Read about his experience in Chile, where he visited the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.

Gavin Higbie 2

Gavin Higbie, FAWCO Youth Rep 

 

Day three of the International Youth Assembly has unfortunately come and gone. However, it was, of course, an incredible day. Just like the two that came before it. Our day began with a presentation by the young and extremely talented Jake Schwarz, CEO and founder of General Assembly. He explained his background and the rather precarious and uncertain path he took to get to where he is today and how his organization is changing the face of education. General Assembly is a higher education company that focus on technological innovation and is shaped by the changing nature of the employment market. They look at what companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon want in their employees and shape their programs accordingly. This makes it vastly different to a traditional university education and it seems to be very successful. In fact, according to Schwarz more that 90% of their students find employment in their field of interest within 30 days of completing their program. I found this particularly interesting as it showed to me that there is more than one path to success, you don’t have to flow the traditional path of university like everybody says. You can shape your own world

Microsoft’s Youth Spark panel gave another inspirational presentation during the morning session. They presented Alicia Guevara from Year Up, a program that focuses on giving career training and opportunities for young adults who live in poverty, and Charlotte Stone a representative from Girls Who Code, an organization that educates women in the field of computer programming. Now, both were incredibly interesting but I think it would be best to focus on Girls Who code for the sake of relevance to FAWCO and space. Girls Who Code is trying to close the gender gap in education by targeting a very specific problem. As time has progressed and technology has developed, the percentage of women who study computer science at university has actually decreased. There are a number of reasons for this however, the central factor to this problem is a society that reinforces information technology as a male profession. As a result University programs geared towards computer science are usually male dominated, often making the few women in these classes feel isolated. This is where Girls Who Code comes in. They focus on young women (over two thousand in, fact) and teach them that computer science is nowhere near as hard as it seems. This creates an environment where these girls become motivated to pursue careers with technology, hopefully helping to close the gender gap in this area.

After a lunch break (that included me being interviewed! Crazy, I know) we returned for our usual afternoon workshop. Today’s workshop focused on increasing youth education worldwide. Today, there are over 50 million children who have no access to education. What’s more, of the children that do attend school, 130 million of them are still unable to read or right after four years. Unfortunately as well 20 percent of girls in the world are denied their right to education because of abuse, forced marriage, working conditions, and social restrictions. With this in mind, the task that they gave us today was much like that of the first day workshop; find a particular are of education that you believe can be improved. Our group decided on young women in school who become pregnant. Due to the social stigma and lack of support for these women they often drop out of school and end up raising a child based on employment with little education. We therefore came up with a program of mentoring that involved mothers and other students as mentors, support groups, and a slightly altered education program that begins from around the time of birth and includes the proceeding months. This once again gave me an opportunity to meet and converse with amazing, kind, and intelligent people who were more than happy to speak with me and share their ideas. It was truly a privilege for me.

And unfortunately that is all from me. The assembly is over. No longer do I get to walk to the United Nations with a completely delusional sense of importance. It has been a truly unbelievable experience that I am beyond grateful for. I would especially like to thank FAWCO, Sara Von Moos, and My-Linh Kunst, who have had faith in me to be the Youth Representative to the United Nations over the last six months. I hope that I have done the organization proud. This has been a very eye-opening experience that has shown me that the world and the women in it have a lot of struggles, but also that there are amazing people, young and older, that want equality and are willing to go the extra distance to achieve it. So thank you so much for this opportunity, and I hope you enjoyed these posts!

After eight hours at the United Nations day two of the International Youth Assembly has come to an end, and apparently the inspiration will continue to be unrelenting. From the opening minutes to the end of the day, the program presented us the delegates with engaging speakers who were not only experts in their fields but also demonstrated a clear link between youth and leadership.

The main topic of the morning was a contemporary one, the crisis in the Middle East, specifically between Israel and Gaza. We first heard from Shani Perez, Director of Kids Creating Peace. Perez highlighted the difference a wall has made on the relationships between the two regions. Where as in the past communication could flow somewhat freely between the two areas, the wall that currently exists has all but ended this dialogue. As a result, each nation shapes their image of the other based on their own often biased media. Perez sees the youth as a solution to this problem. She pointed out that due to our increased access to information, young people can at times be more open minded and flexible. Therefore, it is imperative that youth are involved in this peace process in order to promote understanding and common ground.

Another incredible speaker from the morning, Sam Sussman also promoted understanding between these two conflicting regions. As Co-Director of EXTEND, Sussman offers five day educational tours for American Jews to Palestine. He hopes to create with this program a new dialogue that fosters understanding and helps break down the prejudices that have built up on both sides of the conflict. Sussman also made the important request to not only listen to the news media when we are gathering our information on conflicts such as that between Israel and Gaza. Though the violence is prevalent (and more than prevalent on the news) there are also numerous organizations from both sides that are trying to find peace that lack coverage. As our ‘shepherd’ Patrick Sciarratta stated, “Unfortunately when it comes to the news, often what bleeds is what leads.”

After lunch we reconvened once again for various workshops. Today I selected one on networking. I’m about to be a senior in college and have become scarily aware of how important networking will be in the next two to three years of my life. However, due to time delays, this somewhat fell through. Mr. Sciarratta who was headed the workshop was late (as he is and incredibly busy person) and therefore he only had time to explain the inner workings of the Friendship Ambassador Foundation (FAF). The FAF actually organized the entire Youth Assembly yet, many (probably most) of us had only the slightest idea of what they did. In actuality, it is quite fascinating. Under the leadership of Sciarratta, the organization tries to promote the cultural diversity of local communities in countries all over the world. They achieve this my organizing programs such as choral tours and building projects in emerging tourist areas in order to guarantee tourism and promote culturally richness. This seems like it would be an incredibly rewarding experience and I encourage anyone who is interested to visit their website http://www.faf.org/main/. They offer some amazing trips such as a community project in Ecuador where volunteers help develop and maintain a local Amazonian town’s tourism infrastructure.

We ended the day with a panel discussion on social entrepreneurship. Though many of the themes overlapped in this discussion there was one, mentoring, that rang especially true to me. Steve Larosilliere, Founder and President of Stoked Mentoring Inc. presented the idea. His organization focuses on hiring and training mentors that can then be inserted into society in order to make meaningful change to the youth in a community. I think this is an absolutely brilliant idea. Finding a mentor not only gives you somebody to rely on during times of stress but also instills you with characteristics that you admire and helps you reach your full potential. I believe this as during my senior year of high school I had an academic mentor who helped me buckle down, study hard, and realize my potential.

However, perhaps just as impressive as our speakers today were those in the audience. After each presentation, speakers were inundated with questions, which were of course very intelligent. They often focused on an area that was perhaps not explored by the presenter in the timeframe given. All questions demonstrated a deep understanding of the topic and a desire to understand how it could be implemented in their own society. Like I said in February, if the delegates at this Assembly represent our future, then the future is very bright indeed.

That’s all for day two! I’ll be back soon to report on the third and final day. It’s shaping up to be fairly incredible.    

Our afternoon session was a lot more hands on. After lunch, there were a variety of workshops that could be chosen by the delegates. One particular workshop caught my attention. It focused on the Post-2015 Development Goals. For those of you who don’t know, the Post-2015 Development Goals are an initiative currently being negotiated by the United Nations that target many of the world’s major problems, including environmental degradation, gender equality, poverty, and healthcare access. More importantly, they are trying to achieve these goals through sustainable means. This agenda is an expansion on policies that the UN already has in place called the Millennium Development Goals, which have been successful in some areas, and have fallen short in others. In this workshop we were addressed by panel of young people, many of whom I remember from the last Assembly, who explained the Post-2015 agenda and conveyed the steps that the world’s youth could take in helping achieve some Post 2015 objectives.

We were then split into eight groups, with each group being asked to come up with a solution on a local scale to one of the goals. My group had goal number four, reducing child mortality. On the surface this seemed to be a fairly straightforward issue to me. However, the further our group discussed the topic, the more complex it became. For starters, ‘childhood’ is a fairly large span of time (frankly there are many times that I still consider myself to be a child). I’m not exactly sure, but I believe that the UN considers child mortality as those who die before the age of five, but I could be absolutely wrong so do not hold me to that. Therefore, there are probably a number of factors that cause early mortality, making one a broad policy on a local scale impossible. Therefore, we reframed our approach and thought about the main themes that could be used to reduce this problem. One recurring comment was the idea that education was key in reducing mortality among children. One of the girls in our group, Malika, spoke of how in her region of West Africa, child mortality can sometimes occur due to a lack of knowledge held by midwives on topics such as sanitization. We decided to extrapolate on this. Our plan, through an organization such as doctors without borders, was to send professionals to this region and work with the community in order to gain their trust and disseminate modern information to midwives, so that they could deliver children in the safest way possible in their environment. I gained a lot from of this activity. I was in a group of about 20 people who represented all corners of the world and, just like the last Assembly, were beyond enthusiastic to be here.

After our workshops we regrouped to hear from our final panel on the topic of social entrepreneurship. The panel consisted of a number of social entrepreneurs such as Erin Bernhardt, a social impact documentary maker from Atlanta who has volunteered for the Peace Corps and worked for CNN, and Joshua Collins whose latest company focuses on finding young entrepreneurs whose ideas have significant social impact and catapulting them into the lime light.

However, the standout panelist for me was Maria Myers. What this young woman has achieved is incredible. With her sister she started the non-profit Pretty Purposeful, which raises money for surgeries for women in Sierra Leone that have suffered from fistula, and injury caused by a combination of childbirth and malnutrition (here is the Wikipedia page for more information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fistula). So far her organization has held a number of fundraisers, day camps, and has also designed a website that sells products in order to raise money for these surgeries. Oh yah, and she’s 15. 15! She started her Pretty Purposeful when she was 13! I think back to what I was doing when I was 13, and it certainly was not anything close to that. I probably didn’t even know what a non-profit was, and I certainly had no clue about fistulas.  Oh, and on top of that, she was genius, literally. She was the most eloquently and infallibly spoken person you’ll ever hear speak. Forget the fact that she’s 15.

So that was the first day. I had an incredible and inspiring time. This initial session has given me insight into what is to come and I honestly could not be more excited for it. I’ll be back tomorrow with an update on day two.

Okay everyone, I'm back! After a semester abroad in Chile I am finally back in New York City to represent FAWCO at the International Youth Assembly. Exciting times for me, I wish you could all be here. As you may know I attended the Youth Assembly in February as well (sorry for hogging it from everyone else). It was an incredible experience however, I have to say that the lack of a 'polar vortex' this time around makes this assembly somewhat more enjoyable.

The morning started with an optimistic energy. Similar to February, we were greeted and briefed by Patrick Sciarratta, Executive Director of the Friendship Ambassador Foundation. It is probably best to think of him as our shepherd through these three days. From there we listened to two warm and welcoming songs by Sophia Angelica and finally got down to business.

Physical activity seemed to dominate a significant portion of this morning’s discussion. We heard from Gabriela Szabo, the Romanian Minister of Youth and Sport and Dr. Melissa Michaels, founder of Golden Bridge (I need to clarify, but I’m fairly certain that Golden Bridge is a yoga company, she didn’t exactly specify). Both women spoke of the importance of physical activity and movement in the mobilization and insertion of youth in today’s society. Szabo, who beyond being Minister of Sport and Youth is also a gold medalist from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, spoke of how sports can be used to break down the barriers between classes and create a dialogue among youth that not only addresses social issues but can also be used for conflict resolution. Michaels focused on how movement simply as an action can be used by youth to unlock our inner potential and also resolve trauma. Movement, she stated, can be used to address the emotional backlog created by today’s society. Therefore, movement not only mobilizes us to realize goals we wish to achieve, but also allows us to come to terms with previous pains or traumas. She also asked us to take part in what I thought would be an unbearably embarrassing activity. She had us all to stand up and take part in a game of follow the leader.  She made a collection of crazy movements and sounds and expected us to copy her. It actually wasn’t embarrassing at all! Everybody took part and really got into it, which made it a lot easier for me.

However, what was most important to me and probably to many in this organization was the other morning topic, ‘Youth Driving Change on Gender Inequality’. For this topic, the assembly was addressed by Ravi Karkara, Global Advisor for the World Conference on Youth 2014, and Gerardo Porteny Backal, consultant for the He for She Campaign. Both spoke on the importance of male mobilization in the feminist movement. They stated, quite rightly, that the pursuit of gender equality cannot be exclusively a female movement. Men MUST enter into this dialogue if we wish to see true gender equality. As it stands now, we live in a society where male domination is reinforced through factors such as the media and workplace. This environment won’t change unless men enter this debate and reshape their perspective of society. Therefore, men must bring themselves to the table of the feminist conversation in order to learn and therefore change. I personally don’t believe there is any other way to achieve equality.

Anyone who wants to get involved in this dialogue should visit the His for Her Campaign website http://heforshe.org and for any university students reading this, you should seriously look at starting a He for She chapter at your school, I know I will be. 

Anyways, that was just the morning. There will be a lot more to come, so stay posted and email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have any questions! I’ll be updating you as regularly as I can. 



 

 

Alright, day two. You will be happy to know that weather was certainly nicer. Yesterday's snow, sleet, and over all demonic weather front was replaced by sunshine and a balmy 29 degrees (Fahrenheit that is).

As for the Youth Assembly, it picked up where yesterday left off. It started with a beautiful introductory song by a Japanese singer whose name unfortunately remains unknown, even after scouring my notes. After this introduction, the morning session titled "The Role and Responsibility of the Private Sector" began. We heard from a number of professionals from both the private sector and the UN. A reoccurring theme of these speakers was the crucial role technology is going to play in the future of entrepreneurship. No longer does a young person with a great idea have to wait for a large company to invest in them. There are now websites where anyone who has a novel creation or business plan can find individual investors from around the world to make their dream a reality.

For me, the most impressive speaker from this session was Francesca Covey, Strategic Partner & Manager at Politics, Facebook. Covey discussed the importance of technology entrenching itself in developing nations. In fact, a 10% increase in mobile phone penetration in developing countries increases its national GDP by 1%. That may not seem like much as a statistic. Yet, the fact that such a noticeable increase is caused by something as small as cellphone is simply mind boggling to me. What's more, part of her initiative with Facebook is to ensure that those in developing countries have access to some form of online communication. They are doing this in two ways. Firstly, they are making Facebook accessible to not just smart phones, but to all cellphones. This mightn't seem like a big deal to many of you, but rest assured, coming from somebody that doesn't have a smart phone and is an avid Facebook user, this is somewhat of a godsend. Their second approach is to make data as a whole more affordable. Through their new website http://internet.org/, Covey and the Facebook team is working with companies such as Ericsson and Samsung to find ways to streamline and expand the reach of data, making it accessible to everyone. 

Another Notable speaker was Gary Fowlie, Chief Media Liaison for UN ITU. Fowlie held a workshop in the afternoon titled "Strengthening Entrepreneurial Skills through ICT". ICT simply stands for information communication technology. Though his discussion on the entrepreneurial relationship with ICT was fascinating, I was particularly interested with his talk as he raised the issue of disproportionate gender representation in subjects like engineering (much like Debbie Sterling, who is mentioned in my last post). Similar to Sterling yesterday, he pointed out that areas such as computer science and engineering were heavily male dominated. However, what I found particularly impressive was the amount of times he called on the audience for feedback. "Why do you think that is?" he would ask, "How can this be changed?"

Like always at this assembly, the responses from the representatives were bang on and insightful. But more importantly, I finally spoke!! I explained, in a slightly terrified voice, that traditional gender roles probably play a big part in gender preferences for certain careers. From a very early age, girls in many cases seem to be surrounded with princesses and tea sets, where boys are more often exposed to building blocks and other toys with engineering undertones. Therefore, if we want to have more equitable representation in these subject areas, we should have toys that promote engineering and science for girls, just like we do boys. Not too bad for a first try I hope. 

That brought me to the end of the second and final day of the assembly. It was a truly incredible experience that showed me that despite all the problems facing our generation in the future, there are many who are willing to confront these problems and come to solutions through international participation and discussion. But perhaps what I enjoyed most about this event, even more than the speakers, was the people I had the privilege of meeting and the networking as a result. They came from all over the world and were, above anything, unfathomably friendly. Many photos were taken, business cards exchanged, and many Facebook friend requests accepted. These are people that I honestly feel I will keep in touch with in the future and are the most valuable things I have taken from this whole experience.

And that is all. I am truly grateful that I was able to represent FAWCO at the event and I would call on all the young people associated with the group to take opportunities like this when they are presented to you. The future is going to be what we make it, and events such as this are helping to ensure that it will be as bright as possible. 

Cheers,

Gavin 

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Well, after the crisis that was New York weather this morning, I finally made it to the UN for my first day at the UN Youth Assembly. As Project Director Patrick Sciarratta joked, “The weather waited for the Super Bowl, but unfortunately it has no time for the UN.” Before I go any further, I would like to thank everyone involved in FAWCO who have given me this opportunity. It is truly amazing. Whenever I walk through the gates of the United Nations I still feel as if I shouldn’t be allowed in. Surely a university student of 21 is a tad out of place. 

Founded about 12 years ago, the Youth Assembly at the United Nations is designed to create a dialogue between youth groups from around the world, UN staff and members, the private sector, and civil society. At the last Youth Assembly, 1100 youth leaders attended. This is clearly a pretty big deal and one that I think is important if we are shooting for a future that doesn’t include many of today’s ailments.

Back to the day. It was fantastic. I could really end it there. It was an entire room of people, roughly my age, not just representing an NGO like I am, but also their nations and themselves. The day was broken into a morning and an afternoon session. The first session was fairly introductory. We were welcomed with warmth and enthusiasm by those running the event. They explained to us why it was important that we were here and set the tone for today and tomorrow. To summarize, we are here because it is crucial for the voice of young people to be heard. We will one day inherit this world, whether we are ready for it or not, and it is therefore important that we are part of the decision making and hopefully progress that is still to come.

The afternoon session was a series of presentations and panel discussions. These presenters and panelists, who were also unsurprisingly young, introduced themselves and explained the paths they took to get here, like Zeenat Rahman, Secretary John Kerry’s special Adviser for Global Youth issues (like I said, this is a big deal). Rahman stressed how important youth issues are becoming to governance. Two years ago, her post didn’t even exist. Now, both Kerry and the President do their best to consult with youth leaders wherever they travel.

However, the presenter that was the highlight of my experience today was Debbie Sterling.  Sterling is the founder and CEO of Goldie Blox, a company that started with a passionate dream. Sterling’s story began when she was an engineering student at Stanford. She noticed that she was one of the only women in her class and was therefore often ignored and ostracized. She and her friend discussed why this would be and soon came to the conclusion that, from a very young age, girls are strictly exposed to toys that reinforce gender roles like tea sets, princesses, and even ironing boards. So, Sterling decided to create a company called Goldie Blox that produced toys designed to interest girls in engineering. Though starting small, Goldie Blox is now sold in every Toys R’ Us in the United States, they are the number one children’s toy for girls on Amazon, and they even had a Super Bowl ad this year. It is ideas like these that are going to help address the issues of inequality for the years to come.

As is the norm in these sorts of panels at the UN, presentations and panels were followed by questions and comments. Those in the audience who raised their hands asked really thought provoking question, making it all the more intimidating when I had a question of my own…..one which remains unasked. What particularly impressed me was that gender equality was one of the first issues raised by the delegates during this period. One of the representatives, a guy no less, pointed out that gender equality, representation, and the eradication of sex-based discrimination must be central to the youth agenda.


Anyways, this was only the first day. I’ll be checking back in periodically to update everyone on what is happening on my end. Tomorrow we’ll be discussing the role of the private sector and the social ventures of tomorrow’s leaders.  You can also watch the event live at http://webtv.un.org.


Cheers,

Gavin    

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