You are here: Perspectives: Three things that could save the world

Between now and 2030, half the world’s population will be under 30. We asked some representatives of the biggest-ever generation of young people for their top three global priorities and solutions.

HUNGER, CLIMATE CHANGE, YOUTH

First, eradicate hunger. Access to healthy food is not a privilege. It is a right. And still, over 820 million people do not have enough to eat. We cannot hope to save the world if we cannot harness their full potential.

That is what motivated me to create MealCare, a social enterprise that donates surplus food from businesses to community organisations. I’m proud that we have delivered over 25,000 meals, saving homeless shelters more than $85,000. But such efforts need scaling up if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal of “zero hunger”.

Second, take climate change seriously. Decision makers need to stop setting targets for 2050 and instead take action that can be completed before their mandates expire. Young people and activists can encourage that approach. There are a lot of amazing people working in this space but I believe we need more collective action. And everyone has a role to play. From reducing plastic consumption to campaigning for change, we can have a monumental impact when we act together.

Third, involve youth in decision-making. Millions of young people are passionate about saving the world. Many have already taken action. Recently, I took part in the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect Programme, which aims to inspire the next generation of policymakers and global leaders. There were 50 of us from around the world – armed with ideas and know-how. We deserve a seat at the table.

SANCHIT GUPTA Co-founder, MealCare (Canada)

CIVIL SOCIETY, PARTNERSHIPS, STRATEGY

How can we save the world? Let me give you three words: by working together.

We need to protect and empower civil society. Amidst the rise of authoritarianism worldwide, and a lack of political will from nationalist leaders to advance common goals, the role of civil society is even more important. It is we who keep the pressure on officials to act. It is we who keep tabs on them to ensure desired outcomes. It is we who demand accountability and a voice for the marginalised. But civil society is under attack. We need more people to speak out against reprisals on human rights defenders, and more mechanisms to protect them.

We also need solidarity across communities and sectors, as well as more inclusive and diverse partnerships at the local, national and international level. When supportive governments and businesses work together with social movements and grassroots groups we can build an unstoppable coalition for the future we want.

Finally, we need to transform mobilisation into social change. We must move from raising awareness and campaigning to taking concrete action – by creating a pragmatic strategy with clear priorities, focused on the most feasible solutions to the most urgent problems. That is exactly what the Together First coalition - co-founded by UNA-UK - is working on. We want to create a crowdsourced ‘to-do’ list for the international community, backed by a diverse movement of stakeholders. Our plan of action will be ready next year, in time for the UN’s 75th anniversary.

GIOVANNA KUELE -  Researcher, Igarapé Institute and Together First representative (Brazil)

ACCOUNTABILITY, RIGHTS, PARTNERSHIPS

Accountability tops my list. If we are going to change the world – and hopefully save it – we need to have a culture and system in which actions have consequences. This means ensuring that those responsible for the most heinous crimes are brought to justice.

After almost 20 years in existence, the International Criminal Court has only convicted nine individuals. States’ refusal to cooperate with the Court is a huge factor. It is time for the Court to be on par with domestic judicial mechanisms, not secondary to them. This would allow for more consistent prosecution and punishment. Surely the international community – all of us – have a moral responsibility where war crimes and atrocities are concerned?

States need to give greater priority to human rights more generally. We live in a world where economic gain and national interest take precedence over the wellbeing of humanity. This is incredibly short-sighted. We cannot address the biggest challenges we face, from climate change to protracted conflict, from mass displacement to mass disillusionment with the status quo, without putting human rights front and centre. World leaders need to reconsider their priorities and make a genuine, collective commitment to prevent and protect populations from egregious human rights violations.

And one way to encourage this shift in thinking is by ensuring states aren’t the only ones in the room. At present, the UN is far too state-centric. The people who are most affected by the organisation do not have an adequate platform to voice their concerns. The UN needs to reform its structure to be more inclusive of youth, indigenous groups, private businesses and NGOs. These actors must be offered an equal stake in the UN, so that ordinary people can regain trust in the organisation.

DEMETRI WIJESINGHE -  Activist (Sri Lanka)

TECHNOLOGY, EDUCATION, CLIMATE

Young people have plenty of ideas to make the world safer, fairer and more sustainable. But determining which are most likely to save the world should be done collectively. So let me highlight the three areas I think most need collective action.

First, new technologies. The rapid advances in social media, artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, and innovations across virtually all aspects of life are already changing the world. Yet what remains to be seen is how technology will be used, who will benefit, and whether these rapid advances have a net positive or negative effect.

For instance, social media has changed the way we think, interact, and communicate more swiftly than we imagined, but these platforms have become havens for fake news, polarising content, hate speech, and even criminal activity. With many of them still refusing to accept responsibility for the messages being propagated, the onus is on us to demand policies and systems that make technology truly beneficial for present and future generations.

Second, the mismatch between the goals of the current education system and the skills demanded by jobs and careers in this decade and beyond. On top of the continuing problem of lack of access to quality education, millions of young people all over the world must now also grapple with outdated education systems that focus on rote learning, boxed thinking, and individual output rather than creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, and social intelligence.

Finally, climate change. If world leaders, top polluters, and the biggest corporations continue to maintain their “business as usual” track, the immediate effects of rising sea levels, the decreasing supply of clean water, and a loss in biodiversity will endanger the lives of millions of people in the most vulnerable locations. We are seeing the consequences and still not acting 

ARIZZA NOCUM -  Youth leader, participant in the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Extremely Together initiative (Philippines) 

RESPECT, HUMANITY, INNOVATION

“Three things that could save the world” – that’s a hard question. A few days ago my grandma asked me an even trickier one: “If I could grant one of your dreams, one of your hopes for your future what would it be?”

Eventually, I settled on this: a world in which every single person’s life is valued and  respected. This past June, a Salvadoran man and his two-year-old daughter were found dead in the Rio Grande river. Desperate for a better life for his daughter, this father had taken her on a perilous journey.

Looking at their pictures in the news, one word echoed in my mind: dehumanisation. Dehumanisation is what makes people wonder why their country should welcome refugees. This is why we destroy the Amazon, taking the lives of hundreds of indigenous peoples. This is why we aren’t making headway in addressing the challenges we face. We ignore people in peril and even degrade those we are trying to help. Unless we treat them as equals, we will never come up with solutions that change their lives, nor they with solutions that change ours.

At the organisation I founded, Conquer, we focus on inclusive innovation, creating and distributing technological teaching tools aimed at breaking the vicious cycle of poverty propagated through an outdated education system. We hope our tools will bring economic empowerment to underdeveloped regions and educate the children who will find the three things that can save the world.

So I hope that each of us will dare to pick one of the many things that are wrong with the world, and try to solve it. You don’t have to become an activist or invent a cure for disease, but it is our generation’s resilience and courage that will change the world.

MARIA VILLATORO -  Founder, Conquer (El Salvador)

DATA, OVERSIGHT, VALUES

The UN was founded on a promise of peace, development and human rights for all. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, he dreamed of a digital commons underpinned by openness, universality and freedom. Seventy-five years on from the first, and 30 years on from the second, reality seems a far cry from these visions. Action at three levels can revitalise both.

I will focus on tech because tech giants are the “big powers” of our time. Through “surveillance capitalism” – business models that invade privacy by indiscriminately hoovering up user data – have built up unprecedented levels of political and economic power. Meanwhile, authoritarian states use digital technologies to monitor dissidents and impose internet shutdowns. A once-global internet is beginning to fragment, with nations such as China and Russia erecting boundaries to wall off their public from the rest of the net. These trends are compounded by a collective tendency towards technological determinism: too often we forget that we have the power to shape technology just as much as it shapes us.

How do we change the status quo? Globally, we need to strengthen multilateral governance, creating a space for individual states to protect their citizens whilst ensuring they are held accountable for respecting universal rights and preserving the openness of the internet.

Nationally, governments must do more to understand the public’s values in relation to the web – for instance, the trade-offs between freedom of speech and protection from online abuse, for example – and working with tech platforms to ensure they respect these values.

As communities and individuals, we must hold government and tech companies to account, and engage with emerging models for protecting our collective interests online such as digital social movements and “data trusts”, where personal data is owned and democratically controlled by its members. 

JACOB OHRVIK-STOTT - Senior Researcher, Doteveryone (United Kingdom)

Photo: Members of the Conseil de Développement d’Andohatapenaka (CDA), a Madagascan NGO working on food security, prepare for a visit from the UN Secretary-General in 2016. © UN Photo/Mark Garten