Yesterday was International Youth Day. Established by resolution of the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, International Youth Day is intended to focus attention on improving the status of young folk, including with respect to health, education, substance abuse, conflict resolution, and employment. This year’s theme was Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth, framed as a global call to action to develop and engage in partnerships with and for youth.

International Youth Day logo.

This year’s theme is music to my ears. We have restructured Embassies Wellington and Apia to devote a quarter of our program time and funds to projects involving youth and education because, in my view, the best chance for addressing today’s biggest challenges is through properly preparing, mentoring, and empowering tomorrow’s leaders.

In her official International Youth Day statement, Secretary Clinton similarly emphasized the importance of empowering young people to effect change in their communities. She has spoken frequently and passionately about that topic.

As I mentioned before, the State Department has an Office of Global Youth Engagement and a Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues, Zeenat Rahman. Zeenat recently assumed that role from my good friend Ronan Farrow, who in turn had relieved my good friend Andrew Cedar. I’ve spent more time with the Special Youth Advisers than with most other DC-based colleagues, and I am a great admirer of the work they do.

From right to left: Emily Swan, Keoni Kealoha Maheloha, Mahinia-a-rangi Baker, Areti Metuamate, Kieran Brown, Edon Hoppener, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Hori Henare-Tamihana, U.S. Ambassador Huebner, Samuel Williamson, Horiana Irwin, Nick Chapman, Kate Stone, Andrew Goddard.

Secretary Clinton and I meet with several of my Wellington student advisers.

Social media is at the core of much of our youth outreach, and Zeenat has already jumped into a series of Google+ Hangouts with students around the world. These hangouts bring together diverse voices for intimate discussions about issues facing youth today, with an emphasis on what young people are doing and can do to address those issues.

One of my student advisers from Canterbury University, Dhamendra Unka, joined a recent hangout with Zeenat despite the 2 a.m. (New Zealand) start time. He shares below notes about the conversation in which he participated.

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Dhamendra Unka.

Dhamendra Unka.

Notes From a Hangout, by Dhamendra Unka

Recently, I engaged in a Google+ Hangout with Zeenat Rahman with 7 fellow youth council delegates from varying nations.  The discussion focused on key issues facing youth in each of the nations represented, and how the respective youth councils were engaging with these particular issues.

The broad theme of the discussion was to learn how the youth councils have engaged with their communities and governments to raise awareness and positive action in relation to various issues.

As I listened to some of the insights from students from Latvia, Uganda, Nepal, and other developing countries, the question arose in my mind: Are the issues facing youth in New Zealand as pertinent as those facing youth in Uganda? The answer to me was yes, these issues are as pertinent, but the way we respond to and engage with these issues may be inherently different.

The delegate from Uganda talked about community work he was undertaking in area of human development. He saw youth involvement as paramount to the development of Uganda. 51% of the population of Uganda are under the age of 18, therefore problems that face youth literally face the majority of the society.

US Embassy Youth Advisory Council.

The American Ambassador to Kathmandu with his Youth Advisory Council.

The student from Nepal raised interesting issues relating to de-monarchism and new social and political issues which have arisen in the process of building a new democratic Nepal. Youth in this context need to be interested in the development of the new systems to ensure the country’s future success.

In Mexico, there were questions around getting youth more engaged in political discourse, to potentially avoid messy elections and governing party term monopolies in the country. The youth council meets on a weekly basis, has an inter-university network, and uses Facebook to discuss and debate government policy, bills, and legislation. This makes youth directly part of the democratic process, it also heightens awareness about the society – this awareness has the potential to grow and spread, bringing much needed scrutiny and development.

Secretary Clinton Meets With Youth in Action Exchange Participants in Mexico. State Department photo by Michael Gross.

Secretary Clinton meets with youth advisers in Mexico.

She also touched on the problems with drug cartels, which not only take a terrible toll on the whole of the Mexican society, but also damage the lives of youth, and makes it difficult to support youth development and interaction when there is a lingering fear within the society.

The delegate from Latvia talked about the groups she was involved in which have educational and political aims to foster youth development and awareness. They also focus on getting youth involved in government and politics to make Latvia a more representative democracy and ensure a strong future base of voters.

Colin Graffy, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs meets with young leaders in Riga, Latvia.

Colin Graffy from the State Department meets with young leaders in Riga, Latvia.

The delegates from these countries presented similar themes of issues facing youth in their countries; civic and political engagement, development, and supporting democracy, problems we do not see in New Zealand on the same scale.

When it came to me, I talked about the fact that New Zealand youth do not face the same issues, and the problems our youth face are well serviced by countless community and government organisations. This is not to say we are without problems, but by learning a bit more about the sorts of issues others are facing I immediately started thinking more about what the youth of NZ might be able to do to offer support to youth communities abroad.

Members of the Student Advisor Group in Wellington meet with DAS Frankie Reed to discuss the future of US/Pacific relations.

Frankie Reed, current American Ambassador to Suva, discusses careers in diplomacy with some of Ambassador Huebner’s Kiwi student advisers.

I also started wondering if perhaps young people in NZ may take some things for granted since we often aren’t concerned with our ability to be involved in communities and have a say in our government. We assume these opportunities won’t be threatened. Perhaps this is an overly simplistic point of reflection, but it was a start to putting into action some of the ideas and theories for dealing with a more globalized world than I’ve learned about in classes. It was a bit of an eye-opener and got me excited to discover what the positive outcomes of these sorts of relationships can bring.

From this unique dialogue what I wish to achieve is support. I want to see New Zealand youth engaging positively with our international colleagues to increase development, aid in information sharing, and understand different cultures. With our support at the early stage, I believe development will naturally arise.

One of the views I took while awaiting the start of the hangout at 2am NZ time.

One of the pix I [Dhamendra] took while awaiting the start of the 2 a.m. hangout.

I will end on the same note that closed the hangout. What can youth do in New Zealand to help? How can we become more active and responsible citizens? How best can we achieve this?

I, for one, plan to keep asking these questions of future and current New Zealand leaders, as well as Zeenat Rahman and the young leaders I met through the hangout. I hope to find ways to work collectively on solutions.

- DU


It certainly sounds as though the hangout stimulated Dhamendra’s thinking about global engagement, and I look forward to continuing that conversation. Our biggest challenges are shared problems not defined or confined by national borders. Thus, solutions will require collective discussion and action. And as Dhamendra suggests, that isn’t the same thing as merely projecting parochialism successfully across borders.

Thanks to Dhamendra for sharing his experience at the hangout. And hearty welcome to Zeenat as she settles into her new role. I’ll keep you informed as the hangouts proceed.

Finally, FYI, I’ve been working to persuade Zeenat to come visit my student groups here in New Zealand and Samoa. I’ll let you know when/if we get dates on the calendar in ink. In the meantime, you can help my campaign by tweeting to her — @Zeenat — that she really needs to book that ticket.