If you read my blog regularly, you know that I’m a strong advocate of engaging directly and sincerely with young people, and encouraging future leaders to voice their opinions and get involved in societal discourse early. So I listened with great interest to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks about the State Department’s youth engagement policy delivered yesterday in Tunisia, where young activists first launched the Arab Spring.
The speech confirmed the Department’s deep commitment to engaging future leaders and highlighted the various concrete steps we are taking to advance the economic and civic empowerment of young people around the world through the Department’s new Office of Global Youth Issues.
I urge you to view the video of the speech below or, if you prefer, to read the transcript of the event here. I particularly commend to you the robust, wide-ranging town hall that the Secretary held with Tunisian youth after her prepared remarks, including questions about entrepreneurship, Syria, democracy in Tunisia, empowerment of women, LGBT equal rights, and Muslims in America.
I was delighted to hear the Secretary emphasize the establishment of Youth Councils in US Embassies around the world to better inform American diplomats about local conditions, concerns, and policy matters. We pioneered that approach here in New Zealand with the formation of American Ambassador Adviser Councils at Kiwi universities two years ago. My regular interactions with those advisers have greatly influenced the way in which I view New Zealand and execute my duties.
Engaging and including students in that manner is obvious, natural, and right. In my view, it’s also smart. There simply is no more effective and powerful investment in the future than time spent talking with – not at — youth and equipping them to face the challenges ahead. In fact, with 3 billion people now under the age of 30, 90% of whom live in developing countries, we ignore or marginalize youth at our peril.
To paraphrase the Secretary, young people are at the heart of today’s great strategic opportunities and challenges, from rebuilding the global economy to combating violent extremism, to building sustainable democracies, to addressing seemingly intractable climate change and food security issues. It’s high time to put youth empowerment at the center of the international agenda.