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Empowerment of Young Women through the Youth Delegates to the UN Program

July 12, 2010

by Gretchen Kail

The Side Event on the Youth Delegates to the United Nations Programme was presented by Fundacion Global Democracia y Desarrolla (FUNGLODE)/Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD), The United Nations Association of the Dominican Republic, and the Permanent Mission of the Dominica Republic to the United Nation.  The event took place on July 2, 2010 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

The objectives of the event were to discuss the impact and influence that this type of UN participation can have on the youth delegates, on the UN and on the Nations that support these programs.  As H.E. Ambassador Federico Alberto Cuello Camilo, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the UN in New York, stated in his opening statement, the UNYDP has a “tremendous impact” on the delegates, on the states that participate in the program and on the United Nations programs and policies.

The first speaker, introduced by Ms. Kerry Stefanyck, Representative to ECOSOC in New York, FUNGLODE/GFDD, was a Swiss Youth Delegate, Ms. Anik Kohli. She spoke eloquently about the Swiss program and her personal experience working as a Youth Delegate. Ms. Kohli first gave a brief history on the development of the Swiss program, noting that Switzerland only recently joined the United Nations. Originally advocated by the youth Foundation and supported by the Foreign Ministry, the Swiss program has quickly become a popular and well-supported experiential and educational experience for the delegates and also the Swiss youth in general.

The Swiss program, said Ms. Kohli, is an opportunity for three delegates (ages 18 – 25 years) to represent the Swiss youth in national and international discussions, to provide these audiences with the perspectives and viewpoints of a younger generation and to inform and sensitize the delegates’ compatriots on international relations and cooperation. In turn, the program provides the delegates with the opportunity to impact the national outlook and international awareness of their fellow youth citizens. The program, according to Ms. Kohli, is an opportunity for the young ambassadors to gain exposure to the United Nations and is also an opportunity to expose their fellow youth citizens to the programs, policy, and benefits of the United Nations and international cooperation.

Swiss Youth Delegates spend the first of two years working with other UN delegates and diplomats and play an active part in the Swiss UN delegation. They work alongside other delegates and diplomats on the planning and organization of conferences; they participate in panel discussion and make their own presentations; and are a part of the wrap up and review of the events and conferences. During the second year, according to Ms. Kohli, the delegates return to Switzerland and spend the next twelve months mentoring new delegates and work on campaigns to raise awareness of United Nations and international cooperation. This often includes writing for journals and daily newspaper, by talking to the Swiss youth about their own experiences and more recently using social media to talk about their thoughts and experiences.

For Ms. Kohli, on a personal level, her Youth Delegate experience was an opportunity to gain exposure to and to network with United Nations representatives and diplomats, become adept in the procedures and protocols of working in an international, cooperative organization, as well as becoming familiar with and a part of the culture of the UN. Ms. Kohli has gone on to participate in the foundation of a think tank; she gained an internship with an organization based in NYC and is now employed back in Switzerland. For Ms. Kohli, the Youth Delegate experience was an empowering and powerful opportunity.

Ms. Fruzsina Straus, the Communications and Programs Officer at the World Federation of UN Association, discussed the issues and challenges of starting, advocating for and forming National Youth Delegate Programs. Developing youth delegate programs, from the perspective of promoting peace and security, is an opportunity to educate and expose younger generations to multi-lateral cooperation and international policy issues, said Ms. Straus. Only about 26 countries participate in the program and there are no guidelines or protocols on how to lobby governments to support a youth delegate program. In response, WFUNA has begun compiling various tips, guidelines, and assistances and will be launching the Handbook on Establishing National Youth Delegate Programs in September. The Handbook, available on the WFUNA website, will present core information on and a history of the Youth Delegate Programme and will provide ideas on how to establish, finance and advocate governments to sponsor a national program. Finally the Handbook will present diverse sets of case studies that present the benefits of the program and reasons for national governments to support the implementation the program in their own countries.

The discussion moved on from there with questions from the audience on the difficulty and challenges to starting national programs. Two obvious financial challenges were offered as major stumbling blocks. Although the delegates offer their time as volunteers, their travel and housing must be provided for and for the governments there are fees and administrative costs when adding additional delegates to their UN delegation. And while the audience seemed to appreciate  these financial considerations, when Ambassador Cuello spoke of the political issues, this audience member felt that he was getting to the heart of the matter. By providing youth access to and exposure to the workings of the UN, governments are essentially adding support for UN policies and national involvement in multilateral conversations and decision-making bodies. Often governments are resistant or lack interest in supporting the politics of international cooperation, one need only consider the past political attitudes of the United States toward participation in the UN. Additionally, pointed out Ambassador Cuello, not all organizations that work with and benefit from the UN are open to the idea of new constituencies being added, or supported by national governments. Some within these organizations may view the youth delegate programs as sources for position holders and a new wave of job competitors. In promoting the Youth Delegate Program, nations are supporting a new generation of diplomats and policy makers. It took the President of the Dominican Republic, Ambassador Cuello told the audience, to spearhead support for the youth delegates and began the movement in the DR as his own policy as the only real way to get the program started.

As one delegate in the audience described, the relationships that develop between youth delegates of different countries during their time at the UN can’t help but create strong, well founded relationships between future diplomats. Support of the Youth Delegate Program is support for a stronger, well formed and founded diplomatic core with a history of working together and a dedication to those relationships. And thus a dedication to international cooperation. Alternatively, as the delegates return to their home countries their experiences spread infectious attitudes of the benefits of international relationships and enthusiasm for the work of the United Nations. The Youth Delegate Program may be a shining, optimistic hope for a true international community.

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