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2016 International Young Leaders Assembly Convenes at United Nations

Representatives from 120 Nations Commit to Advance UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

NEW YORK—More than 1,500 student leaders, young professionals and invited guests from 120 countries convened at a landmark gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on August 16 to commit to advancing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the broader ideals of the UN’s founding Charter.

The 2016 International Young Leaders Assembly Global Summit at the United Nations, “Moral and Innovative Leadership for Sustainable Development: Vision, Service, Entrepreneurship,” examined the persistent gap between ideals of economic and social progress and the reality of billions of the world’s people—and the action steps to close that gap by 2030 through targeting 17 priority SDGs.

Meeting in the great General Assembly Hall, where the world’s chief diplomats and heads of state address priorities of interstate conflict, refugee resettlement, and other trans-national crises, participants and speakers expressed solemn determination to rise to the challenge of improving human welfare through their work and lives.  

A message by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Ahlendawi, and a Special Address by Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), underscored the growing role of youth in meeting SDGs, which include ending poverty and hunger, supporting equal education and gender equity, and ensuring a healthy and sustainable environment. 

Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and UN Ambassador from Zimbabwe (inset, at the podium), addresses youth leaders from 120 nations at the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations.

 “Last September world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, our global plan for people, the planet and prosperity,” stated the Secretary-General in a written message to the assembly. “As part of the largest generation of young people the world has ever known, you can help realize this transformative vision. I count on your drive, idealism and fresh ideas to forge solutions to global challenges. . . . The United Nations stands with you. Together let us build a world that is more peaceful, prosperous and just for generations to come.”

A message from UN Secretary General 
Ban Ki-moon to the IYLA UN Summit.

In a video message, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Youth noted that his office had proudly supported the International Young Leaders Assembly in previous convenings. “You are demonstrating that young people do not just talk, they act,” Mr. Ahlendawi said. “We know that the 2030 agenda for sustainable development comes down to how we are going to engage young people. The challenge is we have 17 goals to be achieved in 15 years and we have absolutely no time to waste.” Mr. Ahlendawi also asked the participants to engage with his office “to translate the outcomes of the assembly into concrete actions.”

ECOSOC President and Ambassador to the UN from Zimbabwe Makamure Shava cited the historic numbers and percentage of youth globally. He said young people are not only key participants  in advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development but that they are also directly affected by the challenges that the SDGs aim to tackle.

Ambassador Shava placed special emphasis on the problem of youth unemployment around the globe. “Some 40 percent of youth are either unemployed or part of the working poor,” he noted, saying that this was a wasted resource. “Youth are the most innovative, are early adapters, and are more ready to take risks to start new ventures. But innovation in technology is not being met by innovation in education.” He said the launch of Global Initiative for Decent Jobs for Youth at 2016 ECOSOC forum was a statement of commitment by the UN to enhance education and training to support labor market.  

“The United Nations stands with you. Together let us build a world that is more peaceful, prosperous and just for generations to come.”
                                                        --UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Speakers at the high level plenary session brought into focus important perspectives on unexpected challenges and responsibilities young leaders will face in a world undergoing profound and rapid change. A recurring emphasis was leadership guided by ethics.

IBM Vice President Diane Melley credited IBM’s 105-year history of success in the technology industry to two things: an ability to embrace change and a commitment to a core set of values, a recognition of what must change and what must endure.  “The fact that you are here means that you share a passion for others and have ability to transform vision into actions,” she said.

“Never before has a youth generation been so fully equipped with technology and the power to change the world,” added Iyorwuese Hagher, Founder and Executive Director of the African Leadership Institute. He then reflected on the failed promises of the mentors of his youth in the generation of the 60’s who promised, “We were leaders of tomorrow; but that tomorrow never came.

“You are not leaders of tomorrow. You are leaders of today,” Mr. Hagher said. “The world has never lacked leaders, but good leaders who leave a legacy of character and service are in short supply.”

Global Peace Foundation International President James P. Flynn told the assembly that the most critical problem today is an ethical one. “Last year the United Nations launched its 15-year plan to achieve the sustainable development goals,” Mr. Flynn noted. “Clearly, humanity has the capacity globally to achieve those worthy goals. The question is, do we have the moral will? Do we have the motivation? Do we care enough for others?”

He added that “it was most inspiring to address an assembly of young leaders who obviously care about these larger issues and are willing to dedicate yourselves to making a difference.”

The IYLA at the UN emphasized the role of youth in tackling the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Other distinguished speakers at the high level plenary session included Duncan Bureau, Vice President of Air Canada; Hugo Caceres, Executive Director, of the Inter-American Development Bank, jointly addressing the assembly with his daughter, Magali Caceres, International Advisor of the Ministry of Youth of Paraguay; and Scott Ferguson, CEO of the World Trade Center Association, who shared their insights and inspirations on the IYLA theme of young leadership in addressing the UN SDGs.

Leadership, Service, Entrepreneurship

The late afternoon High Level Young Leaders Plenary brought together a panel of 12 young parliamentarians, executives, NGO leaders, entrepreneurs, and UN officials who shared many testimonies of the demands for leadership in answering real-life conflict, poverty and inequality.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,  Six-time Grammy Award Winning
Producers, told the IYLA that music brings people together and
was an instrument for peace.

Among those addressing the Assembly were Heather Hartnett, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Human Ventures; Andres Blank, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Scout; Kaye Revil, Vice Governor, Masbate Province in the Philippines; Sophie Doherty, Youth Ambassador of Cooperation Ireland; Adriana Calderon, representing the Leadership and Development Programme of Kings College London; Azwan Omar, Vice Chairperson of International Relations and Diplomatic Committee of the Malaysian Youth Parliament; Brian Gerrard, Chief Executive Officer of BAE; Inteck Seo, Co-Chair of Action for Korea United; Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis,  Six-time Grammy Award Winning Producers; Muiu Nguli Ngura from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya; Sarah Catherine Beasley of The International Foundation; and Anya Babbitt, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SPLT, Inc.

The speakers presented brief, sometimes personally revealing remarks on facing self-doubts, overcoming failure, building stamina to persevere, prioritizing teamwork to obtain results, and other qualities of character that inform successful leaders.

Inteck Seo, Co-Chair of Action for Korea United, a coalition of 850 NGOs advancing public awareness and support for Korean unification, presented a brief film clip on the tragedy of divided Korea and the forced separation of a people with a 5000-year shared history.

A select group of sixty delegates participating in the ten-day
assembly were appointed as IYLA Global Ambassadors during
the UN Summit.

“It is not only a tragedy for Koreans but a threat to world peace,” he declared. He also used the UN forum to announce that the 1 Korea campaign was going global, appealing to the Assembly and to global civil society to contribute to the movement for Korean unification.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Six-time Grammy Award Winning Producers, also lent their support to the 1 Korea campaign and its signature song, “One Dream, One Korea,” produced and performed by leading K-Pop artists. “Song is mightier than speech,” they said. “Music can reach everyone, and that’s the reason we are standing with 1 K campaign. Music brings us together and who disagrees: we are better together.”

Muiu Nguli Ngura from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Kenya, presented a stirring reminder of the plight of refugees who never give up and just hope to return home in a safe and dignified manner.

“No child is born hating another child,” Muiu Nguli Ngura said. “They are taught to hate. Let’s teach our children to love, to value diversity.”  Quoting U.S. civil right leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he concluded, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

The IYLA Global Summit at the United Nations is part of the 2016 International Young Leaders Assembly (IYLA), a ten-day leadership program in Washington, Philadelphia and New York. Previously in Washington delegates convened for sessions at the U.S. Congress, World Bank, State Department, Wilson Center and embassies. At the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, delegates examined the “self-evident Truths” of the Declaration and their global significance, and principles of self-government that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. A select group of sixty delegates participating in the ten-day assembly were appointed as IYLA Global Ambassadors during the UN Summit.

“No child is born hating another child. They are taught to hate. Let’s teach our children to love, to value diversity.”
          --Muiu Nguli Ngura from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Kenya

The Permanent Mission of Paraguay was the lead UN sponsor of IYLA Global Summit at the United Nations, with Permanent Missions of Colombia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Croatia, Palestine, and Argentina also officially sponsoring the event.

The IYLA Youth Summit at the UN is co-convened by the Global Peace Foundation and Global Young Leaders Academy. Other partners include Air Canada, IBM, Sustainable Dialogue Institute, World Bank Youth to Youth, University of Pennsylvania Policy and Research Council, Pace University, Fordham University, George Washington University, Wilson Center, Ministry of Youth Paraguay, GW International Services Office, National Constitution Center, and My Africa.

International Young Leaders Assembly is a premier partnership-driven leadership development initiative that empowers promising young leaders to positively impact communities, nations and the world. For more information on the International Young Leaders Assembly visit www.iyla.info

Watch the full assembly live streamed on UN Web TV here