Last month, the Shenzhen Youth Federation, in partnership with the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC), the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), hosted 28 young people from around the world for a three-day programme on the margins of the International Youth Innovation Conference, a gathering of 5,000 young innovators. The participants were able to pitch their initiatives and network with entrepreneurs, potential investors, partners and others.
Young people from three of UNDP’s regional youth programmes took part, including Africa’s Youth Connekt, Arab States’ Youth Leadership Programme (YLP), and Asia Pacific’s Youth Co:Lab. Moneera Yassien is a YLP alumna of YLP1 in 2015 from Sudan currently working with UNDP Djibouti. She is a social entrepreneur, a women’s rights activist, and a researcher. Moneera shares her thoughts on being a changemaker and on her experience in Shenzhen.
Why would young people – including myself – travel for hours, suffer from jetlag, and go through the intimidating process of standing on stage, pitching ideas, and being challenged with questions and feedback? Why in the world would we do that? Why do we want to be innovators? Following three wonderful days in Shenzhen the answer seems obvious: we do it for the amazing opportunity to network with fellow young innovators and changemakers, sharing our projects, ideas and passion to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We do it for the entrepreneurship learning, for the chance to hear from inspirational figures like Nobel prize laureates Mohammed Yunus and Leymah Gbowee. And the USD 10,000 prize to make the best pitch at the Shenzhen forum a reality was not a deterrent either.
But the factors that excite young changemakers about the SDGs go much deeper. Looking at my own journey, I managed to come up with four reasons why young people like myself invest their time, effort and energy to innovate and make the world a better place:
1. Young people are curious and have that impulsive need to explore more of the world and come up with new ways of doing things
When I was 18, I found an online call for application for the Youth Leadership Program by the UNDP Regional Hub for the Arab States. It called on young people to participate in a 5-day workshop about sustainable development and leadership and I thought “wow, big words which I can’t wait to learn more about!”. So, my curiosity and my impulsive need to explore more of the world made me take the time to apply, go through an interview and challenge traditions and beliefs about women not travelling alone. It’s the same curiosity that has led me to travel to over 25 countries since then to learn and discover new things.
2. Young people are passionate. Let me show you how!
In 2017, I wrote a Facebook post about Violence Against Women (VAW) in Sudan as part of the “16 Days of Activism” campaign against Gender-Based Violence which takes place annually from 25 November to 10 December – see here for more information on this year’s campaign!
I asked women to voice their experiences with violence using an anonymous chat engine. The next morning, I woke up to over 20 messages from women sharing terrifying experiences with violence; by the end of the 16 days I had over 400 stories and was filled with anger. I told myself “girl, you’d better do something” – and because I am young and passionate, I actually did do something! I started the first youth-led organization in Sudan working on ending violence against women using innovation tools to tackle the challenge bottom-up. Started in December 2017, AMNA is now operating with over 150,000 USD in funding, with plans to scale up our methodology across Africa and the Middle East.
3. Young people can’t just stand and watch, we take actions to make a positive difference!
Just ask yourself how many roles you play in your life. Personally at this moment I work in four different fields and in every field I am playing a different role. I live and work in Djibouti as a consultant for UNDP on Youth and Innovation. I run my own organization working to end VAW. I conduct research and explore solutions for entrepreneurs through my work with IECRC (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Community Research Chapter) in Sudan. I also travel around East Africa as a workshop associate for Nesta and the British Council, to empower young African creative entrepreneurs. And in all these different roles there is one thing in common: Making a difference.
4. Young people want to, and need to be heard
Public speaking is not something that most young people feel comfortable with. But the feeling of responsibility for having our voices (and those of our peers) heard makes us get out of our comfort zone, express our opinions, and start random conversations with people who we may never meet again. At least we know that they have taken a piece of our voices, experiences and stories with them.
I take the opportunity to thank the Shenzhen Youth Federation and the UNOSSC for the support they provided to young changemakers from UNDP’s regional youth programmes!