Today all over the World, in various regions and countries, in cities, towns and villages, in churches, mosques and temples, in social halls and youth clubs, we are all celebrating the International Youth Day whose theme this year is “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”. For me this is an auspicious day, as it is the twenty-fifth anniversary of International Youth Year, first held in 1985, and the final time I address you as Executive Director of UN-HABITAT. I not only see this as an opportunity for governments and others to draw attention to youth issues worldwide, I also feel that this day presents us with the opportunity to assign ourselves three tasks. First, we must ask ourselves what we have achieved in the past 25 years; secondly, we must look to what we hope to achieve in the coming year; and finally, we must salute those among the youth who are playing an important role in the different sectors and globally contributing to the progressive transformation of our communities.
I am personally proud to speak for UN-HABITAT which, since its formation in 1976, has been at the forefront of the United Nations agencies in recognizing partnerships with various stakeholders as imperative in the achievement of its mandate. In 1996, youth were recognized by UN-HABITAT as a key partner in our work by their inclusion in the landmark document, The Habitat Agenda, which came out of the Habitat II conference. Since then, work with youth and various youth groups have been on the increase. In 2002, we established the Partners and Youth Section and substantively increased our engagement of youth. This growth within the agency is a reflection of the significance, commitment and passion that UN-HABITAT places on partnerships, and especially those with youth.
Among the key achievements we have accomplished in our work with youth has been the establishment of the Moonbeam Youth Training Centre in Nairobi, Kenya that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon himself contributed to. We have also established pilot youth resource centres in East African cities and others in countries recovering from conflict. Recently we signed an agreement with Nigeria to establish One Stop Youth Centres throughout the country. Also, UN-HABITAT has established, with the generous support of the Norwegian government, a multi-year, multi-million dollar Urban Youth Fund. This fund supports innovative youth-led initiatives that encourages community development and entrepreneurship in the developing world. The establishment of the UN-HABITAT Youth Advisory Board was yet another mile stone in our work with youth. The Board has been very active in promoting the youth agenda in key events globally, and especially at the World Urban Forum in Nanjing, China and most recently in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Finally, this year saw the publication, for the first time ever, of a supplement to our flagship report, the State of World’s Cities that focused on youth. The report entitled State of Urban Youth 2010/2011 Levelling the Playing Field’s: Inequality of Youth Opportunity, identifies education as the great leveller of opportunities. The report outlines policy recommendations that will allow young people and policy makers from the whole social spectrum to have equal choices when faced with the diverse opportunities available in the economic, cultural and political spheres.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
What then does the future hold this coming year? The theme of this year’s celebrations, “Dialogue and Mutual Understanding” should guide us over the next year. The theme suggests the appreciation of the value of dialogue among youth from different cultures, from the North and the South, and as well as among different generations. We at UN-HABITAT believe dialogue is key to understanding and effective action, and for that reason are working to mainstream youth into all activities of our agency. In the coming months UN-HABITAT will facilitate the elections of a new Youth Advisory Board. Besides promoting the youth agenda, the board will continue to play a crucial role in communicating between youth groups from around the World and UN-HABITAT. I encourage all young people everywhere to get involved in these upcoming online elections.
UN-HABITAT is also pleased to announce today, the launch of an internet based Youth Helpdesk. The purpose of this interactive portal not only serves this year’s theme for the International Youth Day, but also acts as a window for youth to access information ranging from research in the social sciences and youth issues, to relevant workshops, conferences, and events. The portal also serves as a reference point for researchers to access information in their study and development of recommendations, actions and policies on youth. In recognition of youth as vital to their own safety and security, a new programme entitled "Youth for a Safer Africa", has been launched. The enthusiastic participation of East African and South African youth in launching the programme on the margins of FIFA World Cup should become a model for youth to youth cooperation across counties and continents to address the challenges such as unemployment safety and security and environmental degradation.
Finally, I am pleased to announce today that after an overwhelming response to the second call of applications to the Urban Youth Fund, the shortlist of this year’s recipient has been made. My congratulations go to those youth groups for their outstanding applications with winning innovative ideas and wish them every success in their projects and their future. The full list of recipients to this year’s call is available on our website at www.unhabitat.org
My young friends,
The key is in your hands to make your countries great; to make our societies prosperous and to create caring nations. I urge all of you to take advantage of the opportunities for dialogue and interaction to end the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment which continue to imprison many of our fellow citizens, both young and old.
I thank you for your attention.