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We are the Leaders of Today

“You are 1.8 billion strong, the largest generation of young people in history.  I do not see young people as just victims — you have a potentially massive contribution as peacebuilders.  It is easy to say:  “Youth are the leaders of tomorrow,” because, of course, when you are adults, you will be in charge.  But, I say instead:  “Youth are the leaders of today.”  That is why I am strongly calling on all Governments to empower young people to contribute to peace.”

– Ahmad Alhendawi

We, young people, are highly engaged in transforming conflict, countering violence and building peace. Professor Ozerdem said, “Leadership should not be considered as a factor of age and providing appropriate governance contexts would likely enable young people to flourish as leaders today.” In other words, we need to be treated as leaders TODAY.

Youth’s role in peacebuilding has never been so important before. We never thought we could actually contribute to peace, but here we are, everyday working towards a better world.

According to UNDP, young people all over Colombia’s different regions have created their own processes, projects, and initiatives aimed at building peace and promoting their rights and participation in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. These include the youth platform for peace in Meta, the network for young peacebuilders in Antioquia and the School for Youth Leadership in Nariño (all of which have been supported by UNDP’s Local Partnerships for Peace and Development).

Over the last ten years, UNDP Colombia has been supporting local level peacebuilding in the most conflict-affected areas of the country, counting youth as a crucial partner and actor in these efforts. In the midst of the ongoing peace negotiations, UNDP supported efforts for over 10,000 university students from across the country to participate in direct conversations with the office of the Colombian government in charge of the peace talks.

Now we take a long trip to Turkey at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, an annual event called Global Peace Workshop is held there every year. Around 70-80 young participants from across the world get together in this one-week training, networking and solidarity event, and it is incredible to see the transformation of those young people in a such a short span of time as peacebuilders and start undertaking a wide range of peacebuilding projects in their own communities, schools and workplaces.

In Norway there’s an NGO that works on preventing radicalisation and extremism. Yousef Assidiq, 28, the co-founder of JustUnity, said: “We want youth to be seen as part of the solution, not the problem in today’s world … often, these declarations become just another piece of paper, but we didn’t come here for that. I’m here today to make history.”

Assidiq said that in 2015 his organisation had worked with more than 30 young people in Norway who had been identified as being at risk of travelling to Syria to join ISIS, and it had prevented them from doing so.

There are many examples across the world of the contributions that the young make towards peacebuilding such as the strengthening of community cohesion and reconciliation in South Sudan, civic awareness for peaceful social relations and development programmes in Nepal,  trust-building across different ethno-religious groups in Sri Lanka, and community entrepreneurship and livelihoods programmes in Burundi.

Furthermore, the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development  Report entitled ‘Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding: A Practice Note’ presents a number of policy and programme examples from different conflict affected countries that would facilitate such participation more effectively.

Let’s get real, this is an opportunity for youth to build on their unique role as change makers, critical thinkers, innovators, and leaders. By learning from local or foreign efforts, we can help make these resolutions and goals a reality. We need to step up and bolster our support for innovative opportunities and programming to keep boosting young people’s leadership and meaningful participation in building peace all around the globe.

We as the leaders of today are here to make our world a better place!

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