27 March 2013

Press Conference on Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum

27 March 2013
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Economic and Social Council’s Youth Forum

An infusion of youth perspectives — drawn from such events as today’s Economic and Social Council Youth Forum on science and technology and a newly launched online campaign known as “Innovate Your Future” — would bring a “real renewal” to the work of the United Nations, said Council President Néstor Osorio of Colombia at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Today’s event, “Shaping tomorrow’s innovators:  Leveraging science, technology innovation and culture for today’s youth”, was part of the preparatory process for the 2013 Economic and Social Council Annual Ministerial Review.  With youth representatives, academics, activists and other stakeholders, the discussion would focus on young people’s potential to contribute to society and history, said Mr. Osorio, adding that “new and fresh blood” could not only open up minds, but also help to develop policy recommendations in such areas as intellectual property, education and opportunities for youth.  (See Press Release ECOSOC/6565.)

Moderated by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, the press conference also featured Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; Stacy Martinet, Chief Marketing Officer,; and Wael Ghonim, Internet activist and computer engineer.  Among other things, the participants discussed the major online campaign, Innovate Your Future, which was launched on the platform Thunderclap today.  Through the campaign, young people would be able to share their thoughts via Facebook and Twitter until 1 July, when world leaders gather in Geneva for the annual Economic and Social Council high-level session.

Mr. Alhendawi, who, at 29 years of age, is the youngest envoy in the history of the United Nations, said the Forum was a way to include young people’s ideas in the work of the United Nations.  The Secretary-General had officially approved his work plan, which would include, among others, elements of participation, advocacy and harmonization.  Social media would be a major component, as “you cannot talk about young people without talking about social media” and related technologies.  Importantly, regional youth forums were taking place around the world, allowing young people to shape policies and programmes closer to home.

“This is an exciting time for us to talk about social media,” agreed Ms. Martinet, pointing out the relevance of social media platforms to young people today.  Much innovation around the world was driven by young entrepreneurs, who had initiated local change.  Social media now also provided ways for people to stay connected; a person on one side of the planet could now have a direct and “real connection” with a person on the other side.  However, it was important to stay focused on helping social media lead to practical changes in the real world.

Indeed, said Mr. Ghonim, because of technology, “the world is definitely becoming a small village”, with the pace of change much faster than many had expected.  Over the past decade, changes in his own region, the Arab region, had been largely technology driven.  Twenty years ago in his country, Egypt, all media had been centralized and controlled by the Government; then, suddenly, there was a brand new, decentralized system “owned by everyone”.  Some 18 million Egyptians were now online, and “they are no longer controlled by the Government narrative”.  He said he hoped the United Nations “will help us in making real change”.

The panelists also responded to a number of questions from correspondents, including one who asked about ways to separate “untruths”, or misleading information about global events, from legitimate online accounts.  Mr. Osorio said that social media had expanded the world’s awareness of what was happening in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and had created the basis for freedom of expression in those countries.

Mr. Ghonim added that such tools as crowd sourcing and user-to-user interaction had changed the concept of online credibility.  There was a self-correcting mechanism to online exchanges, he said, citing the credibility of Wikipedia as an example.  “We are learning by experience not to listen to every single news story that goes online by any source,” he said, adding that “we are learning how to differentiate between what’s right and what’s wrong”.

Responding to a question about the power of youth movements and about how those could “stay true to their nature” while working with Governments, Mr. Ghonim said that such groups could still maintain their own agendas while working with the United Nations and with Governments; the two paths were not mutually exclusive.  “We have to work together in this world to make the change we aspire to,” he added, warning against talking “in our own isolated islands”.

Asked about the United Nation’s social media presence, Mr. Nesirky said that the Organization’s official Twitter — @UN — had more than 1 million followers.  Ms. Martinet added that for the United Nations, as a multifaceted organization, social media was bound to be challenging.  The next step was to refine its strategies, she said, encouraging the Organization to engage staff and officials from all levels in that effort.

Also responding, Mr. Alhendawi stressed the need for two-way communication between young people and the United Nations.  In addition, he said, “not all messages are very interesting internationally,” therefore, a regional and national dimension to the Organization’s social media effort was critical.

Mr. Osorio stressed the importance of keeping in mind the “full framework” of the United Nations’ work with youth and technology.  It was not just about social media, but about young people using all modern technologies for self-expression and realization of their rights.  It was now critical to identify how those tools could be used to inform the Organization’s economic and social agendas.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.