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Young people won’t wait to change the world

A demonstration against climate change in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 2019. Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Young activists from around the world were at the UN in Geneva last week to present their projects addressing global challenges. SWI swissinfo.ch went along to meet them.

This content was published on November 25, 2021 - 09:00
Dorian Burkhalter

Six young entrepreneurs had the opportunity last week to present their work at the UN headquarters in Geneva as part of the Young Activists Summit (YAS). The goal of the event was to shine a spotlight on concrete solutions they have come up with to address global challenges, and to inspire other young people to take action.

“Us being here was a reminder to all activists out there that they are being seen, that girls’ voices are being heard, and that the youth are taking action into their own hands,” said Stacy Dina Adhiambo Owino, a young Kenyan who created an app aimed at protecting women and girls at risk of female genital mutilation.

Local students physically attended the event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, while young people from more than 140 countries followed online.

“The biggest thing that worries me is the fact that kids aren’t realising their potential because we’ve been shot down so much, and I don’t want that to happen anymore. I want these students to recognise that they can do what everyone might be telling them they can’t do,” said Gitanjali Rao.

Rao is 16 years old and the youngest of the YAS laureates. But her inventions to detect contaminated drinking water, prevent opioid addiction, and tackle cyberbullying have already earned her the title ‘Kid of the Year’ from Time magazine.

Younger people were not the only ones inspired by the work of the activists. Tatiana Valovaya, director-general of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), and Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, were among the senior UN officials taking part in the event.

“You are offering suggestions, you are finding solutions, you are walking the talk, and of course, you keep pressing us, the older generation, to make decisions and to act today,” Valovaya told the young crowd.

“You have been influencing debates of national but also international importance, and prompting social change, including by demanding a seat at the table, and holding governments and businesses to account for climate inaction,” Bachelet said.

A few days after COP26 ended in Glasgow, the young changemakers’ message was clear: their generation is not waiting for top-down instructions.

“It’s good to see that there are young people around the world who are doing a great job and who are able to show that it doesn’t matter how old you are, what degree you have, or where you’re from. If you work hard, the results speak for themselves, and we gain credibility,” said Titouan Bernicot, from French Polynesia, who is building a project to restore coral reefs.

“I think it’s important that young people take action and take it upon themselves as a responsibility as well, to steward our own futures and build that vision of a world we dream of,” said Louise Mabulo, who is helping farmers in her native Philippines adapt to a changing climate.

“My generation is not afraid, my generation knows what is happening in the world and they don’t keep quiet, which is very good,” said José Quisocala Condori, who at the age of 16 set up a bank that aims to lift children out of poverty and encourage recycling.

Watch our video interviews with the five young activists present in person in Geneva:

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