Young people bring unique insights and a deeply held passion to the causes and issues they care about. In honor of World Children's Day, 19-year-old Aryan celebrates the power of youth to shape a better future.
When was the last time you felt inspired by a young person? Whether they’re a famous activist, your nephew or niece, or even your classmate, youth are pivotal to helping transform our society. You’ve probably heard of some famous youth leaders, like Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg, who have inspired millions through their education and advocacy. But youth leadership shouldn’t just be exclusive to activism or youth-led organizations. Let’s face it: “youth leadership” can often appear tokenistic and inauthentic. But it doesn’t have to!
In case you haven’t met me yet, my name is Aryan, and I’ve been volunteering with UNICEF USA for more than six years. As a UNICEF USA National Youth Council member, I help design our programmatic operations and provide input on issues critical to youth. One of my roles as a National Youth Council member is mentoring UNICEF USA President and CEO Michael Nyenhuis. Although I’m only 19 years old, I’m proud to say I’ve been able to bring opinions, raise issues and inform him on things important to me – and that includes more than just the latest Snapchat filter.
One of my roles as a National Youth Council member is mentoring UNICEF USA President and CEO Michael Nyenhuis. — Aryan, 19
At UNICEF USA, youth leaders play a vital role in driving fundamental progress, but there’s no reason other organizations can’t benefit from youth leadership. As we celebrate World Children's Day, I’m going to tell you why we need youth leadership now more than ever.
Youth leaders provide fresh insight in discussion circles, and we help ensure children are represented in an organization’s values. At UNICEF USA, we advocate and create programming for children’s rights issues. Although advocacy priorities have always included education and immunization efforts, youth leaders at UNICEF USA have recently shared how young people also value mitigating climate change and supporting mental health.
As a result, we’ve been able to enhance UNICEF USA’s support for these issues, but that may have been difficult without having youth perspectives that recognize what younger audiences are most passionate about. Young people can provide fresh insight by considering an issue from a different audience's perspective. We tend to think about problems not just in the present but also about how we will inherit a world shaped by these issues.
As a young person, I also better understand many of the problems that today's young people face. I’ve personally dealt with some of these issues. I think about how my career will be affected by climate change or how using social media can harm my mental health. This lived experience continuously influences my ability to advocate for my peers. I can better represent children who face these same struggles and provide my insight on solutions that include young people in the conversation. For an organization, having youth leadership can be tremendously helpful in reaching a larger audience and building a more inclusive future.
As digital natives, youth leaders can also help drive innovation. As a first-year college student, I’ve seen how technology has become increasingly integrated into our lives. Compared to older generations, Gen Z is particularly keen on using new technologies to become more resourceful and productive. We embrace online learning platforms, cloud-based productivity and remote collaboration tools as they’ve been part of our classroom and our childhood. This is more than a skill set; it's a cultural mindset.
Organizations that include youth in their leadership benefit from an adaptable mindset that considers innovation, not necessarily tradition, as the foundation for creating dynamic solutions.
When you have youth leaders in an adult discussion space, they can help foster innovation by considering how new technologies can improve efficiency. For example, our National Youth Council loves making TikToks, as we recognize how social media can help us reach untapped audiences. Although many of these technologies, like e-commerce or artificial intelligence, have only recently become popular, young people are some of the first to creatively explore these new opportunities. Organizations that include youth in their leadership benefit from an adaptable mindset that considers innovation, not necessarily tradition, as the foundation for creating dynamic solutions.
This past April, I spoke with UNICEF USA’s CEO, Michael Nyenhuis, at our National Boards Meeting. In our discussion, I highlighted our shared belief that young people are uniquely passionate advocates, and that is for a very simple reason: When a young person believes in a cause, it’s deeply rooted in their identity. Youth leaders advocate because they’re people-oriented; they care about their family, friends and community.
Recently, I spoke to my university's administrative staff about making STEM education more accessible. When I advocated for this cause, it wasn't because this may or may not help me get a promotion or because I'm representing some interest group. Instead, I was reminded of my family’s story. For me, accessible STEM education is essential because it’s exactly how my parents escaped poverty in rural Bihar, India — where most students cannot graduate from middle school. Across the world, youth leaders bring passion to advocacy causes as they seek fundamental change to uplift their communities. By speaking from their hearts and values, youth leaders can bring unparalleled energy and inspiration to an organization.
World Children's Day, November 20, marks the date in 1989 when world leaders adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. As we commemorate this landmark event, I want you to think about how we can mobilize young people and their experiences to better our world. Young people are already inspiring this change, but actively creating communities that foster youth leadership will help accelerate these positive impacts. When it comes to shaping a better future where every child can survive and thrive, incorporating young people's insights, innovative thinking and passions might be our best solution.