Note: This blog is a transcript of an opening keynote delivered by Andrew Macdonald during the Decade of Youth Action kick-off event on March 4, 2020, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, NY.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies, and Gentlemen,

We are embarking on a new era. One that will reshape the world we live in, how we interact, and how we thrive for decades to come. The fourth industrial revolution has begun, but unlike others before, it won’t take decades to become a reality. Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, to mention a few, each disruptive to themselves will pervade humanity concurrently. As such, we are at a critical moment in our history. A new age is dawning and no group is more aware of this or will be impacted by this than our youth of today. More so, no group brings a greater potential to help us realize the future we want, a future by the way, that will be theirs. New challenges have beset the world in the last ten years, and old ones have grown larger. We must see our young people not only for their future potential but as leaders who can take on these challenges now. Hence, within the context of this urgent and critical need, there lie immense challenges, yet even greater opportunities for bold and purpose-driven young people.

This year 2020 will mark an exciting moment for the United Nations as we celebrate 75 years of a continual commitment to world peace, the development of friendly relations among nations, human rights, and the harmonization amongst all nations to achieve these goals. It is even more exciting that the United Nations is using this time to not only commemorate this extraordinary endeavor but to point us toward “shaping our future together.” This goal is bold and visionary and comes at a critical moment in our history as previous Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated: “in many respects, the world is shifting beneath our feet.” Thus, our innate human idealism that gave birth to the UN in the first place, is colliding with some of the most extraordinary challenges the world has ever seen, placing humanity at the crossroads of the future.

If a General Assembly’s priority is to “bring the United Nations closer to people” then we should do this through our youth first, and thereby overtime bringing the people closer to the United Nations. This generation, the most connected in history, can be the catalyst for uniting nations to work together for years to come. As early as 1965, through its Declaration on the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples, the UN has taken a strong stance on the importance of youth. No clearer words could be chosen than those in Resolution 36/28 in 1981 which declared the “profound importance of the direct participation of youth in shaping the future of mankind and the valuable contribution that youth can make…”

And we now have a “blueprint” in place which is becoming a unifying document for all people of the world, especially youth. In 2015, the UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which give us 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its stated intention is clear: To transform our world. It is designed to be “comprehensive, far-reaching, people-centered,” and we were given fifteen years to achieve these goals, thus being an urgent call to action. With only 10 years left, the Secretary-General has named this the Decade of Action and we all must join this call with a purpose to make this world great for all people. And our motivation can be driven by the thought of our world if we don’t, but I choose to consider the world we will have when we do.

And when we do, consider the path we will have put humankind on for you the next generation of leaders to lead in. The 2030 agenda calls for “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future” so we cannot think of these goals as an end, but as a beginning putting us on a trajectory for continued improvement and betterment of humankind and the planet on which we live. You, the young people of the world, can be the beginning of a new mindset that builds on the past, to shape a better world today, and passes that better world forward to future generations.

We have designed the program today to provide examples of young people who already embrace this new thinking. Our panel is comprised of all young people who want a better today that will give rise to a better tomorrow. We hope you are inspired by their work and are motivated in whatever manner large or small to take positive action. It’s time! Let’s support the UN Member States and Secretary-General Guterres in making this not just the Decade of Action, but the Decade of Youth Action!