Welcome to the new episode of the AFS Youth Assembly Podcast! We’re excited to introduce you to our new guest: Yumna Khan is a true leader and champion of empowering other young people. Today, Yumna serves as the Director of the Youth Assembly and Strategic Youth Initiatives at AFS Intercultural Programs. But her involvement with this event is a very long standing one, and this will be the 11th Youth Assembly that she organizes.

Yumna joins our podcast to give us a glimpse into this year’s event, the 20 year long legacy that we’re building on, and to provide some excellent advice on how to make the best of your AFS Youth Assembly experience.

Listen to the full podcast episode here or keep reading the transcript.

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Can you tell us more about yourself and how you’re connected to the Youth Assembly?

Thank you so much for having me. I really think this is a great opportunity to connect with a lot of young people who might be interested in the Youth Assembly. As you introduced me, my name is Yumna Khan. I’m the Director of the Youth Assembly and Strategic Youth Initiatives with AFS. My experience with the Youth Assembly really began in 2016. It’s been a pretty long journey, but an incredible one. I think the most important thing is that it’s been a humbling experience to work with so many talented youth from around the world who want to do even more and better for their communities. And that’s something I find very similar across the board, no matter who’s coming from which part of the world. This year will actually be my 11th Youth Assembly. And I think what really keeps me excited is the energy from young people who need platforms such as the Youth Assembly to elevate their work and continue forging on their ambitions.

The big theme for this year’s AFS Youth Assembly (August 16-18, 2024 in NYC) is “Forge Our Shared Future.” What is on the agenda? What can people expect from the event?

Well, forging our shared future means that it’s a recognition that yes, we have a future that is common. It is something that we should all work towards together. And as young people in the whole world who are experiencing very similar circumstances or issues and challenges, it’s time that we come together and really make the best of what we can for our futures and for our future generations as well. I think it’s really important to think of it as a world that’s one community. So that’s the understanding behind why we came up with that theme.

And each year we ask youth from around the world to tell us what issues they really want us to focus on. At the Youth Assembly this year, we were able to identify four main themes that we’re going to be highlighting, starting with: Global shocks, tackling humanitarian crises. The second one is: Future of Education, leveraging technology and innovation. The third theme is Saving our planet and of course people and uniting for climate action. And the fourth track is Food security, strengthening global food systems.

Within these tracks you can expect most of the SDGs to be covered. They’re being discussed, but more importantly, each of them are not being discussed in silos. They’re being discussed in an interconnected way, understanding that most of these issues are not just happening in a vacuum. They all have things that connect them. So for example, humanitarian crises really pose threats to education for young people, food insecurity, while we’re seeing more and more crises that are developed as a result of climate change today. So that’s just an example of how these issues are very well interconnected and how they’re going to be discussed at the event that’s coming up. And then the issues that are taking place now, they’re affecting people everywhere no matter where you live. Through discussing these themes, we as young people are able to really come together on finding urgent solutions that are really needed for our communities, for our people, for our planet.

That’s why we came up with all of these different topics to discuss. And more importantly, I think youth have a very key role to play at the Youth Assembly. We give them the space to be front and center and really work towards creating solutions around some of these challenges.

What makes you excited for this year’s AFS Youth Assembly? What is it that is special that’s happening this August?

I think each event has its own special thing, but this year it’s especially very exciting because it is the 20th anniversary of the Youth Assembly. So it’s really been one of the longest, largest youth events happening in the world. And that’s something I’m really, really proud of to be part of.

And then it’s youth led, youth inclusive. There’s a lot of peer-to-peer learning opportunities. At the 29th Session of the Youth Assembly, there are definitely a lot more opportunities for networking with speakers with those that are coming from various organizations, academia, nonprofit sector, international organizations such as the UN, and really being able to engage with those experts in the field. I think that’s an opportunity you get at the Youth Assembly and having that face-to-face time with so many people that are there. The networking part of it all really brings the experience to the next level for a lot of young people that are coming.

If you’d like to delve deeper into some of these issues, we do have Academies. For example, if there’s someone interested in Climate Entrepreneurship (NYU is our partner) and wants to learn how to become a starter or want to excel in that field, they can go ahead and look into the Climate Entrepreneurship Academy. Similarly, we have something called the Changemakers Academy, and that is led by the University of Pennsylvania, our knowledge partner for that, and anyone who’s interested in changemaking skills, understanding how to tackle some of these issues from a deeper understanding, there’s a really nice way to do that through that program that we’re offering. And lastly, anyone interested in the International Affairs track and wants to see what the world of global issues really looks like. How to become, for example, a global diplomat, how to work on some of these issues from the mindset of member states or countries/governments. That’s something that might be of interest for young people who really want to learn more about that. So those are additional opportunities outside of the Youth Assembly that we do offer.

It’s always exciting to see the various partners and institutions that come together for us to make that happen. So MIT ESI is our partner for the climate track who is helping us develop some of the content andget even more amazing expert speakers to talk about some of these topics. That’s one new thing happening at the Youth Assembly. We have some amazing knowledge partners supporting the work and the content creation with our team.

One more thing I think the delegates should be really excited for this year is that AFS is going to be supporting the delegate journey after the Youth Assembly. So we are going to have opportunities on ways that you can stay connected to each other, to interests that you want to continue working on, to develop some of the ideas that you’ve been able to learn about at the event. And so you’re going to be able to do all of those things after your Youth Assembly experience. So continuing your impact journey and really paving a pathway towards that, that’s something that’ll be very new and interesting for this Youth Assembly that a lot of people should be very, very excited for. I know I am, for sure. And that’s something we’re looking to really engage our community around.

It is the 20th anniversary of the Youth Assembly, which is a really good opportunity to celebrate this legacy and the experience that the event and the platform has. What makes you most proud of this big legacy and experience of the event?

Yeah, there’s definitely a lot to be proud of, from the team that we work with to put all of this together every year, to the delegates who work so diligently to make this experience amazing for themselves and also give back to their communities when they return. There’s definitely a lot of learning that takes place and a lot to be proud of in terms of the partnerships that serve youth interests which we’re able to develop each year.

I think one of the nicest things about it is that it has remained a youth centric event. We have something called the Youth Advisory Council that helps us develop some of the ideas, and advises us on what youth really want to hear about, what they want to talk about, and what matters most to young people today.

The opportunities that we’re developing are not just happening because we feel like making them happen, but because they are needed and young people tell us that they need them. So it’s really nice to get that type of very good and important feedback from young people on a continuous basis. And additionally to it being so youth centric, there’s a lot of intergenerational support that we’re receiving. So for example, the CEO of AFS, Daniel Obst, is a huge cheerleader and I think the biggest cheerleader for the event itself. And it really takes a lot of support from all types of people from different generations to bring together such a successful event and not just an event, but a platform for young people to really elevate their work and themselves.

And along with the 20th anniversary of the Youth Assembly, we’re celebrating this year’s event with a backdrop of the United Nations Summit of the Future. And there’s going to be so many exciting things happening this year and they’ve already started a lot of the processes for that, that we at the Youth Assembly are going to be talking about, focusing on and getting more youth voices included in some of the work that internationally is taking place around the Summit of the Future. So keeping that in mind as something that’s upcoming and something that we all are working towards in making a very successful summit this year for the UN and for the world.

What advice do you have for future delegates of the AFS Youth Assembly?

There’s actually a list of advice I can put together, but that would probably be too long for this podcast. So one of the most important things from my experience, and this is I think very personal to me as well because it’s something I’ve incorporated into my work and the way I think now, is you as a delegate or you as a young person that’s attending the Youth Assembly or any international event, platform, or program, you’re not only attending just for yourself. That’s one of the things, but you’re also attending because the knowledge you gain, the networks that you are able to connect with, the people that you meet, all of that is something you can then take to the next level by opening the doors for other young people, and other people in your communities, being able to do more when you go back home. So it’s really about opening the door for other people once you are able to receive and be connected to such opportunities that are on the global scale.

So always think of yourself as a global delegate that’s coming to the event. Yes, it’s an amazing experience, something really exciting for you and your own personal growth, but also that you are going back to your communities to give back and really understand how you can make the best of this experience so you can take your work and your community to the next level

There’s a sense of responsibility and ownership that I find at the Youth Assembly a lot of young people have. They really feel and embody the understanding that they are representing their countries, they’re representing their communities, and coming to do something and make meaningful change through this platform. It’s not just, I’m going to come for two days and move on to the next thing. There’s so much more to the Youth Assembly and a lot of young people I think pick that up very quickly and it makes their experience even more valuable when they return.