Today I was the Director General of the United Nations in Geneva.
As part of the International Day of the Girl and more than 300 #GirlsTakeover events of people in power around the world for a day, I took over the role of Michael Moller at his office here in Geneva.
After a long walk down the ‘corridors of power’ of the UN ‘Palais’ building, I was shown through to Mr Moller’s office. There, we shook hands, introduced ourselves … and then everything changed. I became him, and he became one of my directors. I had never felt more in charge!
In the next hour, sitting in his seat, I asked him for updates on how our UN team was doing on questions relating to youth, girls and the UN.
I wanted to cover how the UN engages with youth generally, the Global Goals campaign, how to better accommodate youth in the upcoming renovations of the UN building, and how to end the violations of children’s rights by UN soldiers.
Engage youth in decision-making
I started by saying that I was concerned the UN wasn’t doing enough to engage youth in its decision-making and general work. The usual practice in our sector is just to ask a few youths about their personal views on topics. This isn’t true youth engagement, and consultations need to be much wider.
My director (Michael Moller) reassured me that we are in fact putting a lot of emphasis on this already. “For instance, in the lead up to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) negotiations, we engaged with 10 million youths online to get their opinions,” he said. “We are doing this more and more, and I fully agree with you that this is what needs to be done, and should be done globally.”
He also discussed an exciting new app the UN is considering, which is a bit like Pokemon Go. You track down ‘monsters’ relating to the SDGs and the ‘good monsters’ are the solutions to our problems. There’s also a children’s book where we’ve updated fairy tales to explain the SDGs.
We then moved on to the huge renovations which the UN is about to undertake, including the building of a whole new office. I explained that if we really want children and youths to engage with us, and to feel at ease at the UN, we need to have a youth-friendly space where they feel comfortable hanging out and networking. Most of the rooms are aimed at adults. They are not the type of places where younger people feel relaxed.
If we really want children and youths to engage with us... we need a youth-friendly space
My director thought it was an excellent idea. He said there were plans for places for people to relax, like a prayer room and a gym, but also a place for youth would be great. He asked me what this place would look like. “I have no idea,” I said. “I am an old man. You need to ask the youth.”
He laughed and said that was an excellent answer.
“You are being left with a messy world,” Michael Moller concluded. I thought about his comment, and then replied: “Yes, but it is going forward too.”
A girl takeover like today makes me realise that when girls like me are given a moment to be in charge, we can make a difference, and the world listens.