Digital natives, you have the floor…

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director, ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau

In September 2013, young leaders from around the world gathered at the BYND 2015 Global Youth Summit in Costa Rica to voice their views on the digital future they wanted.

I was impressed at how quickly and readily young people assumed responsibility in their roles as innovators, creators, and solution-shapers for the digital future. Given the chance, they were eager and willing not only to express their ideas, but to wrestle with tough issues, collaborate across cultures and language divides, and work towards meaningful, consensus-based outputs.

Nearly 10 years later, millions of young people around the world have lived through a global pandemic that has seen the role of digital technologies become more vitally important than ever.

The COVID-19 crisis has injected new impetus into global efforts, via various policy fora, to address digital challenges and opportunities. Yet all too often we forget to involve those who have the deepest knowledge and first-hand experience – young digital natives.

New inheritors

Young people will inherit the world that is being shaped by today’s technological advancements. They will also play an active role in defining the evolution of tomorrow’s digital platforms and services.

That’s why I felt that, as the United Nations digital technology agency, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) needed to meaningfully engage young people – the world’s first generation of true digital natives.

They are best placed to help us understand the challenges they face in fully harnessing the potential of digital technologies, and their input on innovative digital development solutions can help steer the world towards a more equitable future.

Co-creating solutions

‘Digital’ now defines basic social interactions in continually evolving ways. Growing up in a world like this is vastly different from my own generation’s experience.

My four children have frequently taught me new ways to leverage technology in my own life. They have also opened my eyes to the various dangers that young people face in the online world.

We urgently need to bring young people from diverse backgrounds on board – especially those who face daunting challenges in getting meaningfully connected to the digital world.

Digital policy-makers need to work hand-in-hand with these young people to co-create bold new solutions. That means not only bringing young people into the policy arena as equal partners, but remaining genuinely open to hearing their voices.

Futurecasters Secretary-General Gessienne Grey said it best at the 2020 Futurecasters Global Young Visionaries Summit:

“Until now, we were not a part of the global conversation; but today, we are being consulted. We are speaking out and being heard. Delegates, we have the floor.’’

Spotlighting youth and tech

This year, ahead of ITU’s upcoming World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), young people will take the floor again.

In Kigali, Rwanda, from 2-4 June, young visionaries and change-makers from around the world will come together at the Generation Connect Global Youth Summit. They will speak out with their diverse voices, and global digital development policy leaders will listen.

For the first time, the outcomes of the Generation Connect Youth Summit will be directly fed into WTDC discussions in the form of a ‘Youth Call to Action’ for consideration by conference decision-makers.

By infusing WTDC with new and diverse perspectives, the Youth Summit will help shape the digital development agenda for the next four years and beyond.

At a time when the power and potential of digital technologies are under the global spotlight, WTDC delegates will lay the groundwork for digital transformation, including in the world’s most marginalized communities, for years to come.

Preparing a call to action

Ahead of the Youth Summit, the Generation Connect movement is already abuzz with young people from all over the world who care about driving change through digital technologies.

Right now, Generation Connect Regional Youth Envoys are soliciting the ideas, concerns, and perspectives of their peers, in order to amplify these on the global stage in Kigali in a few weeks’ time. I am proud to work alongside many of these inspiring young change-makers on the Generation Connect Visionaries Board.

Kigali will be an important stop on the road to digital youth empowerment, but our journey will by no means end there.

After the Youth Summit, ITU will keep encouraging all our young participants and partners to continue advancing digital technologies as a force for good in their local communities.

Do you want to help empower other young people to get connected?

Join the global conversation, and work alongside ITU to help achieve our vision of a connected future for all.

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