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Q and A: Youth Leaders on How to Engage Young People in Development

This article was originally posted on Devex and was written by Amy Lieberman. 

The United Nations routinely serves as a forum to discuss the needs and interests of the 1.2 billion young people worldwide. Less often, it opens its doors for those youths — a group aged between 15 and 24 that is expected to grow by nearly 7 percent by 2030 — to speak on what matters most to them and how best to engage them on development issues.

Last week, Alpha Sennon, 29, and Natasha Puri, 21, were among the speakers selected to present their development projects on health and well-being at a breakout session during the two-day Youth Forum, hosted by the U.N. Economic and Social Council, which stressed engagement in development at all levels.

Photo: A view of the Trusteeship Council Chamber during the United Nations Economic and Social Council Youth Forum. This year's theme is “The Role of Youth in Poverty Eradication and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World.” Credit: Eskinder Debebe / U.N.

The forum has been held annually since 2012 and aims to “bring youth into discussions” on the U.N.'s development agenda.

Sennon traveled from his home in Trinidad and Tobago to “pitch” his work at WHYFARM, a farming nonprofit he founded and directs. The organization works to train young, new farmers in issues surrounding food security.

Puri, a senior studying global public health and medicine, came only from her downtown campus at New York University to outline plans for a new mental health app “emp(a)t(h)y,” which she and other students are developing. The app will connect users who have had similar experiences with mental health and “offer an an opportunity for them to talk to one another in a safe space that is anonymous, while also promoting well-being,” said Puri during her remarks at the forum.  

The two found common ground when they spoke to Devex about how the U.N. needs to rethink the way it includes youth in its work — and how they, as youth leaders, can help to make concepts such as the Sustainable Development Goals more appealing to their peers. Here is the conversation, edited for length and clarity.  

Could you walk me through your projects and what you are pursuing?

Natasha Puri: We are working with the understanding that, in order for development to happen, you want people to be in good health. We know about the rise of mental health and the stigma surrounding it, and so our app kind of functions on that unmet need. Our project focuses not just on interventions or scientific treatments. It is about that peer-to-peer connection. A certain level of empathy. We know that personal connections can go far beyond... Read more on www.devex.com.

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