“I still can’t believe it, did that really happen?!” exclaimed my friend over an early morning call on the 24th of June as we woke up to find that Britain had voted to leave the EU. The Remain Campaign, supported by the vast majority of youth in the country, had lost. And the loss was shattering. Polls show that half of all voters aged between 18-24 cried or felt like crying when they heard that the UK had voted to leave. 61% of young people interviewed said that they felt ‘disgusted’ after the vote, feeling like their future had been ‘ruined’ by the older generations. Yet, only 36% of these people actually voted.
"The world today has its highest population of youth ever."
The central problem gripping the youth of the world today is that we are disengaged from and apathetic to most of what’s going on around us. The world today has its highest population of youth ever. 1.8 billion of it’s inhabitants come from the age group of 10-24 years. What’s more, in the world’s 48 least developed countries, children and teens make up a majority of the population. Yet we are under-represented in almost every organisation in the world; we are, it is fair to say, the world’s largest minority group. Our voice is not heard in places where decisions relating to our future are taken by people who will not be a part of it. And here is the saddest part- we simply don’t care. We have cocooned ourselves in our little bubbles, free from politics, South Park, and other similarly controversial stuff to live by the idiom- ignorance is bliss. But as Brexit has shown us, ignorance has a price. And it is a rather expensive one.
"In the UK, those aged between 16-24 spend an average of 27 hours a week on social media."
The solution to this dangerous disengagement, however, is staring us right in the face- literally! We spend most of our days staring at our smartphone or laptop screens, with Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat forming essential parts of our lives. The youth of the world are the most digitally connected age group in the history of the human species. In the UK, those aged between 16-24 spend an average of 27 hours a week on social media. The numbers seem to be similar in most parts of the world. We are privileged enough to interact with people halfway across the world in a matter of seconds and we have made good use of it in the past: we’ve organised everything from student protests in Austria to whole revolutions in the Middle East thanks to our amazing connectivity.
But this activity has been sporadic and spontaneous, and there has not yet been any concerted movement by the youth of the world to organise into a single movement that can harness our massive pool of creative genius and energy. The human connection is also often missing, as digital connectivity falls short in its potential for good in the world . As the Millennium Values Survey reveals, youth of today share certain common hopes and beliefs which we cherish- freedom, economic reform, an end to discrimination, environmental sustainability, and justice for all. These values and desires, embodied by the Sustainable Development Goals, can be fulfilled not when we accept our minority status and continue to be underrepresented in positions of power; it can only come when we become more engaged with the world and demand our right to decide our future.
"Solutions to the world’s most difficult problems could be solved in a matter of days."
Since I was 16, I have tried to use this connectivity to engage youth and help them start this movement. I led Online Model UN, a fully student run profit-organisation that serves as a digital outlet for young people to express their views on international affairs and discuss possible solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The remarkable thing I’ve learnt leading this organisation is that youth seem far more willing to shun arbitrary imaginary divisions, national identity included, in the interests of pursuing a better future for all. Solutions to the world’s most difficult problems could be solved in a matter of days if the world realised, as many youths do today, that loyalty to abstractions such as nations, regions, religions, or tribes, must be subsumed to the desire to better the lives of those around us. The connectivity revolution has not only given youth the base for organising their movement but has made them more engaged in politics and more ready to break the barriers that separate them. And far from entailing them to toss away our smartphones, this movement requires youth to use them more than ever.
"Youth, not only in Britain but all over the world, must learn from Brexit."
Awarded with the World Summit Youth Award 2014 for its work in engaging youth in the pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, Online Model UN is now doing the same with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals. And with hundreds of members spread across 50-plus countries, it is making a difference to get tomorrow’s change-makers engaged in the world around them. Youth, not only in Britain but all over the world, must learn from Brexit that there are serious costs attached to disengagement. And learn they must, for the global movement to better humanity, manifested in the Sustainable Development Goals, cannot be successful without their engagement.
Written by Zohaib Ahmed – Give Me 5 UK