What is a youth representative?
Nine years ago, Lehigh University established the world’s first United Nations NGO Youth Representative program. In this capacity, students are able to serve as the voice of NGOs at the United Nations with a particular emphasis on those that are unable to procure consistent representation otherwise. The benefit is mutual, allowing students the opportunity to engage in meaningful work outside of the classroom and ensuring that NGOs, both large and small, have the ability to actively participate in United Nations functions. This model has since been adopted by the UN’s Department of Public Information, resulting in an overall increase in youth participation in the UN NGO community.
What do we do?
As a youth representative, it is our mission to understand and act upon the mission of our organization. From attending briefings and conferences to assisting in long-term strategic planning, we keep ourselves incredibly busy, and this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was no exception.
For the first time ever, two youth panels, both organized by Lehigh University youth representatives, were selected to give presentations on the last day of the CSW. Of course, we were thrilled and honored for this opportunity, but what is even more exciting is the thought that this could potentially set a precedent for youth participation at future conferences and UN functions.
What did we learn?
Without getting into the nitty-gritty details of the presentations themselves, I thought it might perhaps be more valuable to share the end result of this opportunity. In observing my fellow classmates present on behalf of their NGOs, my eyes were opened to both the challenges and benefits of serving as a youth representatives. To keep it simple, consider the following Lessons Learned:
· Flexible identities: When speaking on behalf of your NGO, you must be ready and willing to commit to that identity. While you may also be a Lehigh University student, your composure and professionalism reflect directly upon the organization you represent.
· Honesty: However, at the end of the day, we are, first and foremost, students. We are neither founders nor full-time staff members of our NGO, so if a tough question is sent in our direction, it is perfectly okay (and expected!) that we reply with honesty: “I’m not sure I know the answer to your question, but I can find out for you. After the session, we can exchange cards.”
· Responsibility: If possible, we should make the effort to connect with our NGOs in-person. Whether that is applying for grant funding to observe on-the-ground initiatives or availing ourselves to the availability of our NGO founders and staff members when they do have the means to visit UN Headquarters in NYC, it is our responsibility to strive for first-hand, direct interactions.
How may I obtain a Youth Representative?
For more information about Lehigh University’s Youth Representative program or to express interest in engaging Lehigh students at the United Nations on your NGO’s behalf, please contact the Director of the Lehigh-United Nations Partnership, Dr. Bill Hunter (firstname.lastname@example.org).