ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Gaëlle, for that kind introduction. And thanks to Imrana and thanks of course to Linda. It’s great to take a walk back down memory lane about the founding of YALI, and really to contemplate how the seeds that we plant today can grow, and to mix metaphors, have these ripple effects.
Everywhere I go around the world, I meet people who are part of YALI, or the sisters and brothers of YALI in other regions of the world, it has been a truly impactful program. And Linda, thanks to your leadership back in the day, in getting it done. What looks effortless in retrospect takes a ton of work and vision. And that’s what President Obama and Linda and others who worked on launching that brought to this.
I want to take a moment to thank Deputy Administrator Coleman and Assistant Administrator Sumilas, who have both been champions for updating USAID’s Youth Policy and bringing it into the present, from the minute they arrived at USAID last year.
I also want to recognize the tireless work of the Agency YouthCorps, including the drafting team and the more than 50 USAID staff members and 300 external reviewers who contributed to our new Youth Policy.
And of course, welcome to our ally and consistent supporter, Representative Grace Meng, who has fought to expand opportunities here in the United States for young people around the world through the proposed Youth, Peace, and Security Act. This is Representative Meng’s second USAID event in just two days, and we could not be more grateful, Congresswoman Meng, to have you in our corner.
On October 23, 1984, “NBC Nightly News” aired a special report from Ethiopia, produced by BBC journalist Michael Buerk and shot by Kenyan cameraman Mohamed Amin. Sharply written and vividly produced, the report described a “biblical famine” taking place in Ethiopia.
And along with the haunting writing came even more haunting images of children, from babies to teenagers. Reedy legs. Sunken eyes. Skin pulled taut over their ribs. Images that horrified American viewers, images that we now associate with famine.
Those images sparked a watershed moment in journalism, but in development, too. Suddenly, global relief agencies found their mailboxes flooded and answering machines overflowing. Celebrities spoke and sang out at the famous 1985 Live Aid concert in Wembley Stadium. And over the next three decades, Americans became even more generous, sending support to Sudan, Somalia, and everywhere in between.
The Ethiopia report was perhaps one of the most prominent examples of an idea so prevalent in the way our work is discussed: that young people, those kids, those teenagers, are helpless. That they are victims. That they have no power to help themselves or those around them.
And while it is indeed true that young people often unfairly bear the consequences of mistakes made generations before. While it is indeed true that young people around the world face unthinkable suffering. For example today, in places like Ukraine, Yemen, Ethiopia. To portray them as helpless is not just untrue, factually. It’s offensive.
The truth is that young people have always been active participants in their own destinies, and those of the people around them. From world wars to civil rights movements to grassroots revolutions around the world, young people have won decisive battles. Young people have expanded the reach of justice. Young people have shaken the halls of power. Young people have brought down dictators and driven some of history’s most tectonic shifts.
Today’s young people — those under the age of 30 — make up half of the world’s population. They have lived through a pandemic, led and witnessed popular uprisings, and harnessed the power of social media to drive landmark changes in domestic and international policy. In their families, their communities, and their governments, they lead. Whether or not we call them leaders.
I mean young people like Gaëlle, a member of our very own Young African Leadership Initiative. Alongside Peace Corps volunteers, Gaelle helped organize a leadership camp for teenage girls in her community in Madagascar. A camp that helped young girls learn life skills and gave them access to role models. Today, she works with a USAID-funded project to help young people from over 190 countries collaborate on meeting priorities in the Sustainable Development Goals.
I mean young people like Ineza Grace from Rwanda, whom I met during last year’s International Youth Day. Ineza created the “Green Fighter” organization, which has brought together over 3,500 young people in her community to protect the environment. And she founded a global letter-writing campaign to address climate change. A campaign that has more than 250 members across over 45 countries.
And of course, I mean young people like Taras, who I’m really looking forward to speaking with in just a few minutes. Before the war in Ukraine, Taras created an online platform that links young people in Ukraine to training, skill-building resources, and career counseling. After Putin launched his horrific attack, Taras pivoted the platform to provide psychological support for young people. An online support system that now reaches 52,000 young people every week.
Taras is just one example of young Ukrainian leaders, who are stepping up to help their communities even as their cities are shelled, their homes are destroyed, and their friends and family enlist.
Twenty-four-year-old Valeria used her experience working with children to start a daycare in her new town. A daycare for families who, like her, were internally displaced by the war. And Tymur, who is just twenty, used social media to coordinate anti-Russian government rallies in his home city of Slavutych and created an opportunity for his mayor to negotiate a deal to protect his fellow residents.
I’m pleased to say that USAID has long recognized the power and potential of young leaders. Our previous Youth Policy, launched a decade ago in 2012, made great strides to integrate young leaders into our work, and emphasized projects that were both youth-relevant and youth-focused. And over the last year, we invested $270 million in new projects that support young people around the world, which you’ll learn more about later today.
But it’s safe to say that we didn’t go far enough. Our previous policy, though strong in some ways, still somewhat fell into the same trap of seeing young people solely as beneficiaries of foreign aid rather than the key to rendering that aid obsolete. That is the ultimate objective.
Today, I’m proud to launch a new Youth Policy that sheds the old mindset.
The updated policy calls for programming that isn’t just youth-relevant and youth-focused, but is also youth-led. It views young people not as a monolith, but as a collection of individuals and emphasizes the inclusion and support of young people often excluded due to their identities. LGBTQIA+ individuals, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, women and girls, or racial, ethnic and religious minorities. It also elevates the role of our Agency’s youth advisors to push us to partner with youth throughout all the work which USAID does.
And over the next decade, it seeks to drastically expand investment in young leaders and youth-led programming.
In that spirit, I’m proud to announce USAID’s first global small grants competition for youth-led organizations around the world. The competition will award $10,000 to up to eight youth-led organizations piloting change, innovation, and research in their communities.
It’s an opportunity designed specifically for those grassroots organizations who are often shut out of meetings with high-level donors and agencies like USAID. And it’s inspired by locally-led and youth-led initiatives like the one Taras coordinates. Initiatives that are critical to bring people together to advance development goals.
Young people’s contributions and leadership are critical to every major challenge we face today. From a global pandemic we are still living with to climate change, whose shocks to our systems, landscapes, and communities are intensifying every day to conflict around the world, which is not receding. It’s time to view young people as the leaders we know them to be.
Thank you so much.