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Young People Speak Out on Foreign Policy and a Collective Future

21 June 2017 at 5:14 pm
Wendy Williams
Young people are more than “smashed-avo-eating, latte-sipping citizens”, according to leaders of Australia’s largest youth organisation who took their message to Parliament in a bid to challenge stereotypes and share their vision for foreign policy.

Wendy Williams | 21 June 2017 at 5:14 pm


Young People Speak Out on Foreign Policy and a Collective Future
21 June 2017 at 5:14 pm

Young people are more than “smashed-avo-eating, latte-sipping citizens”, according to leaders of Australia’s largest youth organisation who took their message to Parliament in a bid to challenge stereotypes and share their vision for foreign policy.

Leaders from Oaktree met with senior federal politicians on Tuesday to discuss the visions of young people for Australia’s role in the global community and make sure their voices were represented in the 2017 White Paper.

The event coincided with the launch of Oaktree’s Collective Future Report, which highlighted the views and visions of young Australians for the future of foreign policy.

Speaking to an audience at Parliament House, which included shadow minister for international development and the pacific Senator Claire Moore, and Nationals MP Andrew Broad, Oaktree CEO Sashenka Worsman said young people were driven to create change.

Not all young people are apathetic; we aren’t just smashed-avo-eating, latte-sipping citizens,” Worsman said.

“Never before, and never again, will there be such a large population of young people ready, capable and driven to create change in their communities.”

Worsman told Pro Bono News it was a “pretty historic time” with more than 50 per cent of the global population under the age of 30, and more than 90 per cent of all young people in the Global South.

“We find that considering and having young people actively and meaningfully participating in foreign policy is not just the right thing to do, not just a gesture of goodwill, but it is actually a demographic necessity if we are to solve the most pressing issues of our time,” she said.

“And we believe that young people are truly vital to creating a safe, sustainable and stable global future.”

She said government and organisations needed to “tap into the dynamism of young people”.

“Our leaders need to engage them, but we also need organisations, civil society and not-for-profit organisations to engage young people,” Worsman said.

“It is important to recognise the unique skills and perspectives that young people have and seek them out for consultation and employment.

“Young people are very unique and have a very unique value-add, young people are future focused and the first ever digital natives and we need to be able to actively incorporate those views and opinions and perspectives into everything we do.”

Worsman said Oaktree first conceived of the Collective Future Report following the announcement of the Foreign Policy White Paper at the end of 2016.

In a bid to ensure that the voices of young people were represented in the paper, the organisation ran a series of consultation sessions with school, university and community groups around the country.

“We, at Oaktree, found that we had a responsibility and a need to create spaces for young people to be able to engage in these types of decision making processes,” Worsman said.

“After speaking to some of our 200,000 supporters, we realised that many young people were sceptical of the power that their voice held in traditional decision-making structures.

“We have an opportunity to change that. We have an opportunity to engage young people in a manner proportional to their size and their significance to creating a safe, stable and sustainable future.”

In particular, the consultations sought to find out not only “what” young people wanted to see occur within Australia’s foreign policy, but also “why”.

The key issues highlighted for young people were global equality, climate change, refugee rights, and the importance of a strong Australian Aid program.

Based upon the consultations Oaktree made three key recommendations:

  • Australia must articulate a strong and clear vision to engage with the global community, confront transnational challenges and foster a more equal and sustainable future.
  • Australia must define our national interest in light of the values of our young people.
  • Australia must analyse and think strategically about the role of young people in foreign policy.

Speaking at the launch event, Broad highlighted the ability of young people to create change on these issues.

“I think the question we have, as a country, is are we going to appeal to the selfish, or the selfless? Are we going to retreat, or are we going to stand with resolve?,” Broad said.

“The challenges of the world are not easy, but they are not insurmountable. And don’t think, because you’re young, you can’t change the world.”

Worsman said conversations like this were a start but there was a lot of space to improve in engaging young people.

“If you look at 2016, young people’s values, opinions and perspectives were refracted in mainstream global decisions, 75 per cent of young people aged 18 to 24 [in the UK] voted to remain in the European Union, and only 37 per cent of young Americans voted for President Trump,” she said.

“Young people often get the label of being apathetic and we are volunteering and engaging in civil society in higher numbers than any generation before us.

“In saying that, our engagement this week with Parliamentarians from all parties that have met with us this week, have been really open and receptive to engaging with youth perspectives.

“It has been heartening and exciting for us to identify opportunities to work more closely with the leaders of our country and engage young people in a meaningful way.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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