To watch the panel, click here. Throughout the town hall, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stressed the important role youth must play in society since they represent the future of democracy in the world. Youth leaders who speak on behalf of their societies have an incredible opportunity to enact lasting change.
“You’re one of our greatest untapped resources for revitalizing democracy, human rights, and governance. Not only in the future but more importantly, today, all around the world.” – Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield responded to questions posed by the global youth leaders. These questions covered many topics that are relevant to the current state of democracy in the world.
Editor’s Note: The following questions and responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Question from Lala Youray of the Gambia: “How will the U.S. partner with African nations to tap into the potential of young people on the continent?”
By 2025, more than half the population of Africa will be under the age of 25. The potential of the African youth in driving entrepreneurship and innovation is unlimited. The U.S. plans to continue to partner with Africa to build its infrastructure. Africa has a vital role in helping the world solve global issues. Initiatives like the Young African Leaders Initiative and the Mandela Washington Fellowship have been put in place to help the U.S. and Africa build a strong network of leaders across Africa.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield quoted 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Recipient Wangari Maathai who said, “It’s the little things that citizens do that’s what will make a difference.”
Question from Willis Onyango of Kenya: “What do you think about Nontraditional paths to political leadership and how effective are non-formal education opportunities in developing democratic attitudes, particularly among youth?”
There is no right path to solving the world’s issues. The more we introduce nontraditional paths to political leadership, the more diverse our governmental leaders will be. Great leaders can come from anywhere, and the more nontraditional leaders are selected, the better we will find representatives who mirror the ideals and needs of the population.
Question from Ubata Frarajala of Jordan: “How can we evaluate democracy after facing many accumulating challenges created by the current pandemic? What is the true role the current pandemic has played in turning the tide to advancements towards democracy?”
The pandemic has had a serious impact on the global economy by holding back growth and increasing poverty rates. Some countries have even abused their powers by constraining human rights and limiting freedoms. The pandemic must end to lessen the abuse of power and inequality seen around the world. As a response, the United States is committed to donating 1.2 billion vaccine doses worldwide.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stated, “We have to stand up for human rights. One of democracy’s greatest tools is in sharing information about best practices for medicine and business, and we can’t do that until the pandemic is over and corruption is eliminated.”
Question from Pampha Purkoti of Nepal: “What are some of the best practices in strong democratic countries for political participation of women with disabilities and members of marginalized populations, including representation in the democratic process and state governing structures that could be replicated in developing countries like Nepal?”
Involving all people in decision-making is a vital component of democracy. There is still a lot that needs to be done to ensure that all minority groups have a voice by protecting the rights of everyone to vote. Developing countries need to create systems of government that make it easier for marginalized groups to voice their opinions. It is an uphill battle, but governments need to listen to their diverse populations. Doing so will help governments see the merit behind serving the people and not just the elite.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stated, “The more we insist on our rights, on our presence, and our seats at the table, the more we can make it normal to include all kinds of people in the decision-making process and public life.”
Question from Avikesh Kumar of Fiji: “What can governments do to influence their allies in doing better for their citizens and allowing peaceful protests without intimidations and threats?”
All around the world, people are protesting in the streets regarding issues they find important, despite potential violence from governmental officials. Governments need to understand that these protests show that the voices of the people have not been heard. Additionally, the people need to continue to speak up when their human rights and freedoms are violated.
Question from Shayray Saeds of India: “What steps can the U.S. Government take to safeguard and champion human rights defenders in their own country and across the world?”
The Biden Administration has put human rights at the center of its foreign policy. The U.S. is committed to supporting human rights initiatives and defenders. During the summit, the United States has had many commitments they believe will safeguard and enhance human rights in every country. Next year, the United States plans on initiating the following efforts:
– The U.S. plans on offering funds for the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium
– The U.S. plans to bolster the Embattled CSO Assistance Fund
Question from Filip Kulakov of North Macedonia: “How can youth affirm themselves as relevant stakeholders on issues not traditionally considered to be issues? How can governments include youth in decision-making processes and power of decision-making positions?”
So often youth leaders have not been included in important policy decisions, even decisions that directly impact them. Youth voices need to be heard as they are the future of democracy for the world. As governments strive to involve the youth in important decisions, countries will experience better outcomes across the board.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield stated, “My advice to you, to all of the young people who aren’t sure how to channel their energy and ideas toward the change they want to see, is to get involved, don’t let your friends disengage or stay home. Make your voices loud enough that you can’t be dismissed or ignored. Make good trouble.”
Question via Snapchat from Jennika of Central Florida: “I have children. Why should they care about democracy? What can I say to them to help them care more as they grow?”
Our children are the future of our democracy. If there is an issue that needs to be solved (climate change, pollution, immigration, human rights, voting, etc.) democracy is the answer. The youth must be taught to voice their opinions to inspire lasting change. “We have to engage with people we disagree with and strive to find areas where our interests overlap and where we can move the ball forward for the good of all of the American People,” stated Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield.
Question from Ishmail Ocapo of Columbia: “How can we ensure that all young people have access to education?”
Access to quality education is vital in helping young people learn the skills they need to become the world’s future leaders. In 2020, USAID provided more than 24 million children and youth in over 50 countries with access to education. In addition, the U.S. aided more than 93,000 public and private schools and provided more than 580 higher education colleges and universities with added support. While these numbers are impressive, there is still more to do in ensuring that incoming refugees have access to education. Additionally, addressing the digital divide will provide more schools with computer and internet education that will benefit their country’s global potential.
At the end of the event, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield emphasized to all young people around the world: She stated, “You are part of generations that are the best educated. You’re the most engaged. You’re the most tolerant in all our human history. We need you, so please stay engaged. Please stay passionate about the issues you are working on. We’re counting on you.”
For more information about the Summit of Democracy, please visit https://www.state.gov/summit-for-democracy/.