A glimpse into the future with the UNICEF Youth Foresight Fellowship
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“Remember, you are more than just a climate activist now – you are a climate futurist,” said one of my mentors. “Demonstrate it.” It was with those words that I was sent to speak at a high-level panel alongside UN chiefs and leaders at the UNICEF Global Leadership Meeting – a meeting that comes around once a decade.
Eight months prior, I was selected as part of the first cohort of Youth Foresight Fellows, a global UNICEF initiative to select nine distinguished young leaders and foresight practitioners. Our mandate was to inform the 2023 UNICEF Global Outlook Report Prospects for Children in the Polycrisis, one of the organization’s flagship publications that identifies trends that will impact the lives of children. During that process, we were able to facilitate workshops using futures thinking methods and tools to find common themes, drivers and implications of an emerging polycrisis. The participants from these workshops made up the Youth Foresight Circle, and were fellow young leaders from diverse regions and backgrounds. Their insights were critical for one of the first youth involvement processes that I can attest to being truly youth-led and youth-centered.
I have been one of the few youth climate activists from Honduras, a country considered one of the most climate-vulnerable in the world. Because of this, I have served, for the last five years, in numerous youth engagement groups, either through consultations, boards or events. Unfortunately, one common feeling from these engagements is that youth are normally invited to “check a box” in a larger process: we are merely there for a moment, sometimes no longer than needed to take a picture, and without having the opportunity to meaningfully contribute with our proposals, experiences, and knowledge. The UNICEF Youth Foresight Fellowship (UYFF) was a heartwarming reminder that youth can and must contribute meaningfully to decision-making processes.
During the rest of the fellowship, we learned about futures thinking, and the way different techniques can allow us to surface diverse perspectives about preferred, potential, and likely futures. We were able to create the OurFuturePledge toolkit, a one-stop resource for young people looking to engage in futures thinking. We followed up with the #OurFuturePledge campaign on social media where we collaborated with grassroots influencers to share an invitation to young people around the world to speak about the future. Their visions started a conversation, helping me and others better anticipate and prepare for the uncertain futures we all face.
The fellowship culminated with the opportunity to address the leaders of UNICEF country offices and global departments through the Global Leadership Meeting. We were the only three participants under 26, yet we were immediately accepted and given a seat at the table. In both of our sessions, we weaved in difficult questions while subtly asking them to envision the future and having them frequently pause, close their eyes and imagine what children and youth around the world are currently facing – and will face in the future. I even had the chance to leave some homework for the country leaders, where I challenged them to return and evaluate whether their youth engagement opportunities were truly meaningful.
I envision a future where the Youth Foresight Circle will become an active and unique space for youth to speak comfortably about where their lives are headed. It’s not enough to speak about what is happening today – we need space that can shed light on and prepare us for upcoming challenges and opportunities. In my life, futures thinking allowed me to reignite the climate organization I co-founded, where we were able to redefine and strengthen our convictions behind our volunteering. Beyond being a tool for participation, futures thinking allows us to increase our capacity to anticipate the future and gain resilience, and it allows us to reinvent ourselves as a person, an organization, a company, and even as a government.
Beyond being a tool for participation, futures thinking allows us to increase our capacity to anticipate the future and gain resilience, and it allows us to reinvent ourselves as a person, an organization, a company, and even as a government.
More broadly, my pledge for the future is that more young people, especially youth and children from the global south and from disadvantaged population groups, will have the opportunity to engage meaningfully in decision-making processes. I am convinced that there is a strong overlap between (meaningful) youth involvement and futures thinking. The UYFF programme demonstrated how youth participation should be – meaningful, collaborative, and empowering, and my hope for the future is that youth engagement programmes, regardless of their focus and orientation, will ensure the same for all youth and children.
This year, Innocenti engaged Offices and partners in 12 countries representing all regions of the world, to scale up the programme and strengthen the national angle. The finalists to join this next cohort will be announced very soon. In the meantime, don’t miss out on OurFuturePledge toolkit, which resulted from our work as UNICEF’s first ever Youth Foresight Fellows.