The world looks very different from when I was a kid in the 1950s in Nigeria. No high-speed Internet, no iPhones, no television. Definitely no tweeting, that’s for sure.
Your world as a young person in 2011 connects you instantaneously with people around the globe — transforming society, politics and culture. This year, the world’s population is expected to reach 7 billion of which 1.8 billion are young people aged 10-24.
Think of it: you’ll be one in 7 billion people.
This historic milestone reinforces my passion for young people and got me thinking: Do you feel connected to your peers across religions, nationalities, traditions and cultures? My question goes beyond how many peers you’ve befriended on Facebook.
What I’d like to know is this: Is their happiness your happiness? Is their hardship — unemployment, hunger, climate change, conflict, your issue to deal with, too?
Today, we are all part of a big, interconnected family. Actions taken in your country have an impact on other parts of the globe, our common home.
Your first Facebook friend could be a young entrepreneur from Mali. The first tweet you receive could be a discussion on political issues in Bangladesh, and your favorite YouTube video could be a magic show from Peru.
We are all connected by invisible dots.
When I see how tech-savvy my own kids have become, it gives me hope to see younger generations showing leadership and connecting in new and innovative ways. Think of the youth movement in the Arab States. Think of young people who took action on Darfur. Or think of leadership in the HIV response, which has been driven by so many young people.
In Mexico, brave HIV-activists are blogging to inspire others with their stories. In many countries, human rights activists are using social media to raise awareness and action. In Macedonia, street artists are using their art to provoke emotions in young people elsewhere. A young rape survivor in the United States used local radio to raise awareness and say – enough is enough, are you with me?
Because of their courage and openness to new ideas and worlds, I am confident that young people will pave the path to peace and justice, and to a new green economy. Today there is an incredible opportunity in the developing world to leapfrog over old industrial models to renewable energy. This could be the opening for hundreds of thousands of jobs for young people to contribute towards a sustainable planet.
Of the 1.8 billion young people, 90% reside in developing countries. Almost half of all young people, close to 550 million, survive on less than two dollars a day. About 2,500 youth become infected with HIV every day. Between one-quarter to one-half of girls in developing nations become mothers before age 18.
I’ll be the first to admit that it can be overwhelming to think of the complexity, gravity and intersections of the larger story. But we must make these connections, or everything else may fall apart.
Each of us has some responsibility in a world of 7 billion, and we must commit in whatever way we can.
I am especially concerned about those at risk, and those who are marginalized. Today too many girls can’t go to school or realize their dreams and families are facing many pressures.
By talking and supporting each other within families, communities and societies, we can better connect to each other, share our ideas, hopes and dreams, and build a new world together.
As for my own commitment, I will continue to be a champion for young people, particularly adolescent girls, so they can stay in school, stay healthy and free from unintended pregnancies and HIV. I will continue to push for greater investments in young people across many sectors: education (including comprehensive sexuality education), health, including reproductive health, and employment.
I will continue to dream of a world where all of our good acts will be multiplied by 7 billion.
I will continue to dream of a world where every person can enjoy human rights and dignity and make the most of their potential.
A world at 7 billion is an opportunity for all of us, but only if we if give young people, especially adolescent girls, the attention they deserve. Only if we continue to listen to each other’s stories.
I am listening.
This blog is part of the campaign Ten Days of Activism, a global youth event lead by Y-PEER.
Dr. Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Dr. Osotimehin holds the rank of Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations. Before this appointment, Dr. Osotimehin had served as the Minister of Health of Nigeria. Prior to that position, he was the Director-General of the Nigerian National Agency for the Control of AIDS. Dr. Osotimehin qualified as a medical doctor from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in 1972, and then went to the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom, where he got a doctorate in medicine in 1979. He is a member of the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians and was, between 1996 and 1997, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Centre for Population and Development Studies. In 2006, he was inducted as a fellow of the prestigious Nigerian Academy of Sciences. Dr. Osotimehin’s interests include youth and gender, within the context of reproductive health and rights. Dr. Osotimehin is married and has five children.