Young Leaders From the Global South

Our World 2.0 recently interviewed young leaders from countries in the global south about the pressing global issues of climate change, peak oil and food security.

We were keen to listen to viewpoints of those living in at-risk countries like Nepal, Rwanda, Egypt, Burkina Faso and others, so often under-reported in the international media, and under-represented in international institutions and global discussions.

Our video subjects too, were eager to share their experiences and fresh perspectives when we interviewed 12 who recently attended the United Nations University International Course (UNU-IC), held in Tokyo.

The UNU-IC is a true melting pot where the leaders of tomorrow meet today, in a unique international setting to analyse and discuss global challenges and their sustainable solutions. This year, 51 outstanding postgraduate students and young professionals representing 40 countries were selected from a global pool of applicants.

Hosted at the UNU’s Tokyo headquarters, representatives came to learn from world renowned lecturers such as Professor Ramesh Thakur, former vice Rector of the UNU, as well as from each other.

Tomorrow’s leaders on today’s pressing issues

Our subjects were most obviously concerned with the climate change challenge that their generation will have to deal with.  Alice, a Rwandan peace-building coordinator who lives in one of the poorest countries on earth, recognises the gravity of the situation for the whole planet, and not just her own vulnerable community:

“Climate change will affect all of us, whether you are developed, whether you are to develop, whether you are poor, whether you are rich,” she said.

If our interviews are anything to go by, tomorrow’s leaders can show today’s leaders how to talk honestly about what people can and should do to change in their lives.

“I think a major factor would be maximum transformation from a non-vegetarian to a vegetarian diet,” pointed out Indian development specialist Siddhartha. He cited the relatively large water footprint of beef.

His compatriot, masters student Rahul, told us about how India is taking the lead in renewable energy: “We are proud that we are the first nation which has a Ministry of New and Renewable Energy.”

Although interviewees spoke enthusiastically about such initiatives in their countries, they weren’t afraid to offer their governments advice on how to better deal with the energy crises:

“In my opinion, what I would just advise, is for countries who are heavily reliant on oil, to make an effort to diversify their economy, and not just to focus on the oil sector,” said Nigerian research assistant Solomon.

All for one, or none for all

Today’s complex problems transcend simplistic national and sectoral boundaries, and as Alice from Rwanda pointed out, sustainable solutions “need a multidimensional approach”.

Therefore, it is fitting that many of the participants deliberately applied to the UNU-IC in order to expand their knowledge into areas beyond their expertise, like Egyptian mechanical engineer Nasser:

“I need to know more about political and social science because actually, working on the environment has to be done with political and social science in mind,” he told us.

When we asked about what values should guide our world in the future, we were impressed to hear that these young people were already thinking of future generations.

“My main concern is education. Education of children and teenagers. They are the future generation and they are responsible for taking care of everything from the environment to human relationships,” said Carole, a research engineer from Burkina Faso.

Signposts to the future

Although all emphasised the importance of education, students drew on their different cultural backgrounds in identifying a philosophy to underpin their pledges to change the world.

Emmanuel, an up-and-coming political scientist from Liberia, invoked the African spirit of Ubuntu — the belief that all human existences are interlinked.

“If we know that we are interlinked and we are interdependent on one another, we will cooperate with each other more because we know that our very livelihood and existence depends on each other. That is my personal philosophy.”

Rahul from India quoted his hero and a global icon of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “Nature can provide for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

We will not be surprised if our interviewees meet again in the future, as they progress up the ranks of their governments or assume leadership roles fighting for causes they believe in. They recognise, having partnered together closely at the UNU-IC, that only cooperative and inclusive global strategies can provide real change.

“One thing I have learned in all these problems is that there are solutions and if we people can work together, we can solve these problems,” says Philippine’s Ozone Desk official, Denise.

Based on what we have heard from Denise, Emmanuel, Rahul and their colleagues, the future could be in safer hands than it presently is.

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Young Leaders From the Global South by Megumi Nishikura is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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Megumi Nishikura’s life purpose is to use the power of media to enlighten and inspire individuals to make choices that build a more positive sustainable world. She has been producing documentary films addressing global issues since 2003.

Mark Notaras was a writer/editor of Our World 2.0 for the United Nations University (UNU) Media Centre from 2009–2012. He is a former researcher in Peace and Security for the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP). He holds a Masters in International Affairs (Peace and Conflict Studies) from the Australian National University and the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) and in 2013 completed a Rotary Peace Fellowship at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. Currently Mark works in Timor-Leste advising local NGOs on community agriculture and conflict prevention projects.