Conversations with Young Leaders: Our Questions, Their Answers, and the Future They Envision

By MJ Altman on March 20, 2024

Right now, half of the world’s population is under the age of 30 — the largest share in human history. The future will be forged by today’s youth — and they’re already pioneering new ways to tackle persistent problems.

Humanity is confronting challenges of a magnitude we’ve never faced before: climate change, disruptive technologies, historic levels of inequality, and injustice. Unless the world acts quickly, young people stand to inherit the consequences.

Thankfully, a new generation of innovators, activists, and change-makers is rising to meet the moment. Inspired, and determined, these young leaders are standing up and speaking out for equality, justice, peace, and the planet — before it’s too late.

From Nigeria to Saint Lucia to Nepal, they are moving our world forward with bolder thinking, game-changing advocacy, and unrelenting hope. ​​We met up with five young activists, trailblazers, and changemakers in New York City to talk about what it will take to overcome entrenched global challenges and act now for current and future generations.

Karimot Odebode

Nigerian Poet, Gender Equality Activist, and Founder of Black Girl’s Dream

For Karimot, the solution to gender inequality is clear: “We need more girls in the classroom.” The lawyer, education advocate, and award-winning poet has witnessed the scourge of sexism in school firsthand. In her native Nigeria, girls account for 38% of the country’s out-of-school children.

That’s why she founded the Black Girl’s Dream Initiative, a nonprofit organization that uses media and storytelling to change the narrative of young African women and close the education gender gap. In 2022, the UN selected Karimot as one of 17 Young Leaders for the SDGs. She points to the ongoing plight of her “sisters in Afghanistan” as one of the latest and most egregious examples of how education remains out of reach for far too many girls. “It’s really pathetic that we still live in a world where girls and women should not have access to quality education,” she said. “It’s a basic right.”

David Adesanya

British Producer and Impact Strategist for Peace & Justice

What affects one of us affects all of us. David, a creator who promotes advocacy through design, has a compelling definition of justice: “Justice is the opportunity for everybody to be heard and be heard on time.” He believes we can achieve peace and progress only through personal accountability, which we all need to foster if we want to change the world.

Describing his work as a mix of analyzing data and building relationships, David has traveled across the world — from Italy to China to Pakistan and throughout his home turf, the UK — to create cultural bridges in support of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. Last year, when David participated in a global brainstorm as part of the UN Foundation’s Unlock the Future Coalition, he expanded his network to include some of the world’s largest organizations working with and for young people. Today David is more ready for change than he’s ever been.

Jevanic Henry

Saint Lucian Youth Climate Adviser

Jevanic is on a quest to remind the world that climate change is not an isolated issue. Small island developing states, like Jevanic’s home of Saint Lucia, are disproportionately — and unfairly — affected by the climate crisis.

He is using his unique viewpoint and voice to highlight an existential emergency that can be tackled only with solidarity and science. In 2023, he was appointed as the first Caribbean representative to the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change. When it comes to leaving no one behind, Jevanic credits young people for calling on the rest of the world to support nations like his that are already facing the consequences of climate change. “Climate justice is definitely a prerequisite for solving the climate crisis,” he said.

Saru Duckworth

Nepalese American Researcher and Economic Inclusion Advocate

Saru is driven by her lived experience working with families living in poverty in Nepal. As the UN Foundation’s Next Generation Fellow for Jobs and Economic Opportunities, she mentors young innovators around the world to launch economic empowerment programs to advance the SDGs.

Saru believes that political will — not funding, research, or feasibility — is the missing piece to making sure no one is left behind: “Global poverty is a political choice.”

It makes sense, then, that for the past five years, Saru has worked on women’s economic and social empowerment programs across South and Southeast Asia. At BRAC, the world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to alleviating poverty, she worked with eight local governments to scale up sustainable livelihood programs for women in extreme poverty.

Sinead Bovell

Canadian Futurist and Founder of WAYE

Sinead is changing the narrative on Big Tech, including who gets access to it and who gets to talk about it. She is a futurist on a mission to help the world prepare for the rapid changes that technology, including artificial intelligence, is already unleashing, to democratize data and to use it as a force for economic, political, and social change. “When we look at the magnitude of the challenges we face, not least of which being climate change, we are at a point where it’s going to require mobilizing technology to get us back on track,” she said.

Sinead is doing her part by educating more than 10,000 young entrepreneurs and counting through WAYE, a tech education company she founded to prepare the next generation — especially minorities and first-generation immigrants like her parents — for a radically different reality ahead. She also shares her insights globally as a member of the Generation Connect Visionaries Board for the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Looking Ahead to the Future

One thing is clear: The next generation is already stepping up, and the UN is bringing their passion and perspectives to the global stage. In 2018, the UN launched Youth2030, its first organization-wide strategy focused on working with and for young people. As part of these efforts, the UN will host the Summit of the Future during the 79th session of the General Assembly in September in New York City to promote meaningful dialogue across sectors, borders, backgrounds, and demographics. The Summit will explore how the planet can help realize Our Common Agenda, UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ vision for the future of global cooperation.

At the UN Foundation, meanwhile, our Next Generation Fellows are responding to the Secretary-General’s call for young people to mold what multilateralism will look like. In 2023, the inaugural cohort engaged with more than 600 young thinkers and activists, partner organizations, and decision makers to compile a companion report, Our Future Agenda, that lays out youth priorities.

As these emerging leaders demonstrate, young people are already standing up, speaking out, and taking action on humanity’s greatest problems. And they’re using new tools, technology, and ways of thinking to protect our planet and shape our destiny.

The future starts now.

Meet More Young Changemakers

Through Our Future Agenda, UN Foundation provides a platform for young innovators, entrepreneurs, and champions to reimagine the UN for 21st century needs.