Why the Rights of Future Generations Should Be Everyone’s Top Priority

By Inés Yábar and Prachi Shevgaonkar on June 25, 2024

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum is held annually at UN headquarters in New York. The Forum invites young people to contribute their ideas, insights, innovative solutions, and unique perspectives to policy discussions at the UN. Photo: Joel Sheakoski/UN Photo

Inés Yábar and Prachi Shevgaonkar are leading the UN Foundation’s Next Generation Fellows program, bringing young leaders together across India and the globe to help ensure the voices of young people are heard — and respected. In this conversation, they cover everything from what inspires their advocacy to how other young people can get involved.

More than half of all people alive today are younger than 30. Before this century ends, roughly 10 billion more people are expected to be born.

The numbers are clear: The future belongs to young people and future generations.

And yet, too often, those who will have to live with the consequences of the decisions made today are excluded from the halls of power. It doesn’t have to be this way. Imagine: What would the world look like if young people were at the forefront of shaping the future?

Acting on this sentiment at the highest level, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called upon young people to shape Our Common Agenda, his vision for the future of global cooperation. In doing so, he made clear that “young people must also be at the table — as designers of their own future.”

This vision propelled the UN Foundation to launch the Next Generation Fellows program in 2021. Already, the program is having a tangible impact: one of the recommendations the first cohort outlined in the Our Future Agenda report — establishing a “contract for the Future setting out obligations to future generations” — has been translated in a Pact for the Future, which will launch at the Summit of the Future in September.

Building on the success of the original global cohort, the UN Foundation started the first-ever Next Generation Fellows program in India in collaboration with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). With 1.4 billion of the estimated 10 billion people yet to be born in this century set to call India home, their voices are essential to shaping an equitable and sustainable future for all.

Inés Yábar and Prachi Shevgaonkar — leads of the Global Next Generation Fellows and Next Generation India Fellows, respectively — engaged in a candid conversation about their hopes, ambitions, and goals as they lead their cohorts toward the future.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length by Megan Rabbitt.

Young climate advocates meet with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the Climate Ambition Summit during the 78th UN General Assembly in September 2023. UN Photo/ Mark Garten

The Past Shapes the Present, but it Doesn’t Define the Future

Tell us a bit about your journey so far and what motivates you.

Inés: Growing up in Peru, I could see how different circumstances determined different futures. For those growing up in shanty towns, the future looked less bright. I also grew up near the ocean, and for me, like many who live in coastal areas around the world, the future might mean the disappearance of a beloved home. We are already seeing this in countries like Tuvalu, where the average rate of sea level rise is expected to more than double by 2100. Our stake in the future is not hypothetical. This future is now, and, if we don’t act, many of those born to future generations will have no place to live while others suffer increasing climate change impacts.

Prachi: Similarly, I had an opportunity to see different sides of my country as a young student. When I was 18, I set out to find a way to make a difference in my community. I spent the next year traveling across India, working with youth, farmers, waste pickers and social impact organizations. In every community I visited, I saw the effects of climate change. I met farmers who lost their produce to erratic rainfall. I met climate refugees picking scrap to make ends meet. I met bright young students who had to drop out of school due to extreme weather events. It made me wonder: What can an ordinary girl like me do about a big problem like climate change?

From the dorm room of my college, I built Cool The Globe, an app to unite citizens to fight climate change from their own homes. Over the past five years of mobilizing citizens for climate action, I have been able to meet thousands of young people determined to make a difference and bring about change.

Lead Next Generation India Fellow Prachi Shevgaonkar’s Cool the Globe app was featured in the last episode of Shark Tank India 3. The app helps users track and minimize greenhouse gas emissions in their daily activities. Photo courtesy of: Shark Tank India Sony LIV Team

The First Step to Realizing a Better Future Is Visualizing It

When you think about a better future, what do you see?

Inés: When I think about the future, I see faces of young people I know today. I imagine their dreams coming true, their advocacy turning into real change and leading to celebrations in their countries and communities. I also try to imagine future generations: our children, grandchildren, and even beyond. And I see hope, because despite the brokenness of this world, I also see love and a generation of doers who are doing their best to eradicate poverty, fight climate change and build partnerships for a better future.

Although my generation is increasingly skeptical about the UN, I’ve seen the impact this institution has and I truly believe we have a role in reimagining how the UN can better deliver for people and planet, starting with the youngest members of society. All 193 Member States of the UN agreed to the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. The UN managed to get countries to agree that poverty needs to be tackled, climate change should be addressed, and we should partner together for common goals. I believe the UN can deliver and as young people we should be ready to make our mark on the world and support that delivery both locally and globally.

Prachi: When I think of the future of India, I see millions of dreams. As a young country, we are a nation of hope and possibility, where big dreams can be both dreamt and realized. With more than half of our population under the age of 30, Indian youth are in a unique and powerful position to influence the future on a global level. We just need to be made aware of our power.

By the time of this year’s election, 23% more 18- and 19-year-olds had registered to vote than in 2019. This is promising, but an estimated 31.8 million young voters still didn’t cast their vote this year. That is more than the entire population of Australia! So, we still have a long way to go.

Our role as the youth of India is to be ambitious, for ourselves and for our nation. The Next Generation India Fellows have been assembled to take the lead in realizing this powerful vision of youth-led nation building. We are building a road map for youth across the country to tap into the changemaker within each of them.

Held during the ECOSOC Youth Forum in April 2023, the intergenerational session on Youth Insights and Recommendations in the Lead Up to the SDG Summit 2023, was chaired by the President of ECOSOC and co-facilitated by UN Foundation’s Next Generation Fellow Inés Yábar and Asma Rouabhia. Photo: Joel Sheakoski/UN Photo

Finding Inspiration in Collaboration

Where do you find inspiration?

Prachi: Very few people in the world are lucky enough to work on things that move them, and even fewer get to do it with the support of a robust ecosystem, let alone in collaboration with people who inspire them and at a young age. As the Next Generation Fellows, we are among the tiny fraction of the population who has access to all of this, under one platform. That is what inspires me — every single Next Generation Fellow inspires me.

It is said that you become a combination of the people you spend a lot of time with. At the end of this fellowship, if I become a combination of the 21 remarkable individuals that make up our two cohorts, I will feel superhuman! That, to me, is what successful collaboration looks like: feeling stronger together, feeling unstoppable together.

When one of us acts, it inspires 10 others around us, and it creates a ripple effect of change. As the respective leads of our cohorts, I believe our most important role is to help our Fellows inspire others. Together, we are bringing the vision of the fellowship to young leaders across India and the world.

Inés: Beyond the individuals who inspire us, I’m motivated by knowing that we are actually making waves. Last year the Youth Office was institutionalized at the UN, and this year we have a Summit of the Future that represents an opportunity to advocate not just for our own future but for that of future generations.

Huge demographic shifts are already beginning. The global population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2100, and over 80% of those people will live in Asia or Africa. It’s our job then, as humanity, to think and act for those future generations, too. This is what the Sustainable Development Goals are about, common goals that better the world today while building sustainably for future generations. Unfortunately, only 15% of the Goals’ 169 targets are on track, so we really need to pick up the pace, and we can’t do that without collaboration.

As Fellows, we also have a road map we can follow, which is The Road to 2100, our springboard to tackle current and future challenges through global cooperation. Half of the global population of 8 billion is young people under 30, so we cannot better the world with just 21 of us — we need everyone. I’m particularly looking forward to continuing the momentum we built in last year’s Engine Room and continuing to build partnerships. So far, I’ve seen young leaders like Nohora deliver training on climate change in Indigenous communities. And other young leaders like Felipe who built an NGO on foresight from scratch, or Mark who used research combined with storytelling to build a lab. I am sure there are many more like them out there, and that is really inspiring. It’s been great to connect with changemakers and champions this year as we develop our 2100 road map. They inspire me, my generation inspires me.

The inaugural cohort of the Next Generation India Fellowship was jointly launched by the UN Foundation and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in January 2024. The two-year Fellowship is a platform for young Indian thinkers to develop solutions for public health, climate, gender equality, and more. Photo: Kartikeya Jain/CEEW

Being Seen, Heard, and Making a Difference

What should young people know about the Next Generation Fellowship program?

Prachi: The best way to describe the Next Generation India Fellows is that we are a cohort as diverse as the country we represent. Our 11 dynamic fellows hail from different parts of India and represent 11 key thematic areas that will influence the future of our country: climate, gender equality, innovation, new technologies, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities, art and culture, oceans, future of the workforce, future of food, and public health.

As each fellow takes ownership of their thematic area, we also collaborate with each other and the global fellows through five action groups: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnerships. In partnership with young people across the world, the two cohorts of Next Generation Fellows are building the ‘Engine Room of the Future’ — a digital, intergenerational platform to reimagine how the United Nations thinks, plans, and acts for the future.

As a key outcome of the Next Generation India Fellowship, we are excited to collaborate with young changemakers and leaders across the country to develop the ‘Future of India Report’. I view this report as the flame to ignite a broader movement for the leadership of countries with young populations.

As fellows, we also participate in key global moments where we can engage with stakeholders and add our voices to dialogues that shape the world. As part of this effort, I joined my fellow Next Generation India Fellows Nandini Harihar and Anoushka Sinha at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum in New York recently, where we got an opportunity to engage with Member States, brainstorm solutions for youth well-being, and plan for the 2024 Summit of the Future.

Inés: That is amazing, Prachi! As young people we hold a great stake in today’s world, but especially in the future, so we need more of us in multilateral spaces. It may seem daunting because some people have been in the decision-making space for so long, but we need youth engagement more than ever, not just as speakers or silent observers but as key stakeholders in the processes. The future isn’t owned by any one generation, but children, young people, and our descendants will live with the consequences of today. It’s especially critical as we engage in the Summit of the Future that we make sure the declaration on future generations has an intergenerational perspective so we can work together to shape a truly intergenerational future.

I have so much hope that with a group like ours the future looks bright. I’ve seen it through Next Generation Fellows like Saru making civil society go viral in Nairobi, Jac bringing together 120 future thinkers in Wales, Anita engaging with her region, Africa, at the SDG regional conference — the list could go on. As fellows, we get the chance to engage and influence multilateral spaces and we get to see how young people around the world are taking action in their homes and communities. There is a lot of hope in that because we know this generation of doers is here to turn things around in the second half of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Next Generation Global Fellows, including Lead Fellow Inés Yábar, are photographed with UN officials at the 2023 ECOSOC Youth Forum. Photo: UN Photo/ Mark Garten

A Message for Young People: Believe, Act, and Get Involved

What would you say to a young person interested in joining a Next Generation Fellowship?

Prachi: The Next Generation program is more than a fellowship — it is an idea, a vision, and a movement.

As a lead Fellow, I have one thing to share with young people around the world, and one thing to ask of them.

I want to share a vision for the future. A future where young people are not just spectators but play an active role in shaping the world around them, where each one of us is a changemaker.

And my ask is that young people believe: believe in the power of their words, believe in the power of their actions, believe that in the face of global problems, they can make a difference.

That is the ethos of the Next Generation Fellowship, and when you start believing in this vision, you become a part of the next generation movement.

Inés: That’s a great bottom line, Prachi. We will be taking action, so it’s time to get to it! From the fellowship to the Engine Room, to partnerships with the UN and beyond, I hope to see so many more of us involved in this journey to 2100.


Here are simple ways to work with us:

  1. Youth survey: Share your thoughts on concrete solutions to real problems, such as taxing luxury items as is done in France.
  2. Town halls: Connecting inter-generationally on national priorities for the future.
  3. Engine Room: Work with us researching, campaigning, and building a road map for 2100 under the 5Ps: people, planet, prosperity, peace, partnerships.
  4. Unlock the Future: Check out this coalition of the world’s largest youth- and child-focused organizations.
  5. Follow: Stay up to date on opportunities and to see how our journey evolves.