USAID Administrator Mark Green's Remarks at The Summit of Americas' Youth Forum

Thursday, April 12, 2018

 
Buenos Días! Bom dia!

I'm Mark Green. Good morning, everyone.

There are so many programs around the Summit of the Americas, so many causes, so many important leaders -- but I can honestly say that this gathering is the most important one I see here in Lima.

Now, I know that among the world's political commentators, we have a number of pessimists these days, who see dark things. They seem to believe that progress is slowing down. They seem to believe that conflict and instability will dominate the world for some time to come, and some of them even suggest that democracy itself is in trouble. These same critics sometimes point to the number of young people today as a problem. There's a cause for concern.

After all, there are 1.8 billion young people in the world today. This is the largest youth population in history. They know that about 90 percent of young people live in developing countries. But you and I know, of course, that where the critics may see challenge, we see opportunity. With each motivated, active, and engaged young mind, we see the seeds of solution, innovation, and hope.

And the fact that so many of today's young people come from the developing world, to me that's even greater a reason for hope. It means that we can expect new ideas from new sources, and that is what the world needs more than anything else today. The Americas are especially young. In Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, the median age is 23 or younger.

For all of these reasons, we at the U.S. Agency for International Development are making a major commitment to partnering with young leaders, with all of you, and potential young leaders, your brothers and sisters. We are investing in a wide range of programs in Latin America, the Caribbean, and beyond; something like $400 million USD per year.

Our initiatives run the gamut from promoting economic opportunity for young people and natural resource management, to reducing violence, and encouraging civic engagement and getting involved in your governments and political systems. With various partners, we're teaching word processing in Honduras, computerized injection molding in the Dominican Republic, and crafting smartphone-based, agricultural productivity apps in Guatemala. These are just a few of the examples of how we're working with all of you with new investments and new tools.

We work with communities, schools, local organizations, peer groups, and families. Our philosophy is to treat the young people that we serve not just as beneficiaries and recipients, but partners and leaders. We turn to you for ideas and hope and inspiration. This is not simply what can be given to you. It is what you can do with the tools that you have.

This is about us; that educated, healthy, employed young people who are involved in their communities, are incredible drivers of democracy and economic growth. That's why we're launching a brand-new internet platform this summer to help harness some of that great young energy. I'll tell you more about that in just a moment.

But before I do, I think I must be fair to the pessimists and the critics who are out there, because there is another side to the coin. When societies engage to empower young people to help them succeed, there is no limit to what can be accomplished. But history also tells us what happens when society's failed to listen, and listen effectively, to young people. It's more than just a tragic waste of potential.

When young people are disconnected from civil society, when there is a gap between them and officials or elected leaders, sometimes frustrated young people turn to other outlets for expression, outlets that are maybe corrosive instead of constructive. Left unaddressed, this can lead to disillusionment and apathy, or much worse, to unrest and incivility. In some cases, disillusionment causes young people to flee their homes, their families, their communities, and maybe even engage in unsafe migration.

But none of this is inevitable. None of this needs to happen. If we listen to and partner with our young people, people like you, if we partner with leaders like you, we can turn youthful energy into a power that lifts lives and builds communities and paints a much, much brighter future. And for me it's wonderful to see that happening at events like this one, sharing ideas, discussing possibilities, exploring answers. Most importantly, I see an essential focus on providing the tools that you'll need to thrive and to lead in the modern, technologically interconnected world economy.

You know, sometimes I think it is hard for today's young people to realize just how far technology has brought us in, what to me, is a very short period of time. And I usually think of it in personal terms. About 30 years ago now, before many of you were born, my wife and I served as volunteer teachers in a small village in Africa, in Kenya. In those days in my village, there was one telephone and it was a wind-up telephone -- operator-assisted. You would literally pick the phone up, wind it, and you'd say, "Operator, give me Nairobi." You'd put the phone down. Then maybe after a while sitting around, the operator would call and say your call has come through.

Thirty years ago, none of my students had ever seen a building more than two stories high. But just a dozen years later, after that, I went back to that school, and my former students were calling each other on mobile phones. A dozen years after that I went back, and my former students were doing their banking by mobile phones. I'm almost afraid to go back now and see what they're doing. Probably doing CAD/CAM -- things I can't even begin to know about or do myself. So, I think we've thrown the word "revolution" around too easily. But this is a revolution. It has changed human experience in ways that my generation still struggles sometimes to wrap our heads around. You have two whole days now to evaluate the details, and you need to take advantage of them.

With the time that I have, I want to tell you about one of the ways that USAID is trying to do our part. Our Youth Power Learn network at www.youthpower.org is a dynamic knowledge hub. It has already supported a connection of thousands of young people looking for funding opportunities, to post or to find new innovations, or just to connect with other like-minded members. Along with our four communities of practice, it provides access to more than 2,000 promising practices, documents, and resources.

And I am excited today to announce that in July, we plan to launch a complimentary Youth Lead platform in both English and Spanish, with an available translating machine for many other languages. It's a collaborative tool that will focus exclusively on youth-led content and on connecting thousands of young leaders who are already leading through our program worldwide, and to the agency USAID itself, and to other sponsors and implementers.

Developed with the help of a youth advisory council, including leaders from across this region, Youth Lead will serve as a marketplace for innovation, social entrepreneurship, and leadership resources for young change-makers like you. More broadly, it will connect change-makers, all of you, to each other and to a larger group of networks, tools, opportunities and events of which goals and dreams are made. It is a great example of the power of partnerships between government and the private sector to build up the next generation of leaders.

Our goal is to empower young people to help chart their own paths at our various programs and initiatives. We want our young people involved from the very beginning. We want to help you help us to open our eyes to the possibilities that we, who are not so young, would never have foreseen. In Nicaragua, for example, one of our vocational training programs for at-risk youth recently won the National Robotics Competition, despite coming from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. My guess is that some officials see these areas as problems and challenges, but young people are proving them wrong, very wrong. Technology opens horizons that previous generations could only dream of. With that in mind, I want to leave all of you with a challenge.

The fact that you are here today in this beautiful city, in this beautiful conference center, it means that you are privileged. You represent millions of other young people who long for the opportunity to be a leader, to make a difference. You have access to the kinds of technology that most young people around the world -- from all the progress that we have made -- they do not. With privilege comes responsibility. So, I urge you, I call upon you: take advantage of the opportunity of events like this forum.

Take advantage of the chance to learn, connect, and share the lessons of technology, of innovation with your brothers and sisters who are less fortunate, who do not have that privilege. That is what you owe them. It is also what you can do, if you are going to truly lead your generation to claim the future, seize the opportunity, representing the underrepresented communities. Share, teach, take advantage of the potential for all this exciting, new technology. Use it to improve other people's lives. Your elders will eventually thank you for it, even if not right away. Eventually, they will thank you for it, and so will the next generation.

And that generation of young leaders who come after you, who knows what they, in turn, will bring home through events like this one. Thank you again for all that you have done.

Thank you for all that you will do. People like me are watching. You are our best hope for the future. Please, seize the opportunity. Thank you.

Swissotel, Lima, Peru

Last updated: April 20, 2018

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