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UN Youth Envoy Dialogue on Meaningful Youth Engagement with United Nations Staff

Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, met with United Nations staff based in Pretoria as part of her four (4) day official visit to South Africa. The meeting brought together staff from all agencies represented in Pretoria to engage in dialogue on the work of the Office of the Envoy on Youth and share experiences with UN staff on exploring ways in which to better engage young people.

A number of issues were raised by staff. These included the UN’s internship programme and how the unpaid work issue among young people in the UN can be addressed. In addition, staff also sought experience and ideas from the Youth Envoy on how to deal with the experience issue when trying to hire or retain young people as staff. They noted that for countries in the North, the Junior Professional Programme (JPO) enables young people to access and penetrate important institutions than those in the South.

Responding to the issues raised, the Youth Envoy noted that unpaid work, exploitation and a general review of the internship program at the UN is an important item on the Secretary General’s agenda. This is one of the items the Envoy has been tasked to make specific recommendations on. In addition, the Envoy noted that job experience is no longer the same – access to information and training opportunities mean that it takes people today a shorter time to learn or understand something than it did 30 years ago. Hence thinking on this has to change. The Envoy also noted that some countries indeed are investing in specific positions for young people through the JPO programme, and in addition are providing a specific quota to those in the South, giving an example of Italy which will be allocating a quarter of its JPO positions to young professionals in developing nations.

In addition to this, the Envoy also spoke briefly on her mandate, noting the need to bring the work of the UN and young people closer – encouraging agencies present to look for innovative ways to engage youth. Ms. Jayathma challenged the staff to think differently about what role young people can play in the professional space, underscoring the examples of disruptions and leadership youth are showing in the business as compared to the development space.

The Youth Envoy will be in South Africa for a four (4) day official visit, engaging young people and stakeholders on youth development.