Global Citizens have witnessed devastating strife over the past year. As we continue to face the threats of rising conflict and climate-related natural disasters, however, we can find hope for a more peaceful and sustainable world through initiatives led by the future generation.
Young people have shown us time and again they can rise to the challenge, fighting for climate justice, reproductive rights, equitable access to education, and an end to the hunger crisis. In recognition of the incredible ways the world’s youth has ideated and launched projects to advance human rights, the Young Activists Summit (YAS) was launched to uplift and celebrate young activists around the world.
Co-organized by the nongovernmental organization (NGO) dev.tv, the United Nations Office at Geneva, Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), its Genève Vision label, and the Graduate Institute, this annual summit honors a small group of human rights, environmental, and land defenders under the age of 30.
“YAS’ mission is to raise awareness of environmental and human rights issues, to serve as a global platform for youth to come together, discuss the most pressing challenges of our time, and get inspired to take action,” Tiphaine Di Ruscio, project and communications manager at dev.tv, told Global Citizen.
This year’s group of laureates is made up of five activists who have made an impact in their communities related to the summit’s 2023 theme: Peace and Reconciliation.
While the event culminates in a live broadcast taking place on Nov. 16 at the United Nations Office at Geneva (Global Citizens can register to stream this event for free here), YAS is far more than an awards ceremony. When it comes to equipping the next generation of activists with the resources they need to advance their causes, it has an incredible way of empowering people around the world to take action.
1. YAS shows the world that young people are the present and the future.
In preparation for the summit, the YAS team spends the year researching young people who are taking action for their communities. While this research stage centers around identifying a small group of activists whose work relates to the summit’s theme, the NGO has found no shortage of youth enacting change.
“Our focus as an NGO is to shed light on environmental and humanitarian issues through media coverage, but we’ve found that when an issue is constantly talked about in the news, like climate change, people become bored or feel hopeless,” Di Ruscio said. “But when we bring people together and introduce them to someone working on the ground with a mission of hope, they pay attention.”
She added: “There are so many young people who are able to make a huge impact with limited resources. Our role is to help them reach the right people, facilitate access to resources, and get as much attention on their cause to unlock their full potential as activists.”
2. The summit highlights the work of incredible activists.
A refugee fighting to ensure Rohingya people’s rights. A young founder whose association empowers displaced women to earn an income and become community leaders. A 14-year-old who uses eco-hope to counter eco-anxiety among youth.
These are just snapshots of this year’s winners, representing a variety of cultures, backgrounds, languages, and causes that will come together to share their vision for a sustainable and peaceful world.
“There is a growing sentiment globally that the world is more and more divided. People increasingly tend to live in ‘bubbles,’ which is partly due to social media, where users only consume the content they tend to agree with, and hear less of other people’s opinions,” Di Ruscio said. “More than ever, we need to come together, find ways to speak with one another, build bridges, and promote reconciliation.”
3. Activists are introduced to valuable support systems.
In the week leading up to the YAS, all five laureates are flown to Geneva to engage in training, networking, and funding opportunities to help them scale their missions to achieve greater impact.
While some of the training focuses on practical skills, such as public speaking and fundraising, other opportunities allow activists to meet with relevant stakeholders who can support their work, such as NGOs, UN agencies, or diplomats and government leaders.
“All parties are really impacted. For the activist, it’s very empowering to speak and meet with such high-level actors. And for the leaders we invite, when they come, they’re really impressed by the young activists they met with and are eager to help,” Di Ruscio told Global Citizen.
This year, Maïmouna Ba, who works on peacebuilding in the Sahel, is meeting with the organization Interpeace, which focuses on peacebuilding initiatives in areas of the world where conflict is prevalent. Roshni Perween is dedicated to ending child marriage, so dev.tv connected her with UN Women to provide support for her future projects.
“Last but not least, our number one priority is to ensure our Laureates’ safety, including when they go back home. Activists who are endangered in their home countries receive security briefings with specialized organizations,” Di Ruscio said.
4. YAS helps activists make a bigger impact in their communities.
Since the summit’s founding in 2019, past laureates have been able to make significant strides in their causes due to the recognition and networking opportunities they received at YAS. Training sessions help them advance their work, while connections with civil society provide them with additional safety or resources.
“Many of our activists have reported new and expanded results following their participation in the summit,” Di Ruscio said. “Some have been congratulated on their YAS award by authorities in their countries, which helped them gain credibility and visibility to carry out their projects and approach new stakeholders.”
Sebastián Benfeld, a Chilean environmental activist who received a YAS award in 2022, was congratulated by the President of his home country in recognition of his environmental advocacy.
José Quisocala was recognized in 2021 for helping 2,500 children pay for school tuition and meals in Peru; after receiving the YAS award, Quisocala was able to amplify his impact just one year later by sending 8,000 children to school.
5. The summit inspires other people to take action.
During each summit’s award ceremony, dev.tv receives a flurry of messages from viewers related to the laureates’ speeches and missions. These messages reflect one of the most impactful parts of YAS, which is its ability to inspire others to take action.
“The Young Activists Summit serves as a global youth platform, so it’s really important for us to bring together young people from different continents to one place, one room, or one chat online,” Di Ruscio said. “When I see young people joining from Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan — places so affected by conflict and crisis — who are so interested in taking part and sharing their ideas, it gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Oftentimes, after each activist takes the stage to accept their YAS award and speak about their cause, viewers around the world will ask how they can help.
In 2022, for instance, the laureate C’est Prévue Emmy Lusila received an outpouring of support in the form of private donations to fund Maison des Anges orphanage for children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
While the summit is taking place in person in Geneva, Global Citizens can join in on all the fun and discussion by registering here to view the summit online.
This article is part of a series connected to defending advocacy and civic space, made possible thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation.