Guide to SKOPJE

Innovative young people will improve our societies


Balkon3 interview with Zeenat Rahman

Zeenat Rahman serves as Secretary Clinton’s Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues and Director of the Office of Global Youth Issues (J/GYI) as of June 26, 2012. In that capacity, she works to coordinate and enhance the Secretary of State’s efforts to empower, engage, and elevate global youth issues. She previously served as Deputy Director of the Center for Faith Based and Neighborhood Initiatives at USAID.

Mrs Rahman, as secretary Clinton’s special advisor on global youth issues, please tell us about the programs and campaigns that the US are practicing to achieve bigger social integration of young people?

– State secretary Clinton really believes in the power of young people to be change makers, to be the positive agents of change in our community, and my job is to ensure that our engagement with young people, things that we do with young people have real impact on their lives, on the issues that matter to them. In addition to that, my job is also to elevate youth voices, to make sure that in our bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, we talk about youth issues. Young people make up over half of the worlds population. Over 50 percent of the world populations are under the age of 30.

In the US there are different religions, different young people from different ethnic origin… How do you deal with their needs, what is the most efficient way to bring them together?

– In the US, we often say, and the president just said that last week in the inauguration speech, that our diversity is our strength. That we are diverse nation in every meaning of the word. We have religious diversity, ethnic, cultural, socio economic diversity. So I think the question is how you build the common society, with respect for all diversities, but  understanding our common goals. What is it that we can accomplish together, mutually, that will improve our societies. I think dialogue is important, acting locally, local community is important, and respecting each other’s differences is important.

Do you thing that similar programs and campaigns could be introduced in the Balkans?

– Yes, I do. Actually, I just came back from a presentation of a school program in a high school. There is a program that teaches young people how to facilitate dialogue interethnicaly. They use this, as they said to me, in different situation in real life. So, it isn’t only when they have this conversations. Their participation in the program allowed them to see the other person differently.

What is your general view on the situation of the young people here in the Balkans?

– Well, this is my first visit to Macedonia, and I’ve had such a warm welcome, so far. I find people very warm and genuine. I just came from our American corner in Tetovo, I had lunch with about 20 kids, aged 13 to 16. And judging from that meeting, I feel very hopeful. These kids are all extremely empowered, they want to make a change in their community, and they speak English very fluently. They do everything funds, debates, women rights, I mean these are 16 years old kids, and they want to make sure that their peers, young people of the samer age are also involved.

Unemployment is a very big problem here; Young people are leaving the country. How can we address this difficult situation?

– I think there are many challenges that young people are facing in the world, but this is number one issue. There are over 75 million unemployed people around the world. You may have heard Ban Ki Moon say that if we don’t do something about this, we will have a lost generation. I think there are many thinks that need to be done on all levels. The one that I am focused on is entrepreneurship. I think that people need to be innovative, to come up with innovative ideas, and with help to be able to make the idea become a reality. Starting  your own enterprise is extremely empowering. In an ideal world, it leads to small business growth that should be an engine to the economic growth. We are focused on it. I think that if we look at partnerships, innovation, and empowerment, we find those three to be what entrepreneurship is made of. And we are looking into different regions in the world and finding ways to create conditions in which young people can take an idea and actually turn it into something. And sometimes, having a mentor who was there before, having strong PR on their work, or having access to somebody who is willing to fund your idea is the most important thing because it is an innovative program. So there is a lot of work to do in that space, but I think it is very promising space.

There is anger among the young people because of the crises. If we look at the situation in Greece, and other countries in Europe, do you think that the austerity measures will just worsen the situation, because at the end it will affect mostly the young population?

– This is a very important question. I think we are world in flocks, and this is a phase that we previously probably have not known. And it speaks how much more interconnected we are, that we are more interconnected than ever before. And I think if you look at the traditional pathways for success in a person’s life, it usually meant to get a job in the government, have a career for 30 years, be able to retire, live in the same city, and have their family living in that city. That is not the case anymore. It is not in the US, not in Europe, it is probably not going to be the case here in Macedonia either. And, so, this millennial generation, generation in the new millennium, young people, generation in flocks, they are changing, they need change all the time, to innovate to be successful. I think that we don’t know yet, what those paths for the success are, because they have to create them, and that creates uncertainty. And so, I think you have this discomfort with the situation changing and a distrust of authority of what the way things used to be for their parents it is not how it is for them. But I have hope that, they are also going to get through this difficult period, and they are going to innovate, and they are actually going to be innovation pioneers because of their ability to use technology, because they are willing to challenge the status quo, because the status quo doesn’t work for them.

Can you make a difference in the problems of young people in the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia? What are the main challenges in the specific regions?

– I have been on this position for about half a year. I have traveled to Latin America, and I have worked with young people in the Middle East and Europe, and there are differences in every region, but there are also similarities among millennials. And if you look at the similarities, they are very technically able as a cohort, and they oftentimes use a lot of the same cultural references across the world. They communicate the same way with each other, maybe not across different countries, but they communicate with each other using social media, using their shorthand, and they are innovative, they come up with new ideas. And I see a spark in young people, a spark that makes them change makers in their communities. I see a lot of similarities too. I think the difference between people, the biggest differences are not between regions but between people who are empowered to make change, and people who don’t believe that they can. And I just saw at the American corner, I have these 20 kids around me, who all believe that they can change their communities…

If there is a good recipe for better inclusion of the young people what would it be?

– We have to give them a seat at the table, and empowered them, and let them know that their ideas matter. I don’t want to simplify, there are a lot of challenges, but that is a first start.  Our embassy, here in Skopje, has a youth council, and we take our youth councils very seriously. They have a very good youth council here, they have a lot of ideas, so I came here too highlight the great work that is beeing done in Macedonia…

What are the main challenges in 21 century?

– It would be the challenge of the lack of economic opportunity. I think as nation states as multilateral organizations, we have to focus on actually creating jobs and opportunities for the young people. There are too many young people in the world whose talents are wasted because they don’t have access to education and no access to employment.