01 Apr 2012

DIHAD 2012

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to DIHAD 2012.

On several occasions recently, I have been asked to speak about the role of youth in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially ending poverty and hunger.

You remember the MDGs.  Back in the year 2000, when Heads of state gathered at the United Nations and set targets we must reach to make prosperity global?

Young people have a tremendous stake in our meeting these goals.  It is not hard to motivate them.  But sometimes I feel like a "translator" or intermediary between generations -- trying to convince governments of the urgency of action on these goals. Memories can be short in the political world -- the MDGs are actually government goals.  They were the authors.  They should not walk away from them or, worse yet, falsely claim progress where we have fallen short.

Too often we put generations in separate blocks and boxes -- we should not. 

We are all responsible and accountable for reaching the whole range of Millennium Development Goals on education, health, the environment, gender. One generation cannot simply pass the buck to the next with a message of regrets: "Sorry we have failed, over to you now." 

That is an invitation to bitterness and recrimination.

The same is true for countries.  Some of the older developed societies are passing the price for fixing economic and environmental problems onto the new generation of nations who may well see things differently.  We are in this together and we must work together -- new generations and old, new countries and old. 

All parents want a brighter future for their children -- better health, improved education, wider employment opportunities.  For my generation and my parents, life has grown progressively better. 

By most measures, our lives have improved -- more people are literate today, their incomes are higher, and life expectancies have climbed steadily in most parts of the world.

But will the future be as bright for the young people today and for our children? 

A global financial crisis and stagnant economies have dampened expectations among many youth.  Further clouding the picture are the serious mistakes we have made in our pursuit of prosperity -- many nations have not wisely managed supplies of energy, minerals, and even water.  

Our very prosperity itself has created a host of problems for the next generation -- our environmental failures have unleashed global warming and there are skyrocketing rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.  

In much of the world, we face a demographic tsunami -- no place more than here in the Middle East.  Half our population is under 25.  There are already too many people for too few jobs and the impact of technology, especially in the manufacturing sector, will be to reduce those numbers even further.

The often desperate search for jobs by today's youth presents a massive challenge to international cooperation on migration.  I am looking forward to hearing about how we cope with this challenge from Director General William Lacy Swing of the IOM this morning.

If I were a teenager or in my twenties today, I think I would be nervous, angry and frustrated. 

But there are some grounds for optimism. 

The World Bank recently announced that, as a whole, we have already cut global poverty in half since 2000 globally, but progress among countries has been very uneven.

What concerns me most is that in the areas of hunger and malnutrition we are actually losing ground and food prices remain at historically high levels.  Add to that the frustrating lack of progress in negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol to counter global warming and you have a troubling picture.

If governments do not pay the price to reach all the MDGs now, everyone under 25 today will pay the price tomorrow. 

In fact, they are already paying.

Among the world's 1 billion hungry, who is most affected?  Children -- especially young girls. 

Who dies most often in childbirth?  Young women between 15 and 19. 

Who lacks access to basic literacy and educational opportunities?  Young women.

And the list goes on.

The challenge is not that we lack the resources to end poverty and hunger and provide better lives for youth today.  Globally, we have those resources.  When it comes to food, the truth is that we have had enough food for every man, woman and child on the planet for half a century. Many governments have simply not made the choice to do so.

Our choices have been flawed, our priorities inhumane.  

Every year global arms sales top $1 trillion -- ten times the level of Official Development Aid.  Legitimate defense is one thing, but as my husband Sheikh Mohammed has often asked, "How we can pursue these massive expenditures and then let millions of children starve?"

It is time for new choices and we are all responsible. 

Especially on environmental issues, there is tremendous energy in local communities, schools and in NGOs -- and that energy spans generations.  Governments need to channel it and use it better than they do today.  They also need to prioritize -- and their first priority should be hunger. 

Ending hunger is the most critical MDG.  Simply put, hunger is dangerous.  We saw that in the Arab Spring -- when families must struggle to feed their children, turmoil follows.

It all comes down to wise governance.  There is enough money, enough wealth, and enough food.  Imagine a world in which different choices are made; different priorities set.  Every conflict today is, in essence, robbing money from education, health, and food for those in need. 

We need to change priorities and quickly. 

Young people today have been raised in the digital age -- they are accustomed to the fast movement of ideas, products and information, to instant gratification.  Innovation is the only constant.  The pace of change in their daily lives has quickened and they are not patient.  The political world must adapt.  Until young people see change -- especially in employment, they will feel they face a future devoid of dignity.

It is so suitable that Dubai should host this conference on youth and development.  Arab countries have the highest percentage of youth in the world and most of us are, in fact, relatively young nations as well.

There is no more a youth-oriented culture than what we have in the UAE today. No government more devoted to education, health and economic opportunity.   Multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, tolerant...a snapshot of the world as it could be.  As much as we have done for our citizens, we don't chauvinistically insist that others must behave as we behave.  The UAE is a leader by example -- not by colonization, economic intimidation or force.

People remark about the marvelous structures that form Dubai today and try to emulate it.  We can make endless investments in the impressive "hardware" you see all around you here, but it is the "software", our youth, that really counts.

People under-estimate the capacity of youth, but some of the most dramatic business innovations today have been made by entrepreneurs in their twenties.  There are dozens of millionaires, even some billionaires, in their twenties in the business world.  The doors of the corporate board room are open to them.  We need their talents in the political world too. 

How is it that we give them so little role in setting the global development agenda or helping find new routes to ending political conflicts that deplete our energy and resources?

The most marvelous thing about being young is the openness to new ideas, to the imagination.  Our world is in economic and political flux, some even say danger.  We look to our youth today to help us imagine a new one.