I am always impressed and heartened when I listen to young people such as those that spoke at the World Youth Forum that opened in Vancouver this weekend when they talk about the world they want to inherent from us – the leaders of today.
For example, Muratha Kinuthia a 25 year old leader from Kenya opened the Youth Forum with a challenge to over 300 fellow delegates to decide the terms of engagement for youth. "The question is no longer whether youth should be engaged, but how", he said.
Other speakers throughout the day echoed Muratha’s comments. As Doug Ragan, manager of the World Urban Forum's youth committee told the Vancouver Sun, Young people are already helping to solve the world's urban problems, but older folks hold the purse strings.
"Young people are doing this stuff and they need the support from the community," he said, explaining why the committee organized a separate forum to produce youth-driven ideas for the larger World Urban Forum going on in Vancouver this week.
And the message tomorrow’s leaders are giving us is much more than words. Many are actively engaged in dealing with some of the most dangerous and difficult challenges facing cities today – crime, poverty, slums, HIV, water, poor sanitation, illiteracy, hunger. Through their deeds they are learning that hard realities of urbanization.
The training ground preparing them for leadership responsibilities is far more complex than anything I faced as a young activist involved in the first UN Conference on Human Settlements 30 years age in Vancouver. I think back to those days and marvel at my innocence and lack of experience when by comparison I look at the generation all too ready to take up from where we will leave off.
Throughout the five days of the World Urban Forum, young people will have many opportunities to share their insights and hopefully to learn a little of what we have found out from our efforts to date. Perhaps, as Doug Ragan has said, we do hold the purse strings. But it is more than evident that we of the older generation do not have a monopoly on ideas.
So I for one am quite prepared to listen very carefully to what the leaders of tomorrow have to say today.