Hanna Gesang, Malvern College
The staff at The World Today really liked the positivity - something which is all too rare in international affairs these days – and how well-constructed the argument was. The UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, a member of the judging panel commented: ‘Personally, I love this one because as we strive to solve global issues, we can’t lose confidence along the way. Also, the author understands the importance of using information technology to generate buzz and solve global problems. The recommendations he/she proposed will greatly increase the interaction between UN and young people, which is our office’s mandate.’
Today’s world is more globalised and interconnected than ever before. With the development of new technologies, humankind is becoming increasingly intertwined, as are our problems. A fear of this interconnectedness is reflected in media and politics, with heads of large states preferring bi- over multilateralism, harming our global economy through exploiting people’s worries. Coming up with a top priority is difficult, because one of today’s issues can be addressed in just one step by a body that, ultimately, wields little direct power over sovereign states.
Except for what I call our ‘optimism shortage’.
There is an urgent need for a change in perspective. Today’s problems are depictured as daunting, unmanageable or even insolvable. This makes us forget the reasons we have to be optimistic about our future. Let’s not forget: child mortality has fallen by more than half since 1990. A new low of extreme poverty at around 10% has been accomplished. Stats like these do not just give hope, they show that the international community has tackled large, seemingly irresolvable issues before.
So, if I was sitting behind Mr Guterres desk for a day, my first action would be to call for an international campaign on optimism.
Clearly, none of the scarce funds for other causes ought to be touched when designing this campaign. Luckily, we live in an age where renting billboards is in no way the most effective campaigning strategy - social media is cheap and reaches far more people.
Using social media and well-known UN Goodwill ambassadors would be an efficient way to spread a message of optimism about our ability to solve global problems.
However, hashtags are not sufficient for real cultural change. The campaign’s outreach should expand far beyond social media. The most important target group are not the leaders of today but rather those of tomorrow. Children, especially those of a privileged background, need to learn about why there is plenty of reason to be hopeful and to continue investing into international cooperation to achieve a more peaceful world.
The UN cannot continue to be an entity that only those who are already pre-conditioned to care about it through their background are aware of.
Everybody needs to learn about what has been done and what will be done in the future and, more importantly, why they should care.
This is not an idea arguing for a “all is fine” message. In no way is lacking optimism the greatest threat facing us. However, it is an underlying one. The UN cannot continue its meaningful work in other areas if member states do not pay their pledged sums. We need as many people as possible to believe as strongly as possible in the UN’s and therefore humankind’s ability to solve our problems. If society was more aware of the UN’s capacity and it’s track record, there would be more public pressure on governments to collaborate. Once we believe it’s doable, there is little stopping us from getting it done.