Zeenat Rahman On Global Youth Issues & Girl Power!
Zeenat Rahman is Secretary John Kerry's Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues, as well as the director of the Office of Global Youth Issues. We spoke to her recently about her role, as well as the growing roles of young people in major issues across the world!
"Five years ago a position like mine wouldn't have existed," Rahman said. "I'm representing a new form of diplomacy in the 21st century."
Zeenat Rahman's role is becoming more and more important as young people become more involved in the issues taking place around the world. Rahman explained that this is because young people have a unique perspective.
"They are the key drivers in solving some of the world's biggest challenges," she explained. "We believe in the positive role young people have in shaping societies. It's more interconnected than any time previously. We want to partner with young people. We want to harness that talent and that passion."
In 1999, International Youth Day was founded by the United Nations to take place every August 12. It emphasizes the contribution youth make to the world.
"It started with the recognition that half of the the world's population is under 25," Rahman said.
In fact, in nations including China and India, people under 25 are the majority.
Young people also face specialized issues, including education and access to health services.
"The holiday is an important way to celebrate and recognize the contribution of young people and to discuss awareness," she said.
Zeenat Rahman recently met a 10-year-old who had just returned from a food aid program with her church. With the church program, they visited local communities and villages to discuss food and nutrition.
"Today there's no waiting until you're 30 or 40 or 50 to contribute and make a difference," she said. "Young people are already going out and making a difference."
Today's young people represent the largest generation of young people that have ever existed, and they are connecting in new ways thanks to technology.
"They're passionate about issues not just locally but around the world," she said. "Young people also have passion and desire to meet people like them from around the world."
Young people can do even more because there are more opportunities for them to get involved.
"I think there's a lot that girls can do," Rahman said. "I think first of all young people you have to believe you can do it. There might be challenges but don't let that discourage you."
The first step to doing that is picking one thing you're passionate about and sticking to it.
"We're all passionate abut like 700 things, but you pick one and raise awareness around that issue," she said.
To make a difference, Rahman encourages young people to participate whenever they can, and to utilize the resources available to them to make sure their voices are heard.
It's also important to find other people who are passionate about the same topics. Together, it's easier to find the best solutions for the world's biggest problems.
"Make people care," she said. "That's what's really important."
Being young and female does not make your ideas any less legitimate, Rahman said. Passionate young people will be a huge force in building new ideas.
Rahman was born in Chicago, and was the child of immigrant parents who were born in India. She would return to India every two to three years to visit family, including her grandmother.
"From an early age I saw the conditions people lived in there, and how different they were from the suburbs of Chicago," Rahman said. "From a young age I knew the world wasn't just the quiet suburbs and a nice house. There are a lot of different stories to be heard."
When Rahman's father was in high school, he wanted to reach out to people from around the world. Before the dawn of the internet, he had to get creative.
"He'd pick up letters form the local US embassy and send out 50 letters to pen pals," she said.
A big part of Rahman's mission is to make sure young people with an opinion can also have a voice.
"People's voices are not always heard," she said. "I want to tell the story and create those spaces where people can have their own voice."
With each new move, Rahman asks herself if her actions will lead to a more equitable world, where all points of view are not just voiced, but also heard.
"We make better decisions when we have a diversity of opinions," she said.
Now, Rahman is going after her dream by empowering others.
"I never dreamed I could have a job like this. It didn't exist," Rahman said. "I thought about the change I wanted to make in the world and got into it."
To learn more about Zeenat Rahman and Global Youth Issues, check out the following Twitter and Facebook pages!