When the United Nations launched its 75th anniversary campaign in January, the world looked very different. COVID-19 hadn’t been identified outside of China. Planes full of tourists still scattered around the world.
UN75 is the largest crowdsourcing effort in the organization’s history. It asks young people to weigh in on the world’s problems and dream up solutions that foster international solidarity. As it turns out, it’s the perfect time to talk about global cooperation.
The world faces a collective crisis and a fork in the road. One path sees countries retreating inwards, with international solidarity a victim of retracting economies and nationalist agendas. The other path, the one we need to follow, leads to problem-solving as a global community. COVID-19 doesn’t respect borders and neither will many problems we face in the future.
Meanwhile, many families are stuck at home with anxious kids, worried about their disrupted routines and what they’re hearing on the news. The UN75 campaign, with an online survey about the priorities facing the global community, guidelines for thoughtful conversations at home, and issues briefs covering the most pressing problems in the world, is an antidote to the negative news and nationalist rhetoric brought about by the pandemic. It’s a teachable moment for the next generation, one that will keep kids busy and encourage them to be good global citizens.
It may seem like a small thing, but these lessons can be instilled at a young age—the world could certainly use all the help it can get.
Some have argued convincingly that COVID-19 is a dress rehearsal for future shocks brought on by climate change, a sneak peek into the impending health and economic calamities, as well as a firsthand look at the massive sacrifices needed to protect human life. Preventing climate change is a global public good. Solutions depend on multilateralism, a coordinated international response.
Containing the pandemic is also a global good, which is why many nations, Canada included, are working together on a vaccine and treatment research, raising $11 billion for the World Health Organization, even as these same countries strategically close borders. COVID-19 can spur a new era of solidarity, but we need that cooperative mindset to extend beyond the global crisis.
The UN75 campaign is an opportunity for future leaders to foster global cooperation, something young people are already primed to do. Studies have shown that we are wired for compassion and cooperation, which means that isolationist behaviour is learned.
Global cooperation can be the norm in the future if we reinforce it among young leaders today. UN75 offers a starting point at a time when kids are struggling with online schooling and parents are looking for positive activities to keep kids busy. This one focuses on solutions at a time of heightened anxiety.
Seventy-five years in, the UN finds itself at a turning point while the world deals with a watershed moment. In the face of fear and uncertainty, there is temptation to retreat inwards, but our solutions should unify us. That starts with a conversation about what kind of world we want to build, together. Why not encourage young people to join that conversation?
Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.