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All the youth in the house, please stand up

Salina Abraham grabbed the spotlight with her passionate call for youth to be considered like gender, race and regional diversity.
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"Let’s continue to generate these discussions so we can make a truly collective step forward": Salina Abraham. Photo: Pilar Valbuena/CIFOR
“Let’s continue to generate these discussions so we can make a truly collective step forward”: Salina Abraham. Photo: Pilar Valbuena/CIFOR

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Youth speaker Salina Abraham had the crowd on their feet last night in the closing ceremony of the 2015 Global Landscapes Forum.

Well, a sizeable proportion of them stood anyway – when she invited all those aged 30 or below to rise to their feet to be seen.

“These here are not just the people who will be alive and working in 2050 and 2055. These people are also here right now. We’re bringing our ideas, our energy, our enthusiasm and our hope,” she said.

“And what we’re just asking from you is to talk to us; to ask us what we’re passionate about; ask us what challenges we’re facing in our current landscapes.”

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General, took the message to heart and invited Abraham to take her seat alongside ministers and leaders in the final plenary.

Abraham, from the International Forestry Students’ Association (IFSA), was taking part in the Global Landscapes Forum as part of the Youth in Landscapes Initiative. The full transcript of her speech is reproduced below.

Salina Abraham, Closing address, 2015 Global Landscapes Forum

My name is Salina Abraham. I’m Eritrean by heritage, I’m Dutch by birth and I’m American by schooling. So, I hope that my thoughts today are reflective on, or give some insight into, the youth perspective.

I’m passionate about landscapes because, through this approach, we choose to transcend borders. I’m coming to speak to you on behalf of the youth – to share with you what we envision for the future, what we’ve accomplished and what we have to offer.

I was lucky enough to be participating in the Youth in Landscapes initiative here at the GLF this year. This initiative is organized by: IFSA, the International Forestry Students Association, YPARD, the Young Professionals for Agricultural Development, and GAEA, the Global AgroEcology Alliance. Which together represents over 15,000 young people who are working and studying in landscapes.

This past week I’ve been able to spend four days in workshops with 50 incredible young people. And they have shared with me their challenges in working with their landscapes. And I’ve been inspired by them, I’ve been encouraged by them, and we’ve really supported each other in the work that we’ve been doing here.

We cannot make the critical progress that we truly need without an inclusive and intergenerational effort.

Salina Abraham

Through the workshops, we were able to practice being comfortable with being uncomfortable, seeking consensus even when it seemed impossible, and learning skills that helped us to meaningfully engage at the GLF. So, throughout this week we worked in teams to develop solutions to five real-world land-use challenges. We were mentored by UNEP, Wageningen University, Livelihoods Venture, the CGIAR research program on Land, Water and Ecosystems, as well as CIFOR.

And I want to share some of these solutions with you. One group came up with an exchange program between smallholder farmers that empowers them to form cooperatives and share resources, such as storage facilities and centralized distribution centers. Another designed a self-assessment tool where you can enter your current knowledge and skills and it will generate a customized curriculum to fill the gaps in your landscape knowledge. Other teams want to prototype various mapping and data collection tools to tackle challenges around REDD+ social safeguards, landscape restoration and measuring progress towards SDGs.

To us, this wasn’t just an exercise. It wasn’t just a game. These could be real-world solutions to real-world challenges. So, I want to ask from you two things: the first is to concretely integrate youth into the work that you do and the solutions we have to offer into your organizations; the second is to support our Youth in Landscapes initiative so that we can continue to grow and enable youth, so that we can become the leaders that we will have to be in the world. Many of us struggled to get here and in order to have a truly inclusive representation of youth around the world we will need your support.

We need your wisdom, your guidance, your investment. But I'm here to tell you – you may not know it – but you also need us too.

Salina Abraham

I’m asking you to consider youth like you consider regional diversity. Consider youth like we consider race and ethnicity. Consider youth like you consider gender. And I’m asking you to value youth in the same way we are now valuing interdisciplinarity. We cannot make the critical progress that we truly need without an inclusive and intergenerational effort.

To finish up, I would like everyone under 30 who is in this room to stand. You could stay standing. These here are not just the people who will be alive and working in 2050 and 2055. These people are also here right now. We’re bringing our ideas, our energy, our enthusiasm and our hope. And what we’re just asking from you is to talk to us; to ask us what we’re passionate about; ask us what challenges we’re facing in our current landscapes. Let’s continue to generate these discussions so we can make a truly collective step forward.

So, we already know that we need you. We need your wisdom, your guidance, your investment. But I’m here to tell you – you may not know it – but you also need us too.

Thank you.

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