Before Nelson Mandela marshaled a global movement to end apartheid, he was a student activist at a university. Before Martin Luther King, Jr., was a world-renowned civil rights leader, he was a 26-year-old pastor. He was organizing his first boycott. And before Malala was a 21-year-old advocate for girls' education, she was a 14-year-old one.
It's often said that change starts small, but the truth is change also starts young.
Before Mandela was Mandela and before Malala was Malala, they were just young people working to make the lives better for people in their own communities. So it makes sense, that's where we're going to find the next Mandela and the next Malala, too. We may not know their names yet, we may not recognize them even when we see them, but the world we live in tomorrow depends on what we do to empower these young leaders today.
Earlier this morning, Bill explained why we believe that poverty is not inevitable. He also explained why current demographic challenges require us to work much harder now to fix it. The world's poorest places are also, by and large, the very fastest-growing, which means more children are being born into places with less opportunity.
But there's also a lot of potential in this moment. If we commit to ensuring that these young people have access to education, health care, jobs, then instead of getting trapped into a cycle of poverty they will have everything they need to break out of that cycle for good.
That version of the future is exactly what the sustainable development goals were designed to create. And now more than ever, leaders in my generation need to recognize that the leaders in the next generation are essential to delivering on those goals.
More than half of India's population is under the age of 25. More than sixty percent of Africa's population is under the age of 25. Now I seriously doubt these young people wake up in the morning thinking about global goals, but they are thinking about a better future for themselves and a better future for the people in their communities, and they're taking the action to create the future that they want. And that makes them goal keepers as much as anybody else in this room, and it's time that the world starts seeing them that way.
This generation – your generation – is full of activists, advocates, experts. You aren't waiting for anybody's permission to get started. You're organizing each other, you're educating each other, you're empowering each other. Just look at the people around you in this room.
You saw Saleha in the video. She's an 18-year-old activist. She's the head of a child-led sanitation movement. She's a champion for education in the Mumbai community. There are girls in school today because of what she has done.
Jawani – she runs an organization that just eight years ago has equipped 10,000 people with the tools to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Sampson led a movement at this young age for Nigerians to run for office. He wanted to lower the age that Nigerians could run for office. Earlier this year he campaigned for a bill and guess what – that bill has been passed into law.
So this is what progress looks like. You are exactly the change makers the world should be throwing its support behind. That means putting you at the heart of every national development plan. It means including you in policymaking and facilitating dialogues between you and government leaders. Most of all – and most of all – it means enlisting you as true partners in this work.
Our commitment to being your allies starts right now. Being here with you today is a reminder that the next Mandela or the next Malala might be a lot closer than we think. Shouldn't we stop and listen to hear what they have to say?
Hi. My name is Joannie Bewa and I'm from Benin Republic. I am a physician, the founder of the Young Beninese Leaders Association and the Women Deliver young leader. I do believe in the world where young people drive innovation in health, where young people have a seat on the table and not on the floor. A generation where we can earn, we can learn, and we can return.
Hi, everyone. My name is King Kaka. I'm from Kenya. I'm a musician, activist, humanitarian, and I believe that power without impact is useless.
Hi. My name is Trisha Shetty and I'm a social activist. To the older generation in this room – if you are working for and not with us, if your policies are not youth inclusive and gender sensitive, then step aside. Today's youth are not your token, next-generation of leaders. We hold power and influence today and we refuse to be minimized.