Barack Obama on International Partnerships and Youth

Something I forgot to blog about before Barack Obama left office was his essay in Lonely Planet, of all places. In an essay titled, “US President Barack Obama reflects on why a million miles of travel gives him hope for the future,” he writes, in part:

During my time as president, I have traveled well over a million miles to every corner of the world. These foreign trips have included international summits and bilateral visits that have been fundamental to the progress that we’ve made – strengthening alliances, engaging former adversaries, renewing the global economy, and forging agreements to fight climate change, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, expand commerce, and roll back poverty and disease.

I leave office more convinced than ever before that international cooperation is indispensable. Without regular consultations with foreign leaders, and institutional coordination between the US and our allies and partners, we cannot overcome challenges that recognize no borders. It took dozens of countries working together to stamp out Ebola. It took coordinated pressure and careful diplomacy to reach a peaceful agreement to roll back Iran’s nuclear program. Nearly 200 countries spent years in painstaking negotiations to achieve the Paris Agreement to protect our planet. Every single day, the US works seamlessly with other countries to share information to prevent terrorist attacks, stop human trafficking, break up drug cartels, or combat corruption.

But while this cooperation is essential, I have always believed that our engagements with other countries must not be limited to governments – we also have to engage people around the world.  In particular, we must sustain our engagement with young people, who will determine the future long after those of us in positions of power leave the world stage …

More than half of human beings are 30 years old or younger. This is even more pronounced in the developing world – that’s where 90 percent of the global population under 30 lives. These young people are living through revolutions in technology that are remaking life on our planet, allowing for unprecedented access to information and connectivity, while also causing enormous disruptions in the global economy. And while the world’s leaders discuss the pressing issues of the day, it is the world’s young people who will determine whether their voices direct the change that is sweeping our world towards greater justice, opportunity, tolerance, and mutual respect …

Every day, these young people are working to improve their communities from the bottom up. A rapper from Uganda is now promoting civic participation through his music. A Rwandan entrepreneur is using new technologies to provide power to villages that are off the grid. A doctor in Myanmar is offering free surgeries for children. An activist from Thailand has organized young people across Southeast Asia to fight human trafficking. A young Laotian is mobilizing communities to stop the illegal logging that damages the environment. A city manager in the Philippines is launching new initiatives to promote women’s health and combat teen pregnancy; to do so, she is drawing on skills she learned on a fellowship in Montana …

No one of these initiatives will transform our world. But each of them creates a ripple of progress that can gradually bring the change that our world needs. And in talking to these young people, one thing comes up again and again – the value that they gain from being connected with one another …

At a time when we are faced with so much division in global politics, young people are often more tolerant, more compassionate, and more committed to working to make change that benefits their communities from the bottom up.

To read his essay in its entirety and see photos of him engaging with youth of the world, visit Lonely Planet’s site.

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