Washington — The United States is focusing on “grass-roots partnerships” with young people around the world, making youth issues part of its foreign policy, says Ronan Farrow, special adviser on global youth issues to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Farrow, who is just 24 himself, is the director of the State Department’s Office of Global Youth Issues, which Clinton created with the goal of empowering young people as economic and civic actors.
Speaking with journalists at the U.S. Foreign Press Center in New York City on April 23, Farrow said U.S. embassies around the world are developing youth councils with local young people who offer their insights into the effects of U.S. foreign policy on their communities. These councils exist in some 40 countries, he said, and perform constructive work by providing the embassies with formal policy recommendations.
“All around the world, we’ve been making a concerted effort to stand by young people,” Farrow said. “That conversation is not always easy. We don’t walk into communities and expect young people everywhere to trust and agree with the United States. … But I think that we have made strides towards bringing young people to the table and giving them a serious role in our policy process.”
These councils, he said, also encourage youth to find solutions to problems within their own homelands. A newly established U.S. Embassy council in Latvia, for example, included two young members who, using a small U.S. grant, started an e-petition system that is now used by 20 percent of Latvians. Under Latvian law, Farrow said, anyone who develops an idea, launches a petition and wins a certain number of votes can see that idea passed into law.
The U.S. government, Farrow said, invests $100 million each year to engage the world’s youth through a variety of programs ranging from health care to education to job training. In addition to funding those programs, Farrow said, the Obama administration is “innovating to make sure that young people are in the driver’s seat as we undertake all of that programming.”
The young, Farrow said, are often champions of human rights, economic change and entrepreneurship. He said in the last year the world has seen the power of young people as a positive force for change with the unseating of repressive regimes.
Farrow also noted that worldwide, people under 30 years old are three times more likely to be unemployed. Frustrated youth are targets for extremists. “Not having a job,” he said, "not having a way to make one’s voice heard peacefully, can boil over into chaos, where we see young people as a destabilizing force rather than one for positive change.”