A youth delegate is a youth representative in a member state’s official delegation to the United Nations, including to the World Health Assembly. In essence, a youth delegate has all the rights and privileges of any other official delegate. This means that in addition to NGO privileges, you have access to committee rooms, drafting groups, informal meetings, ministerial panels and other astounding sights afforded to you by your pink badge. You get a fancy placard with the name of your country in French, and for all intents and purposes, you are that country, at least for a week or two. But being a country comes at a price, and that price is trust. Hypothetically, if you really wanted to, and granted that nobody else from your delegation were present, you could go gung ho on the negotiations, demand access to stroopwafels to be added to the resolution, and nobody would be in a position to question your legitimacy as a representative of your country’s interests. Or you could simply embarrass your country by making silly comments. (And yes, I realize that government employees, including ministers, can do a superb job of that on their own).
So what does this mean for an aspirational youth delegate? It means gaining the trust of your government. It means you will likely need something or somebody to vouch for your dependability. Being a member of an IFMSA NMO can go a long way in providing that trust, as everything you do will reflect back on what is a very respectable organization. Having a good working relationship with your government also helps. So in the case of EstMSA, we had worked with the ministry of Social Affairs for years, collaborating on alcohol policy, vaccine coverage and other topics. Getting someone to liaise for you might also be good. In our case we had a good working relationship with someone who had served in the EB of the WHO, and she was kind enough to connect us with the right people.
There are certainly other means of getting into your country’s delegation, ours is just one story out of many. Egypt, Canada are just a few examples of NMOs that have their own youth delegates, and at the risk of overburdening them with requests, I would recommend asking them about their experiences. Likewise, you should not hesitate to ask me for specifics.
I had the good fortune of being Estonia’s first youth delegate and the experience was incredibly enriching. Were I offered the chance again, I’d take it in a heartbeat. What gives me the most joy is knowing that I made a meaningful contribution to my delegation, as we got to cover a lot more ground by having an extra member. It’s important to stress that youth delegates aren’t just trophies of inclusion, rather they should be seen as assets who do the work that others cannot. I am happy to say that my government agrees and has offered to make this arrangement permanent.
Our next step is to systematize and create mechanisms that ensure optimal and sustainable youth representation in global health. How that can be done is the topic of another blog post. All I can say for now is that youth delegates are the future and it is up to us to shape what that future will look like.
Author: Priit Tohver
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