Sharing a vision for a more inclusive world across two vastly different generational perspectives and experiences, Nadine and Khaled come together to talk about empowering young people everywhere to embrace bold change.
Nadine Khaouli is a member of Generation17, an initiative from Samsung Mobile and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) highlighting young leaders worldwide who are helping to achieve the 17 Global Goals. Nadine is the co-founder of Kafe be Kafak, an organization in Lebanon with a mission to allow all to live in dignity, providing local communities with basic needs like food, medication, and shelter. You can watch more of her inspiring story here.
For Khaled Abdel Shafi, manager of UNDP’s regional hub for the Arab States in Amman, Jordan, the Global Goals represent incredible potential, especially for young people. “In many countries, youth represent over 50% of the population,” says Khaled. “They have ideas, they are innovative, and they see things through a different lens. The 2030 agenda is about the future—and the future generation.”
But for countless young people around the world, the Global Goals can be equally inspiring and overwhelming. Where to begin? How can one person make a difference?
Nadine Khaouli, a Generation17 young leader from Beirut, Lebanon, who is the co-founder of Kafe be Kafak and a Youth Development Delegate for UNDP in Lebanon, knows that perspective well. She also knows that every young person must rise up to the seemingly daunting challenges of the Global Goals. “Young people should not be afraid of taking any first steps,” she says. “We have to lead the change we wish to see.”
Recently, Nadine and Khaled met virtually to share their motivations and their advice for young people everywhere. Here are highlights from the conversation between two generations of changemakers.
Making the Most of Mentorship
Sharing knowledge, lessons, and experiences, especially across generations, is essential for achieving the Global Goals. Who is your personal mentor and how did mentorship help you get to where you are today?
Nadine: My dad is my mentor, and I have many mentors here at UNDP. However, even if you have good mentors, everything depends on you. How much do I want to succeed in my life? How much am I willing to change? Getting advice is one thing, but you need to ask yourself, “How will I apply this advice to my life?”
Khaled: For me, it was my father, too. Unlike all of his brothers who left to live in America, my father who was a surgeon but later also a politician stayed in Gaza under the occupation. He gave me the spirit and strength to come back to Gaza and work for 15 years there after I went abroad for education. My dad was one of four doctors back then among hundreds of thousands of people. The doctors went from house to house for emergencies, and this allowed him to get a very real view of a lot of the challenges people were facing in society—from poverty to education. That led him into politics to try to help change things. His courage motivated me to find ways to help, too.
Like so many crises, the 2020 explosion in Beirut continues to reverberate in the local community even as global attention has moved on. What’s your advice for young people who witness a tragedy like that and are working to continue the recovery process amidst the ongoing aftermath—much like Kafe be Kafak is doing?
Khaled: I went to Beirut two days after the blast. I saw the destruction, the helplessness setting in. But what gave me hope was how young people did not wait for organizations to help them. They did not wait for governments to help. They went to the streets, came together, and started innovative initiatives. So, I say, lead by example. Young people in Lebanon opened the way for others to contribute and to take them more seriously. Seeing that was a memorable moment in my career.
Nadine: It’s true. Even now, we still lack basic resources in Lebanon. Just recently, I was having lunch outside in downtown Beirut and nothing has changed since over a year ago. Glass is still on the ground. Even our shattered hearts are still on the floor. This is the main challenge we still face.
But I believe in change, and I love my country and my people. Young people have to seek experiences and education and apply that in our home countries. We have to implement new ideas, use our voices to vote for change and never lose hope.
Transforming Through Technology
Technology is critical for achieving the Global Goals—for education and awareness, but also for connecting people around the world. How has technology impacted your work?
Khaled: I’ve seen technology completely transform the work we can do. If you look at a disaster, technology allows us to survey the damage and connect people on the ground faster. Technology provides a lot of opportunities that used to take months or years to achieve. But Covid made it clear that a lot of people are suffering because they don’t have the same access to virtual learning, healthcare, and more. That’s why technology has to become an even bigger part of the work we are doing—to increase access.
Nadine: Technology is a revolution. It helped me raise my voice and transmit my message globally. It is helping me connect with mentors, organizations, and similar projects around the world who wouldn’t have known about me or my work. Those connections that begin online help young people gain more trust, more credibility, and more empowerment.
Amplifying Your Impact
There’s no shortage of passion among young people. They’re ready to take what generations of changemakers before them have done and transform the world at a pace and scale we’ve never previously seen. What’s your message to the young people who will create the future?
Khaled: When I look at young people and their aspirations, I just want to listen to them, not tell them what to do. When I was working in Gaza 13 years ago, we were offering computer skills and strategic planning programs to young people. One of the participants said, “Why are you always teaching us these same things?” So, I asked what they wanted instead. His reply? “Form a chess tournament or help us build a playground.”
At that moment, something clicked. While we as international organizations should empower them, young people should define for themselves what they want to do. Our role is to provide a platform for them to flourish and communicate with governments, civil society, lawmakers, the private sector, and more.
Nadine: To build on that, what I see is that the young generation is spontaneous. We love adventure. We are full of energy and always look forward to learning and applying something new to solve a challenge. We have the grit, the curiosity, the optimism. And here’s the important thing: We see the youth surviving, thriving, innovating, and leading the new reality that is required of us every day.
But we need support from the public and private sectors and those in power. When they support us and listen to our voices, they empower young people to do something not only for their country but also for the entire world. What we do locally becomes a blueprint for a better future everywhere. My generation should know more and more about the Global Goals every day and make the decision to do something. We cannot wait for the world to decide on our behalf.
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