Ronan Farrow
Special Adviser to the Secretary, Office of Global Youth Issues
Tel Aviv, Israel
February 23, 2012

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Hi, everyone. I’m Ronan Farrow. I am Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Special Advisor on Youth Issues and the head of our Youth Issues Office at the State Department. I want to thank all of you for submitting questions to the U.S. Embassy here in Tel Aviv, Israel and for submitting questions to YaLa, one of the organizations that’s really pushing the envelope to unite young Israelis and Palestinians online and unite all young people who are committed to a broader Middle East peace.

I just got done with a productive conversation with them and I’m looking forward to working with them and hearing more of your opinions for all of you who are united for these important goals.

One of the first questions we got was from Magnus Frank. I want to thank him for submitting that. Magnus says: How will the international community answer the population threat which has thrown many countries into a demographic spiral of death, where half the population is under 18?

Well, first of all, I’d say I think it’s a little more nuanced. So for sure you’re right to say that it’s a threat, but it’s not just a threat. It’s also an opportunity. I have traveled the world talking to young people and have worked with United States Embassies all around the world to champion programming that taps into the potential of young people for tremendous good. And certainly one of the lessons of the revolutions of the last year is that young people can be among the greatest champions for good governance and democracy and can be skilled outmaneuverers of repressive regimes and an instrumental force in pressing for change, in some cases where change is a welcome thing.

The question is: Can the passion that young people show in instigating revolutions, in upsetting the old order, be challenged into coherent, organized participation and long-term, lasting democratic institutions? And that means not only participation in stable and transparent governments, but also participation in civil society institutions that can strengthen those governments, that can continue to call for accountability and respect human rights, women’s rights, and make sure that minorities and different ethnic groups are at the table.

Next we have a question from Anita Robenchomp: How about entrepreneurs, she says, which is the perfect jumping-off point from what we just talked about? Entrepreneurship is a priority for the United States. As we surveyed the global landscape of young people facing some of those challenges I just talked about, being present in larger numbers than ever before, and often facing a reality where there just aren’t enough jobs to support those numbers, one of the backbones of any solution, we realized, was going to be seeing young entrepreneurs who create the majority of new jobs in many parts of the world, making sure that those entrepreneurs actually have the tools at their disposal and the access to capital to build those new jobs, is a core part of the United States economic policy.

Of course, our broader economic statecraft around the world is not targeted at youth; it’s a policy that’s geared towards building opportunities for people of all ages. But what we’ve acknowledged in the last year as we’ve embarked on our first focused youth foreign policy, which Secretary Clinton will be rolling out in the coming days and which my office is focused on, is that young people are in certain ways hit uniquely hard by the economic downturn around the world and that young people can be instrumental in very particular ways in solving that crisis that we all face. That’s why young entrepreneurs are so important. That’s why here in Tel Aviv and elsewhere we have looked very closely at what programs we can start to create a ripe environment for those entrepreneurs to take their ideas and run with them.

One of the programs that I’ve been really excited by here in Israel is a program that starts business incubators for young women who have business ideas. We have one such incubator in Ako* and that’s turning out sustainable businesses that young women are starting that might not otherwise have had the chance to. So those are the stories that we want to see all over the world, and we really do believe that there can’t be an economic recovery without a vibrant environment where those young entrepreneurs can flourish.

Slomitz Ameer, she says: Hi Ronan, what does the U.S. do to promote issues of youth in areas of conflict? A very important question. When we looked at what young people were calling out for around the world, I mentioned that we focused in on the need for jobs and legitimate livelihoods to sustain ourselves and our families. But similarly, young people have called out for dignity. They called out for a right to have voices in their own countries and to shape the future of their communities, their countries, and their regions.

And we need to tap into that potential that young people can have if they’re empowered to have those strong voices. I am so inspired to sit down with people like the leaders of the YaLa group here in Tel Aviv who have united more than 50,000 young Israelis and Palestinians, who are committed to a broader Middle East peace for young people in regions that are riven by very difficult conflicts with genuine obstacles to resolving them, that they will be a part of the solution and a part of bridging those divides. Because from my conversations here and elsewhere, I think the fresh energy and new solutions are going to come from you.

And the final question today is Mohammed al-Fara says: What are the most important issues regarding Palestine and Israel at the current time? Good question, Mohammed, and obviously one that is very much on my mind now talking to all different sectors of civil society here in Tel Aviv. It’s something that the United States has spoken out loudly and clearly about. We feel it’s important that all parties get back to the table and continue to press for a two-state solution that observes prior agreements, that is peaceful and respects broader peace in the region.

We want to make sure that young people are a part of that solution. And one important related question to the one you asked is: How can young people be involved in making sure that those important issues are confronted in a productive way? And that’s why online platforms that unite people who often can’t interact face to face in these settings can be so important. And I really do have great hope for YaLa and programs like it. I really do believe that those can make a dent in some of these very difficult settings.

So for those of you who are already part of those communities, I want to thank you for the work that you’re doing to advance dialogue. For those who are interested, I would recommend that you look into getting involved and seeing whether you can be a part of that conversation. And for everyone who’s interested in following these issues, feel free to follow me on Twitter @RonanFarrow – here’s my cynical plug for followers – and feel free to follow our U.S. Embassy Facebook page here in Tel Aviv. They’ve got some interesting initiatives in the pipeline that are bringing young people directly to the table, and it’s a very cool team out here that I know wants to hear more from you.