06/27/2016 11:34 EDT | Updated 06/27/2016 11:59 EDT

Beyond Brexit, Let's Take A Cue From Our Youth

The recent British vote to leave the European Union sent shock waves throughout the world. Now, we are left to digest a harsh reminder -- that dangerous attitudes toward "outsiders" and increasingly rigid borders are creating a world that's not sustainable for generations to come.

However, amidst this troubling and divisive regression in peoples' attitudes, there remains a glimmer of hope for the future. With this election, it was youth who set the right example, with an impressive 75 per cent of them voting for Britain to stay in the EU -- a stunning demonstration of unity when compared to the older demographics whose vote ultimately cinched the referendum's result.

Numbered at 1.8 billion, the world is now home to the largest generation of young people aged 10 to 24 in its history. Having grown up in a digital era and more connected than ever before, younger generations are able to see the world's boundaries as more fluid, recognizing their shared interests and values with people around the globe. Their unique socialization has cultivated a different perspective on traditional nation states, one that stands in sharp contrast to previous generations.

Following the Brexit referendum, we must turn the current power balance on its head by finding ways to ensure the future of our world have a voice.

The results of the British referendum revealed that now, more than ever, it's vital that we try to overcome a creeping divide that is tearing apart countries and continents. The world is witnessing a rise in xenophobic rhetoric, dangerous themes of "us" versus "them" and borders being used as weapons. Make no mistake, the xenophobia that fuelled the "leave" vote is akin to the movement that has shown immense support for an American presidential candidate who is eager to build walls to keep out Mexicans and ban Muslims from the country. The aggression towards refugees and migrants has permeated into our international landscape with the most devastating implications, resulting in groups that are hostile and unreceptive to one another.


Refugee family boards a train at Keleti station in Budapest. (Photo: Jodi Hilton)

Unfortunately, the ramifications of decisions like Brexit will also have a significant and lengthy impact on the lives of young people. From future employment prospects to changes to immigration policies, young people will certainly feel its effects. So, what is to be done?

Following the Brexit referendum, we must turn the current power balance on its head by finding ways to ensure the future of our world have a voice. Let's start by empowering 1.8 billion young people to act as agents of change, and ensure that they have the tools they need to make their voices heard in the discussions that will shape their lives and our future.

At Plan International, I've seen firsthand the important impact youth can have in influencing major decisions -- particularly in the midst of humanitarian crises. I'm reminded of the Nepal earthquakes, which left a staggering three million people homeless. I was inspired by girls like 21-year-old Shrijana who joined a mason training program to learn the skills necessary to re-build homes and schools using earthquake-resistant construction techniques. Or in Zimbabwe where a group of young women were able to launch their own peanut butter business which now supports their families and extended community. Here in Canada, I've met young people who are passionate about international development and humans' rights, and who, through their own actions and advocacy, are playing an active role in transforming our collective futures.


Shrijana is Dolakha's first trained female mason.(Photo: Plan International / Max Greenstein)(Photo: Jodi Hilton)

Around the world, we continue to observe that young people truly understand the needs of their communities, and when we properly invest in them, they not only shape their own destinies, but generate sustainable change and development for the people around them.

Borders shouldn't restrict our compassion and fear shouldn't fuel our value system.

As an international child rights organization -- born out of the Spanish civil war with the very purpose of rescuing orphaned children and providing them with renewed hope -- our mission is to ensure that all young people can realize their rights, and to support children who are marginalized and excluded. In today's political climate, this mandate is more crucial than ever. When we look at the world through the eyes of young people, we come to understand that openness and co-operation are the lifeblood of our relationships with each other and, on a larger scale, the success of our nations.


Nick Carter and Esme Odgers surrounded by children in Puigcerda colony

We need to take a cue from youth and truly see ourselves as interconnected, global citizens. Borders shouldn't restrict our compassion and fear shouldn't fuel our value system. It is in everyone's best interest -- politically, economically, and socially -- to recognize the perspectives of young people and partner with them to drive positive and sustainable global change.


Plan International Canada's Youth Advisory Council.

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