As part of the Obama Administration’s increased attention to youth policy, the White House sponsored a live on-line discussion this past week aimed at engaging young people in development issues. The conversation was led by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and moderated by White House Office of Public Engagement’s Kalpen Modi. Young Americans from across the country joined in for a spirited discussion on the role of young people in addressing the challenges of poverty and development in the United States and around the world.  

One of the participants at the White House event, entitled “How to Make Change: Youth and International Development,” was Marquis Brown, age 27, who has been selected as a 2011 Fellow of YouthActionNet®, the global youth leadership initiative of the International Youth Foundation (IYF). Marquis is co-founder of the National Center for Global Engagement, which equips low-income young people with global leadership skills, study abroad scholarships, and meaningful service opportunities.

“It was exciting to be a part of an event that brought together such a diverse and talented group of young people with backgrounds that expand the realm of international development,” said Marquis. 

“This ray of light is an indication that the Obama administration places a premium on the perspectives and experiences of young people in the field and the value they can add to the conversation.”  He added: “It was also great to meet Dr. Shah and talk with him about my organization and the work of the International Youth Foundation. He offered several valuable insights about how to make sure youth-led and small organizations like mine are at the table when USAID investments are made and when issues that have an impact on international development are being discussed.”

In support of its new youth focus, USAID is developing a “youth policy” set for release in the Fall to help guide the Agency on how best to invest in this critical segment of the population. Young people around the world are being solicited for their ideas and recommendations, as are youth-serving organizations like IYF. In addition, First Lady Michelle Obama has made youth empowerment a cornerstone of her message overseas. On recent trips to India, Mexico and South Africa, she has met with young leaders in those countries, including participants in IYF’s programs.

“We are excited that the Obama Administration is placing a real emphasis on how to more effectively engage today’s youth in shaping the policies and programs that impact their lives so profoundly,” said William S. Reese, President and CEO of the International Youth Foundation.   “Young people have already demonstrated their capacity to help solve some of society’s toughest challenges, and we will all benefit when they can fully participate in the decision-making process, both locally and globally.”