What do tomorrow’s leaders want?

In October 2019 we were delighted to welcome 25 YHP scholars to the One Young World Summit in London. At the Summit we asked delegates from all around the world, from charities, governments and corporates, what people in power should do for youth health - as part of our ‘Postcards to Power’ campaign. Their answers were provocative and powerful. They reflect what tomorrow’s leaders want and expect.

Our scholars were an impressive group from all over the world, some working with YHP programmes in India, Kenya and Indonesia, others for health-based organisations, others again busy developing and running their own initiatives - from public health to energy efficient and clean cooking stoves. They were joined by four of AstraZeneca’s emerging leaders and our delegation was just a small part of the over two thousand inspiring young people who attended, full of energy to change the world.

Our YHP exhibition stand ran a showreel of our ‘Postcards to Power’ campaign, which asked young people to write down what they wanted local or global leaders to do most to improve health for young people, and we took the opportunity to ask passing delegates to fill out their own postcards. We started out with a blank wall and by the end of the event it was packed with almost 200 cards addressing what they felt were the key issues.

Two issues stood out above all of the others as equally vital: education and action on mental health. Wouter from the Netherlands put the case for general education very neatly ‘We are here because we got the chance to be educated. It changes you and the world’. Others were more specifically focused on health education recognising the importance of a healthy lifestyle when young “Educating people is key in healthcare. We can prevent so many issues by giving people the educational resources that they need” noted Cristina from Guatemala - chiming very neatly with the work of the YHP programmes.

Mental health was the other major theme and this caused many delegates outrage at the level of support available: Christa from Barbados demanded that leaders “Stop ignoring mental health!” and Nivendra, from Sri Lanka, that they “Give mental health the same attention [as they] give physical health. There’s no wellness without mental health”. This has particular resonance for young people for, as Nazeem of Zambia, put it “did you know that up to 50% of mental health diseases occur [by] the age of 15 years?”. 

Many other issues were also mentioned as you can see in this wordcloud but the priorities of the delegates were clear: make good quality education available universally to help young people to reach their full potential, and improve the very poor state of mental health provision.

At the YHP we cannot resolve these issues at a global level but our health education programmes are making an impact. We have now reached over 3 million young people face to face; and addressing youth mental health has underpinned our work from the very start of the YHP in 2010.  

It is clear from these postcards to power what youth want to improve their health and lives and we look forward to harnessing some of this energy to make positive change happen for, and with, young people.