The Future of Global Diplomacy

Robert Onley on how the next generation of world leaders are preparing to meet global challenges.
By: /
June 17, 2013
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The leaders of the G8 are convening in Northern Ireland for the 39th G8 Summit.  The backdrop for this two-day meeting of the globe’s preeminent economic powers is a world facing multiple global crises, all of which demand that summit participants engage in constructive dialogue that leads to measurable progress.  Despite that need, the annual G8 Summits are known more for eliciting empty political promises and saddling host cities with exorbitant costs.

In 2013, this geopolitical lip service simply will not cut it, as the world leaders of tomorrow are demanding results.

The baby boomer generation presidents and prime ministers at the G8 Summit are facing increasingly frustrated populations. With economic instability entrenching in the West, a still teetering world financial order, and escalating tensions in the Middle East, an entire generation of young people is growing up without opportunity, and with few prospects for change. But persistent unemployment, declining standards in health care and education, and environmental degradation are also driving growing numbers of young people to demand sophisticated and coordinated global action.

From this mess, two significant questions arise: are the boomer generation leaders simply incapable of consensus-driven international cooperation, one that sets aside national interests for the collective good of humanity? And if this is the case, are tomorrow’s Facebook generation leaders damned to inherit the quagmire of their political predecessors?

These are the serious, credible questions that today’s brightest 20-something leaders have asked themselves, and which they have actively set out to answer together through their own international diplomacy at the 2013 Y8 and Y20 Summits being held in London, UK (June 24-28) and St. Petersburg, Russia (June 18-20), respectively.

These are not mere “Model U.N.” simulations: the Y8 and Y20 Summits are the world’s premier youth assemblies, bringing together graduate students and young professionals from across the G20 for a week of intensive negotiations, dialogue, and bargaining.  Whether or not any of the delegates at the Y8 and Y20 Summits end up in a prominent political office, these young minds have already created space for meaningful change, via the creation of a global network that has the potential to fundamentally reshape the dynamics of international diplomacy and global governance for decades to come.

Unlike their boomer political forebears, the leaders of the Facebook generation are “digital natives”, accustomed to instantaneous communication, and constant updates on the personal, political, and career decisions of their peers. Every day, they exploit social networks to grow and sustain an online community comprised of the most engaged and committed student leaders from across the G20. These new generation leaders are utilizing all available tools and innovations to exchange ideas, think critically and solve problems together, well before entering into positions of power. The Youth Summits are simply the annual physical manifestation of the dynamic online relationships among future leaders.

This year marks the 7th anniversary of the Youth (“Y”) Summits, which are formally sponsored by the presidents and prime ministers of the actual G8 and G20. The 2013 Y8 Summit in London has been organized by the UK-based International Diplomatic Engagement Association (The IDEA), a global network composed of ascending young leaders from all different cultural backgrounds. The 2013 Y20 Summit in Russia is the official G20 youth event, held under the Russian G20 Presidency alongside with G20 Leaders’ Summit.

Critically, young Canadian leaders have been a part of this global youth diplomatic network since its inception in 2006. The IDEA’s Canadian partner is YouthCan for International Dialogue (YFID), a federal non-profit, non-partisan, youth-led think tank responsible for recruiting and selecting Canada’s delegates at the Y8 and Y20. YFID seeks to engage Canadian young leaders in diplomacy and meaningful dialogue at an international level, through access to hands-on global initiatives and diplomacy. YFID targets Canadian undergraduate and graduate students, as well as young professionals from all disciplines, focusing on highly accomplished academic and intellectual leaders with experience in negotiation, debate, and advocacy.

Delegates are selected by YFID for portfolio positions that replicate their real-life national counterparts, be it the Prime Minister, or Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Environment and Health. In the months and weeks leading up to the Summits, delegates from around the globe utilize social networking tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Docs, and Podio to debate and determine their agenda topics for the actual negotiations. The Y8 and Y20 Summits are unique in that delegates are given the freedom to approach global issues using any theory, opinion, or proposal available. The goal of the Youth Summits is not to mimic each nation’s standing policies, but rather to capture the spirit, ideas, and consensus of the globe’s next generation of leaders.

The catch is that all proposals must be achievable (no utopian idealism allowed), tangible (results-based), and more importantly, must be simultaneously agreed to by the rest of the Y8 or Y20 delegates. While skeptics may assume that the end result of these negotiations is series of far-flung “save-the-world” panaceas, past Youth Summits have shown that the negotiations produce hard-fought, comprehensive, genuine solutions to complex world problems.

The final byproduct of a week-long series of negotiations is the Final Communiqué, which is presented to the national president or prime Minister of the respective G8 and G20 (Read the 2011, 2012 communiqués). However, in many respects, more important than this policy paper is the creation of a lasting social and digital network of aspiring young leaders – one that grows in number and depth with each passing Youth Summit. Many youth delegates, like their real-life counter-parts, return year to year, cementing personal relationships with friends and national rivals alike. Empowering all of this, of course, are online social networks.

In recent years the world witnessed the power of these networks to organize protests, spread political messages, and even help topple governments and national leaders. Today, social media is often idolized as a force equalizer, empowering the “people” vis a vis their elected or non-elected “leaders”.

Less well understood is how online social networks may come to impact decision-making processes at the global level: will they change how individual leaders conceive of and approach problems, and the tools they choose to use to deploy? Social networks have yet to positively change how the boomer generation does business, however, as the Y8 and Y20 Summits demonstrate, the next generation of leadership will be composed of twenty-somethings who recognize the power of online relationships in navigating geopolitics, and collaborate in finding solutions to global crises.

Our current leaders are faltering, but there is no small measure of comfort to be found in the skills, determination, and connections among those who will follow them.

You can follow YFID during the Summits at: @YFIDCanada and Facebook.com/CanadaYFID