Eighteen year old Antonio is concerned about the apathy of young people towards politics. "I think we are fighting against the risk of a complete lack of interest," he said. "This is a risk of our generation." But Antonio can hardly be described as a disengaged and disinterested teenager. Despite his frustrations with his apathetic peers, the young Italian is smiley and excitable. He is one of 54 young people who have spent the week in Berlin discussing key issues on the agenda of the upcoming G7 summit.
The young delegates at the J7 Youth Summit met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday to give her an insight into their views on topics from climate change to economic policy. Nervous and excited whispering punctuated by the occasional sneaky selfie in the chancellery conference room preceded Merkel's arrival. "It's not about being an adult – it's about being a kid, but taking responsibility," says Antonio, who joined the summit with the aim to improve youth participation in politics.
At the summit, organized by the German ministry for family affairs and youth along with Unicef, teams of delegates from the G7 countries Germany, France, the UK, Canada, Italy, Japan and the USA are supported by delegations representing Africa and the EU. They were invited to the summit in order to present the views of young people in countries the G7 aims to reach out to.
Brighton from Zambia, a bright and determined 21 year old with a wide smile, is one of five young members of Team Africa. For him, the summit was an important opportunity to get his voice heard not only by the German Chancellor, but by future leaders of the world's most powerful industrialized nations. The 21 year old environmental science student and climate activist has already set up set up his own NGO,"Agents of Change," in his home country. "Many African countries are facing the consequences of climate change, ranging from water scarcity and drought to unbearable warmer temperatures," he says. "I want to see that the world responds to this challenge and tries to adopt more sustainable lifestyles."
Meeting the youngsters, Merkel listened intently, taking notes as they presented their views. For Aine from Japan, protecting the marine environment was a key issue on the agenda. She condemned unsustainable human activity in the world's oceans, calling for the creation of government backed action plans in local communities and a more transparent dialogue on accountability. Others were keen to discuss female empowerment, praising Merkel for setting an example to women around the world with her success as a politician. Global health was also an important topic, with youngsters raising their concerns about antibiotic overconsumption and poverty driven disease.
Determined, but with a sense of fun
Throughout the week the young delegates have taken part in discussions and group sessions to prepare for their meeting with Angela Merkel, as well as a G7 simulation game designed to give them a taste of the pressures of such a large and influential political event. They also had the opportunity to talk to experts about their specialist topics before presenting position papers on key issues to the German chancellor. Chris Kip, a consultant at Unicef Geneva, advised the teams on how corporate social responsibility can contribute to economic development. "I was very impressed with the knowledge and expertise that exists in the room already," he said. "But in addition to that knowledge, the energy and fun these people are having when talking about these issues is crucial."
The sessions were also a chance for the youngsters to get to know each other and build up an international network of other like minded people. Discussing plans in small groups, the excitement and motivation to act were palpable with the small conference room barely being able to contain the ideas being flung around within its walls. "The atmosphere is very stimulating," said Antonio, busily sketching out a plan for a social media campaign to encourage political engagement along with his counterparts from France and the USA.
'An investment for the future'
As the youngsters flashed each other smiles and thumbs ups between the speeches on Monday, it was clear that this group of teenagers have ambitious plans in pushing forward social change. They intend to launch an online and offline communication initiative aimed at addressing the lack of communication between young people and their governments, driven by the hashtag #NotJustAKid.
"We're not diplomats, we're not politicians, we are kids – we listen to Nirvana and watch Game of Thrones," says Alexandre from France, a tall young man with braces and a passion for philosphy. "But we are an investment for the future." Team Italy's Antonio agrees. "I think we received a lot of attention here, and now we can only look forward to what is going to happen at the political debate," he says. "My main goal now will be to spread everything I learnws here, to share it with my neighbor, my community, my city, my country, wherever I can." And it certainly seems these youngsters are set to be the game changers of the future. In the words of 21 year old Brighton from Zambia, "there is more power in the hands of young people than in those of the people in power."