Former United Nations Youth Envoy Speaks on His New Role As Secretary General Of the Scout Movement (WOSM)

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Mr Ahmad Alhendawi seems to experience being the first in taking up roles and challenges that one his age or younger would normally not dare. A millennial himself, proving that being the voice of a generation is still in vogue. As this generation continues to be solution oriented in dealing with the global state of affairs, Alhendawi definitely positions himself as one of the most influential youth leaders in the world. 

At just 29 years old, he was the first-ever United Nations Envoy on Youth, appointed by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on January 17, 2013, making him the youngest senior official in the history of the United Nations. Conquering that feat as the FIRST holding that office, he has embarked on another development civil leadership role at age 33: serving as the youngest Secretary-General of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM).  

We did our first interview on Forbes while he was the UN Youth Envoy and now a year later we jump on Skype— to reflect on his four years as the former UN envoy on youth and discuss his new role at WOSM.

We did our first interview on Forbes while he was the UN Youth Envoy and now a year later we jump on Skype— to reflect on his four years as the former UN envoy on youth and discuss his new role at WOSM.


How is your new role as Sec-Gen of the WOSM different from your previous role at the United Nations?


My role as the Secretary-General of WOSM is an opportunity to serve an organization that I joined when I was very young at the age of 12. It’s been a part of my life, practically where my activism started. Now, after almost 20 years since the first time I joined the WOSM of Scouting, I have the opportunity to come back again to this massive movement.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) is 110-year-old founded by Lord Robert Baden-Powell in the UK. Since then it has attracted over 500 million young people over the decades, 40 million active participants globally and 165 national member organizations—serving as an umbrella for young people to enjoy the magic of Scouting.

It is an educational method that allows people to develop themselves spiritually, intellectually, physically, emotionally and experience by learning and doing the importance of serving others and governing others. This organization is the house of the Scouting Movement.

My previous role as the Envoy on Youth was a unique position for advocating for the interest of young people, supporting policies and different  intergovernmental (IGO) processes with the UN and engaging with member states, which was a unique and powerful position. After observing the SDGs and other developments, my current role is all about action and working with young people directly in the front-lines of conflict, facing difficulties, responding to the hardships and working with member organizations—supporting the Scouts of the countries.

As the UN Envoy on Youth, how exactly did you help millennials?

The things I am proud of was the team I worked with. We have managed to elevate youth issues at the UN. We have engaged with so many member states to develop policies and discuss the importance of direct investment, designing new policies compared to very little that was captured in the MDGs is a main achievement for the security council to adopt the 2250 Youth Peace and Security agenda— a great achievement for the youth sector!

My job was to be a catalyst to support all the different youth movement issues— climate change, peace and security and development giving youth the help they need to get their message across. I am proud that I spent considerate amount in the fields visiting over 80 countries, meeting so many people, meeting with leaders of governments and championing the causes of young people facing difficulties—like starting businesses in Zambia, championing the rights of young people to be elected to public office in Nigeria through the campaign of Not Too Young to Run or working with government working for Uganda young girls’ rights to be girls and not mothers, preventing early child marriages. I hope my role was helpful because how the UN and other development agency works is if you don’t have a seat around the table, your issues gets ignored so I tried to make sure that people have a seat around the table.

Given that you have become a role model, a voice of this generation and being at one of the highest seats at the table, what are some of the things that was beyond your control or sphere of influence as the Envoy on Youth?

I mean, like any international civil servant, you are confronted with the limitations of your ability to influence big events. Example, I come from a region that has seen lots of suffering, one would hope you can do more to bring sanity to decision makers or decision making processes and policies but there are limitations like financial constraints, ability to mobilize enough or fast enough.

Being surrounded with people who have the goodwill and passion to do more has been great but the reality for our work is that nobody can do everything but everyone can do something. The key is to focus more on what that thing you can offer to make the world a better place. The UN is an IGO working with member states—I always say that succeeding with this position is a balancing act between frustration management and expectation management. One should never be intimidated by the forces trying to curb you down but to keep the momentum going. There are limitations with every role but I learned how to do things with what I have not only what I need. When you look around you will find what you have is massive. The most important thing is rallying to work with others and partnerships with youth organizations and now I am in the leadership of an amazing youth organization with the WOSM and it is a continuation of my beliefs.

There is no one organization that can do it all but rather we need to work together and get the work going.

What else would you have liked to do to help youth that you didn’t get a chance to accomplish?

I think I have done justice to a lot of the commitments I was faced with. There is always unfinished agenda business but I think it was a good time for me to step down after four great years! I have given my best— I can always think of so many more things I could do but for the realities and fact that it was the first time ever for the UN to have this office, a lot of the work went into establishing the space for young people globally, which I am glad that the space is not shrinking but expanding. Hopefully it will continue to expand in the future.

What advice do you have for Jayathma Wickramanayake, the newly appointed UN Envoy on Youth who has taken the baton from you?

I congratulate her and I am excited for her. She is an amazing youth advocate. I know she will do a great job. She is committed and smart.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka as his next Envoy on Youth.
WWW.UN.ORGUnited Nations Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Jayathma Wickramanayake of Sri Lanka as his next Envoy on Youth. She succeeds Ahmad Alhendawi of Jordan to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his dedicated service in addressing the needs and rights of young people, bringing the work of the United Nations closer to them.

I don’t really have that much advice but I think she has what it takes to go far and I am sure she will find her voice. The realities are different and I have done it in such realities- I think she doesn’t really need much of my advice. I would not go in the path of offering public advice but she will be able to do great things by herself and we will all support her.

There is an air of either serious motivation or total exhaustion with the state of things in the world. How can millennials stay motivated and engaged?

We just cannot afford to not engage or afford to not care and follow up on what is happening around us. The world is not in a great shape with the conflict and challenges facing us. A lot of these challenges are existential ones, like climate change, terrorism, peace and security issues that are affecting the lives of so many. When young people show up and raise their voices they are able to bring some good change. Look at the recent French election, two-thirds of the parliament coming are young women and minorities, even when we think the situation is difficult we are always reminded that when young people come forward they can bring some good news. The lesson here is for any young person not to be discouraged or unmotivated. The challenges will always be massive but so are the opportunities especially when it comes to political practices, economic activities and job creation. Young people are changing a lot and changing the way things are being done in different sectors. I have great faith in young people. I understand the frustration, we need to renew our resolve to do well in the world. In my current and previous role I remained very worried about the situation of young people affected by conflict and I hope we will be able to do much more to help those who are in pain.

My message is being unmotivated or discouraged is not the way forward! We need to keep each other focused on the bigger picture and on the fact that we can do great things when we are at the table.

What practical advice can you give millennials who want to tackle the SDGs? Why should young people follow you on this new path as the Scouts SG?

It is very difficult for me to hide my excitement when it comes to the SDGs. I have the SDGs framed in my office to serve as a reminder of the vision. Part of my job is to make sure we honor the commitment that has been made and we are very committed in the Scout Movement to do everything in our power to make the SDGs a reality.

Our Conference in August is preparing to adopt the SDGs and our national organizations to take actions on the SDGs.

The exciting thing is that the WOSM will become the world’s largest youth member- based movement, we are talking about a growing network that will reach 50 million to work for the SDGs.

When I was leaving as Envoy, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a joke:

“the UN will loose one but gain 40 million through the Scouts for the SDGs.”

I am seeing the commitment around me from my colleagues— we are determined to have the Scouts playing a role as the largest youth organization. Our theory is to invest in education—which enabled me 20 years ago and others to realize our potential by experiencing Scouting. That is what we are seeing today, determined to invest more in education for SDGs and human rights through that to unlock the power of young people to tackle the other 16 Goals. Our focus is Goal 4- EDUCATION. We are also exploring partnerships. We will work with big partners to support and finance local projects and get support by funding a lot of the local projects. We have great experience there like with our flagship initiative called Messenger of Peace, we have founded and supported hundred of projects around the world and we have contributed over 750 million hours of service. We can do more of that for the SDGs going forward.

We are very excited and sure about the possibilities of us going out and doing the work even while there might be some challenges ahead of humanity to achieve these goals.

17 Goals to be achieved in 13 years which means more goals than years. My theory is that we have no time to waste. We have to to roll up our sleeve and get to business doing everything in our power. I am excited about the endless possibilities by working with the Scouts and getting the goals translated to realities in the local context to reach them!

How do the Scouts help curb youth unemployment?

Here is a public secret: we are just concluding important research on the impact of Scouting in different areas and we are looking to the values, employable, soft and hard skills among the Scouts. We are coming to a conclusion with the Scout research in three countries that Scouts have scored at least 20% more than non-Scouts in a lot of the areas at a young age because the method you learn in Scouting, just as the UK Scout slogan says are “skills for life.” Skills you carry everywhere you go that brings more resilience, innovation and self reliance – that is what Scouting is about in the end.

Realizing that you will do your best at all times and and never take NO as an answer, innovate and battle hardship and difficulties— is the attitude, winner mentality and the collaboration we need in our world today while being mindful of your surrounding and environment.

On Employment, while we focus on education, we get to learn that Scouting offers good handy skills not just the degree but interpersonal skills. When we invest in informal education in Scouting movement, we are able to unlock the real power of the individual to become better employees and become better employers. A lot of the Scouts go out to start their own businesses.

“The Scout is an enabler for young people to be become better employees and employers.”

Adedayo’s Conclusion: Over the course of four years, many young people have grown to become youth leaders themselves shadowing the steps of Mr. Alhendawi. In engaging them in his new position as Secretary-General of the WOSM, Mr.Alhendawi will need to provide open pathways for partnerships and cross promotion of initiatives to bring everyone at the table and engaged.

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