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When the world’s leaders have a medical issue, they consult doctors and medical experts. When they have a legal issue, they ask lawyers. But when it comes to youth issues, they seldom ask actual young people.
The dialogues, which are run in conjunction with the One Young World organisation, allow young people around the world to have face time with Annan on a variety of the issues faced by them on a daily basis.
While Annan is clearly enthused by the experience, it’s fairly obvious it hasn’t blunted his highly developed sense of diplomacy. Speaking at the One Young World summit, currently taking place in Johannesburg, Annan addressed a variety of topics including the opportunities and challenges that come with technology.
“The world has been made smaller by ICTs, social media and the ability to connect,” he says. And while that increased connectivity comes with tremendous opportunities, it also comes with some serious challenges.
The opportunities are obvious. “Partnerships have expanded exponentially,” says the former UN Secretary-General, “not just in business, but also political and personal relationships”. Goods and services can also spread faster than ever before. Just try to imagine ordering something from another country without the internet for a bit of perspective on how rapidly our lives have changed.
What digital natives may not realise though is that, like economic growth, the benefits of the tech boom we’re currently living through have not been shared equally.
Annan also notes that the globalisation that technology has helped fuel also means that inequality has increased within and between countries.
Using tech for change
It’s therefore down to people and young people in particular, says Annan, to use the technology available to push for change. “In situations where leaders fail to lead, you can make them follow”
“You have the tools, you are very good on social media,” says the Ghanaian-born diplomat. “If you can organise yourselves and identify the objectives you want to achieve… you can bombard the offices of world leaders and force change”.
Not only that, he says, anyone wanting to force change should also share their message with society at large to try and increase the momentum of their message.
Governments need to be transparent on drones
One thing it might be worth pushing for is transparency on unarmed drones, an issue put to Annan in a question from the floor. “We have technology and we can use it for positive and negative things,” he says. “Cellphones and mobile technology have done a lot for poor,” but, he adds, “we have to be careful with drones”.
At the moment, the US is the predominant country making use of the controversial technology. But it’s becoming increasingly ubiquitous and, says Annan, we need to find ways to regulate their use.
“It can’t be a free for all,” he says. “There have to be rules and regulations,” especially when it comes to this kind of technology.