Official Launch of Youth As Researchers: exploring the impact of COVID-19

The Youth as Researchers (YAR) Program, co-convened by UNESCO, National University of Ireland Galway, and the Pennsylvania State University, officially launched on 4 December 2020. The public launch event featured speeches from high-level UNESCO staff, including Gabriela Ramos, the Assistant Director-General of the Social and Human Sciences Sector, Mark Brennan and Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chairs, representatives of YAR partner organizations, and Irish actor, Cillian Murphy.
If you have the words, there’s always a chance you’ll find the way

The now officially launched Youth as Researchers initiative is the biggest youth-led initiative in response to COVID-19 in the world. The initiative has received over 6,000 applicants from determined and eager youth who have experienced a year like no other, and have all been impacted by the pandemic, seeing their hopes and plans for the future alter dramatically. Nevertheless, youth have risen to offer solutions to the pandemic, and in response, YAR celebrates their resilience. In fact, what was originally seen as 10-12 research groups has now expanded to over 37 research groups, composed of teams at the national, regional and global levels, with approximately 300 young people total. Nevertheless, the number of groups is still growing.

Youth researchers have been invited through this program to engage with the UN, academia and civil society, while collaborating with like-minded peers from both similar and diverse backgrounds. Building off of their research capacity and experience, youth generate knowledge about how COVID-19 has affected the lives of youth in the fields of well-being, learning, youth-led action, human rights and use of technology. YAR encourages youth to confront the often misleading perception of youth being “young” and “healthy”: an immune response to the pandemic.

The YAR program was founded by the UNESCO Chair in Children Youth and Civic Engagement at the National University of Ireland Galway in 2014 and applied initially in Europe and later in North America, Africa and Asia, in cooperation with the UNESCO Chair in Rural Community, Leadership and Youth Development at the Pennsylvania State University. Now, with the help of UNESCO and the UNESCO Chairs as well as partners, including UNDP, OHCHR, Make a Difference Leadership Foundation, International Youth Media Summit, and University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Vietnam, the program has made it to the international stage.

Highlights from the Launch

The YAR launch included several hundred participants – including researchers, UNESCO and UN affiliates – over Zoom and Facebook live. The Assistant Director-General of the Social and Human Sciences Sector, Gabriela Ramos, in particular, emphasized that it is a privilege to be working with youth and expressed her support by explaining that, “The fact that we have this initiative recognizes and celebrates the strength and resilience of youth and builds on the capacity of the younger generation who gets into the research. I hope we will get great outcomes and work together to improve the state of the world.”

Cillian Murphy, who is also a patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland Galway, emphasized that the impact of Covid-19 explicitly on the youth is uncertain: “We don’t yet know the effect [COVID-19] is having on 40% of the total world population who are under 24 years of age. So, it is vitally important that we listen to youth voices and particularly those youth who are living under stress during this time,” Cillian said.

Mark Brennan, UNESCO Chair at the Pennsylvania State University, speaking on behalf of himself and fellow UNESCO Chair, Pat Dolan, at National University of Ireland Galway, expanded upon this to tell the youth researchers: “You’re leading change in the face of this pandemic...but this is nothing new. This is what youth have always done. You are and have always been the driving force of social change, support for each other, and making resilience happen in the face of the most massive levels of adversity.”

Ultimately, this is a unique, innovative and groundbreaking UNESCO initiative -- developed and implemented by, with and for youth at every stage -- that is meant to give the voice, space and power to young people to shape the #NextNormal - a better Normal. To echo the sentiments of Cillian Murphy at the start of the launch, “let’s listen to what youth have to say in this study and hear and act on the messages that they give us.”

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