In April 2017, the Committee on Global Thought launched the research project, “Thoughts on a Changing World,” by hosting a virtual conversation among participants on campus and at Columbia’s nine Global Centers to discuss issues that appeared most pressing in local contexts. The goal of this genuinely Global Think-in was to generate questions about the changing world that would set the research agenda for the CGT project.
One unexpected outcome of the global conversation was the emphasis placed on youth in every location, whether Amman, Nairobi, Mumbai, or New York: youth and work, youth and technology, youth and identity, youth and politics, and so on. The demographic surge in Africa (11 million youth people entering the job market annually), India (the world’s largest youth population), and the Arab Middle East (60% of the population is under 25), coupled with chronic youth unemployment, which afflicts developed as well as developing countries, means that youth are both a local and global challenge. Concerns about youth, repeated in diverse contexts, suggested that the first phase of the larger project should be Youth in a Changing World (YCW). Vishakha N. Desai and Laura Neitzel are leading this research initiative.
In 2018-2020, the CGT worked in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers, local universities, and youth organizations, to conduct workshops at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro), Columbia University (New York), Brookdale Community College (New Jersey), Al Bawsala (Tunis), the State University of Jordan (Amman), the Princess Basma Youth Resource Center (Amman), Columbia Global Center (Istanbul), University of Nairobi (Nairobi), and Organisation of African Youth (Nairobi). On September 17, 2019, we hosted the United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, at Columbia’s World Leaders Forum. Her keynote speech discussed the importance in youth leadership in a changing world and the timeliness of the YCW project.
Workshop planning came to a halt with the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic in March 2020, but on April 13, 2020, we were able to resume the research digitally with a Global Youth Think-In where youth from around the world met virtual to discuss the effect of COVID-19 on their lives and individual and collective futures. The CGT partnered with KREA University (Chennai, India) in mid-November 2020 to hold two virtual workshops with nearly 60 youth. In February 2021, the CGT worked with the Armenian General Benevolent Union to hold a virtual workshop with Lebanese youth. We hope to finish the research phase of the project by summer 2021 with workshops in Paris and four additional locations across the U.S. We applied for an NEH Collaborative Research Grant to support the creation of a multi-modal, dynamic digital publication presenting the findings of the project. Additionally, we held our first Global Youth Summit in December. A working group of youth from 12 countries led conversations exploring how institutions of higher education should meet the many challenges confronting the world today. Many of the working group members and Youth Summit participants were alumni of Youth in a Changing World workshops held since 2018.