When Paul Collier speaks, the world tends to listen. The economics professor and author of three books, including “The Bottom Billion,” moves in high humanitarian circles. He gave up a Saturday morning to address a UN Youth and Student Association annual meeting to debate poverty, hunger and reaching the Millennium Development Goals. About 80 activists gathered in Oxford, UK for the 27 March meeting.
“Why am I here?” Collier asked the audience. “…because we need to build a critical mass of informed citizens.”
He said young people need to look forward to the world they will inherit. The biggest opportunity for the “bottom billion” — residents in countries with little-to-no economic growth over the past few decades — is to convert natural resources into sustained prosperity.
Collier said proper stewardship of resources, avoiding unchecked “plundering of the planet” on one hand and environmental romanticism on the other, was the best route to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. He outlined a five-step strategy to eradicate poverty.
Caroline Hurford, of the World Food Programme’s London liaison office, spoke next, taking up the challenge to build an informed society. Hurford highlighted WFP’s school feeding programmes, which currently reach 22 million children globally. Many students in the audience have already raised funds and awareness about hunger by filling the “Red Cup,” which is becoming famous across UK campuses.
“With your support, we can reach all 66 million children who attend school hungry across the developing world,” Hurford said.
Charged with engaging and organising young people in the fight against hunger, Isabella Hayward was elected the next UNSYA President at the conference. The 22-year-old attends the London School of Economics, is a WFP Student Ambassador, and is the Events Director for her university’s Student United Nations Society.
“It’s an issue that seems to be forgotten among other development goals,” Hayward said about fighting hunger. “If we are to achieve anything, people need food.”
The number of hungry people around the world is at an all-time high: 1.02 billion. With the help of young people leading the fight against hunger, the problem can be conquered.
The proof lies in recent events: When the 7.2 earthquake shook Haiti’s infrastructure and food security, students were among the first to help. Within a week of the quake, “Students Helping Haiti,” WFP’s fundraising campaign for young people, raised more than $30,000. Schools from 33 countries and nearly every continent joined the cause, and the campaign passed the $50,000-mark in March.
“It takes one generation to go from poverty to prosperity,” Collier said. The UNYSA attendees displayed enthusiasm, creativity and a passion for action — trademarks of a generation that will make change happen.