Remarks to the International Youth Foundation's 20th Anniversary Reception

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 
Benjamin Franklin Room
Washington, DC
October 7, 2010

Thank you. Good evening. I welcome you all to the State Department, and the Benjamin Franklin Diplomatic Reception Rooms for this special occasion. A special welcome to our distinguished guests including the former President of Finland and the esteemed Ambassadors who are with us tonight.

This event, commemorating 20 years of youth development, follows a long history of extraordinary events in this room, all of which have contributed to United States foreign policy. Young people – youth development – is in fact a key component of our country’s foreign policy, and I applaud you for the work that you do every day to improve the lives and prospects of the world’s youth.

In 1966, Robert F Kennedy said this: “This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease."

I believe that statement still holds true, and I carry it with me in my work here at the State Department. In my position I oversee U.S. foreign policy on a variety of global issues, including democracy, human rights, and labor; environment, health and science, population, refugees and migration, and human trafficking.

I see in very concrete ways how our mission and the mission of IYF encompass so many of the same challenges and opportunities. All of us in this room are looking for innovative ways to improve the quality of life of all people – so that ultimately we can all live in a more peaceful, democratic, and hope-filled world. We simply cannot realize our shared vision of society unless today’s young people are the healthy, productive, and engaged citizens we need them to be.

Young people today will inherit difficult and painful challenges of the 21st century. But they are also inheriting a world ripe with solutions, powered by technology and global connections. Today more than ever, our young people are empowered with the knowledge and wherewithal to create change—from their own communities to their national political parties. With 1.1 billion youth in developing countries—they are on the frontlines of progress.

Engaging with youth around the world is critical for us at the State Department. In fact, the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Judith McHale and I are co-chairing a new State Department Task Force on Youth that we kicked off last month with the approval of Secretary Clinton.

By bringing together the different offices and agencies of our government, the Task Force is aimed at bringing greater vision, cohesion and coordination to our various efforts to partner for progress with the world’s young people. And our new partnerships start here, with individuals like you.

The global programs and the people who lead them -- represented in this room -- are contributing not only to improving the lives of our young people but also expanding their opportunities to succeed.

Today, I joined many of you as we participated in a wide range of provocative conversations and stimulating exchanges about how we can make a positive difference in the lives of our young people and their communities. I have no doubt that each of you is prepared to return to your homes and offices even more energized and inspired to help young people learn, work, and lead.

As both Under Secretary and proud mother of a young social entrepreneur who has long worked with IYF, it is an honor for me to be with you to celebrate the youth led innovations and development partnerships that are supporting progress in the toughest communities.

Let me congratulate the International Youth Foundation and all of you on this 20th anniversary and doing such important work. As the importance of youth development gains traction throughout government and with many organizations represented in this room, you could say we’re all just catching up to the work that IYF has been doing all along. So I challenge you to continue being the global champions and thought leaders for the next twenty years – and beyond.

I would now like to introduce my friend, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Garber.