Wise Beyond Their Years: Tzu Chi’s Young Leaders Speak at United Nations Debate

National Headquarters  |  August 18, 2022
On July 19th, Tzu Chi Youth Representative Ashley Yong delivered a speech at the Moment for Nature General Assembly on behalf of NGOs. Image Source / Ashley Yong

Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Maggie Morgan

The United Nation General Assembly held a one-day Moment for Nature high-level thematic debate on July 19th, 2022. The UN’s Department of Global Communications invited Tzu Chi Global Partnership Affairs Department official, Ashley Yong, to represent the Civil Society Youth Representatives Steering Committee. The event was held at the New York UN headquarters and Ashley had the opportunity to deliver a speech during the debate. She was a youth member representative among 1,600 organizations accredited by the UN Department of Global Communications, and she was able to be a part of the choir of voices raising awareness of the actions taken by young leaders who are passionate about sustainability issues. 

Addressing The Climate’s Triple Crisis

The UN Moment for Nature event poster. Image Source / United Nations website
Tzu Chi youth representative Ashley Yong (left) took a group photo with colleagues from the United Nations Department of Global Communications. Image source / Ashley Yong

The Moment for Nature high-level thematic debate was a one-day debate held by the Bureau of the United Nations General Assembly for member states. This perspective-changing event was designed to call attention to the reality of climate change, biodiversity loss, inundation of coastal lands from rising sea levels, pollution, and the production patterns of single-use consumer products. 

Global climate change has continued to progress at an unrelenting rate, and though its effects have been alarming, there is still so much hope. Small actions, stacked on top of one another, can produce life-changing results for all of humanity. This was made clear at the debate; the energy was palpable and the focus was unmatched. The event set the expectation for every country of the world to establish consensus and make actionable contributions. 

Through a concerted effort, it’s possible to get a handle on global warming before it surpasses the 1.5°C targets. The World Meteorological Organization’s Secretary General, Petteri Taalas, said “The 1.5°C figure is not some random statistic, but rather an indicator of the point at which climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and indeed the entire planet.” The debate not only sparked critical conversation but aimed to accelerate the implementation of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

This high-level discussion was divided into four parts, and Tzu Chi representative Ashley Yong’s speech fell in the third portion. The event was chaired by Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th United Nations General Assembly, and she opened with a speech to address everyone in attendance. Following the speech, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, emphasized that countries around the world are facing a “Triple Crisis” of catastrophic damage from climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

We understand that humanity's reckless actions have gotten itself into trouble, and as we continue to delay taking necessary action, this will only get worse, and worsen our living conditions faster.

Abdulla Shahid, President of the 76th United Nations General Assembly

This was a monumental day for the globe, but especially for Tzu Chi; it was the organization’s first time being invited to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Other speakers were either representatives of governments or enterprises from various countries, and Tzu Chi’s Ashley Yong was the only NGO representative on the agenda that day. Her presence stood for so much, perhaps most importantly as the only spokesperson for the new generation of youth.

Action Behind Intention

Tzu Chi youth representative Ashley Yong gave a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on July 19. Image source / Ashley Yong
Information screen of the United Nations General Assembly Hall. Image source/Tzu Chi USA

In her brief but powerful speech, Ashley Yong highlighted “What Youths Do in the Process of Environmental Protection.” She called on the members of the forum to focus on the environmental protection actions taken by youth groups in response to the “Triple Crisis”. Ashley outlined the innovative and creative projects proposed by young activists, and expressed the need for increased investment in the next generation of environmental protection.

It’s Ashley’s belief (and Tzu Chi’s as well) that young people should have the resources to participate more in decision-making and become core promoters for enhancing our planet’s environment. The ultimate goal is to have people of all ages collaborate in solving the ecological crisis and climate change issues humanity faces.

Since 2016, Tzu Chi’s youth representatives have been invited to join the Civil Society Youth Representatives Steering Committee. Each committee has only seven to eight core members, and they represent the youth of organizations accredited by the United Nations Department of Global Communications. 

Over the years, Tzu Chi has been an integral part of the Civil Society Youth Representatives Steering Committee. From the predecessor Steve Chiu to incumbent Ashley Yong, this position represents the United Nations Department of Global Communications belief in Tzu Chi’s youth leader projects. Tzu Chi has always strived to actively promote young people’s participation in world affairs across many disciplines, giving the new generation expansive and free space to be heard and create change.

Tzu Chi Young Leaders Create Waves of Change

Ashley Yong represented Tzu Chi in the 26th UN Climate Summit (COP26) debate in 2021. Image source / Tzu Chi Foundation
Debra Boudreaux (second from left), CEO of Tzu Chi USA, once represented Tzu Chi and visited the Pope along with leaders of many religious groups. Image source / Tzu Chi Foundation

“The United Nations Department of Global Communications is an organization that pays great attention to the participation of youth in the United Nations. It often provides different resources to young people. After Tzu Chi’s youth representatives joined the committee, they have had many opportunities and resources to interact and share on the United Nations platform.” Ashley Yong explained: “The members of the United Nations Department of Global Communications praised and liked Tzu Chi’s youth representatives, because we are all ‘say what we do, do what we say.’ They often invite Tzu Chi to represent the youth community to attend physical or online meetings for sharing.”

“In 2010, after Tzu Chi was recommended for the special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, the entire team put a lot of effort into maximizing it. In 2018, the founder of Tzu Chi, Venerable Master Cheng Yen, proposed ‘Tzu Chi Discourse. International Certification.’ We have since been more proactive in participating across international platforms.” Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA, said: “Every year at the Women’s Conference, the United Nations Department of Global Communications Annual Conference, the United Nations Earth Summit, etc., the Tzu Chi youth team will introduce Tzu Chi discourse topics such as climate change, food crisis, environmental protection, and recycling to the United Nations platform so that the international community can see our steady footsteps in local communities.”

Tzu Chi youths can represent NGOs to share in the UN General Assembly, which is effectively a UN certification. This is our splendid report card in ‘Tzu Chi Discourse. International Certification.

Debra Boudreaux, CEO of Tzu Chi USA

Debra Boudreaux affirmed the actions of Ashley Yong and her team on forming and driving the Asia-Pacific youth community, this was just one example of their passionate involvement. Tzu Chi’s young leaders juggle many projects: beach cleanup, garbage recycling, food crisis, multicultural integration, and biological food chain system. Each initiative is in line with the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, making the efforts a purposeful part of the whole. Tzu Chi’s achievements over the years have accredited it as a representative body of Asian-Pacific youth in the international community.

When the next generation takes action to improve the world around them, people notice. When our youth position themselves to make real change, people join. Age has no bearing on the wisdom of Tzu Chi’s young leaders, and their reach is continuing to break barriers. 

As we continue to empower the young philanthropists of the world, we put trust in the safety of generations to come. The climate crisis is real, humanity’s situation is dire, but nothing will extinguish the flame Tzu Chi’s young leaders and their passion will keep spreading like wildfire.

In 2010, Tzu Chi was recommended as NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC, and the volunteer team took a group photo to celebrate outside the United Nations. Image source/Tzu Chi USA

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