When I go to a fashion week casting, I’m representing my agency and my own brand.
When I participate in a pageant, I’m representing my sponsors.
Representation is a huge part of all young professional’s lives. Students represent their Universities, writers represent their magazines. Over the years, I have learned how my actions, ethics, words and behaviour reflect on those in my networks. When I was selected as the Canadian youth representative at the 8th UNESCO Youth Forum in October 2013, I learned some valuable lessons on representation. Representing Canada at UNESCO headquarters meant sticking to core values for the months of preparation and spending lots of time doing it.
Here are three points on what it means to be a good ambassador. The list is applicable to all sorts of positions – be it youth, sporting, elected officials, and more.
1) Dedicate yourself entirely to this business of representation. Even if the payoff is not immediate, and it seems like you’re investing more time than seems normal, representation isn’t a normal job. The hours do not stop at a certain time. It’s an ongoing process that affects your behaviour, your social media presence, your work, everything. It’s important to stay humble and remember that this chance to represent means that you should be dedicating your main energies to this task. There is nothing more important than investing as much time as possible in this endeavour, because representing is serious business. Some people may think that representation is easy business, but that’s only if we allow it to be.
There are countless examples of terrible representatives at all levels who do not accurately represent their nations, constituents, or voters. There are also countless examples of excellent representatives, elected or not, who devote time and energy by being intrinsically interested in representing for a cause, nation, or more. Which leads to my second point – connecting with people through consultation.
2) Listen, connect and understand people through consulting. I took part in a lengthy and fascinating consultation process with young people across Canada to better understand how to represent Canadian’s interests. Our Programme Officer for Youth explained this very well to me: representing is made easier when you can back up your points by saying “Canadian youth believe (x)” because you spoke with Canadians, formally and informally, rather than saying “I believe this”. Representation is voicing others.
Through CC UNESCO, we invited young people to consultations – on University campuses, in a Toronto skyscraper, and in a community centre in a Northern quebec biosephere reserve.
For myself, the consultation experience consisted of starting out by throwing down my own ideas, and then quickly learning how to listen. I took a lot of notes. I learned a lot more about what social inclusion meant to young Canadians. Getting a wide scope of ideas from so many young people, and hearing what was important to them made me realize that my job was a microcosm of what elected representatives do. I also found that the consultation process strengthened Canada’s position and our team and delegation at the forum. When we would speak up, it wasn’t just for conversation or just to make noise – it was to do our job. I spoke up, whenever I could, even when it would be easier and simpler to stay silent.
This was done so that position of Canadians could be heard, because the Canadian youth we spoke to were very passionate that accessible, remunerated internships, arts education, and a focus on new immigrants and Aboriginal people – among other points – were very important to be said on a world stage.
3) Stay on top of social media. This is not necessarily only geared towards youth – all public figures benefit from social media presence. Personally, this was probably the toughest part for me. Managing an online presence is difficult, but staying on top of news is important and social media outlets, as much as I avoid them, are great ways to connect. I gladly took notes during consultations and spoke with other delegates and spent hours with the other members of our team writing reports – but social media is and always will be a challenge for me. The youth observer set me up an instagram account, and Shaaz set me up a twitter and linkedin account. Reach out to people who can set you on your way to execute a proper social media strategy.
The 8th UNESCO Youth Forum is not a Model United Nations conference, but rather a forum where young people who are passionate about improving various aspects of communities in their countries and tackling social issues convene to discuss and strategize. The outcome of the Youth Forum are recommendations for the General UNESCO Conference. It is always our hope, as youth – broadly defined as people aged 18-25 or in many cases, 18-30 – that our positions will be taken seriously and given considerable thought.
Why is it important to do a Consultation Process?
1) You gain legitimacy as a representative, because you are not representing your personal views, but rather, views of Canadians. One concrete example to this was during the Youth Forum. Everyone was going through the slow process of going word for word and line by line through the recommendations. In our consultation process, I knew that highlighting biosphere reserves and the role they can play in education was vital. When you’re representing other people who expect you to bring these things up, that becomes your primary goal.
2) You gain knowledge. Going to the Uapishka-Manicouagan UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Baie-Comeau, Quebec, was probably the most fascinating experience of my role as a youth advisor to CC UNESCO. Northern communities are discussed at length in urban centres, but to actually go up North to talk to people about what social inclusion means to them, meant to me, learning about how native and non-native communities desire more contact between each other.
What happened as a result of this well executed consultation process? The “youth delegation” – myself, and the youth observer – were able to go meet the Ambassador several times, and were delightedly surprised when he took the time to really ask us about young people thought.