Lucy Stronach is the current Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As someone who’s passionate about youth engagement, her goal is to focus on delivering evidence-based solutions to MPs, NGOs and other key stakeholders, including the United Nations General Assembly in New York by asking young Australians the following question: ‘What would Australia look like if young people were the key drivers of decision making?’. Today, she reflects on her work with the United Nations, the various initiatives and engagements she has led and her advice for young women in politics.
In 2019, you became the Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations and have been engaging with youth from every part of Australia, asking, “What would Australia look like if young people were the key drivers of decision making?”. What have been some of the most significant learning insights throughout this experience so far, and how has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your role?
It’s been an absolute privilege to listen to the stories young Australians share with me. The insights have been varied but what has stuck with me most is the ability of young people to understand the complexities of the issues we face and by extension, envision appropriate solutions to those issues. The empathy, creativity and knowledge that young people possess equip them perfectly to be our change-makers and our leaders.
I’ve been pretty lucky with COVID. I was meant to start my role as Youth Rep in 2020 but things got delayed, meaning I’ve had an extra year to familiarise myself with the role and develop amazing relationships within UN Youth and DFAT (the two partners in this program). Travel this year domestically has been (surprisingly) fine so far and I’ve been able to move around the country since February! There are, of course, restrictions on the international travel I would typically be doing- I should actually be in New York right now for ECOSOC but instead, it’s a few 9pm-7am nights doing virtual sessions.
Social impact through research is clearly significant to you. You have worked as a Research Assistant within the Australian Government and internationally and with NGOs such as the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. What sparked this as an interest for you, and how do you think these experiences have prepared you for your current role?
I’ve always loved academia and writing, and so a career in research was a no-brainer once I really dove into it at university. Since graduating and through my work/university travels, I’ve discovered the power of research in ensuring that our decision-makers, leaders and change-makers have the best available research and evidence to inform their actions. My love for research continues to grow as I realise more and more how crucial it is in the social-justice space.
More importantly, those experiences allowed me to work primarily with vulnerable and marginalised young people in a variety of settings (from juvenile detention centres, to homeless shelters, to brothels etc.). I do believe that my ability to communicate with, and ultimately listen to young people from diverse backgrounds undoubtedly prepared me for my role as Youth Rep.
You co-host and produce the ‘For the Future’ podcast with UN Youth Australia. What was the catalyst for this project, and are there any issues you are excited to talk about?
The catalyst for this was COVID! In lieu of the traditional 2020 ‘Listening Tour’, the team and I decided a podcast was a way to continue to create a space for young people to discuss the major issues they face. We paused the project while we’ve been launching the 2021 Listening Tour, but have some amazing stories lined up on the topics of juvenile justice, housing and the economy, gender inequality and youth politics, amongst others.
You have had the opportunity to engage with so many cultures while working in Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, and Thailand. How have those experiences impacted you, and how have they influenced your understanding of being part of a global community?
Being able to experience the diversity and complexity of the various communities I’ve worked in has been the most important thing I have done so far. For me, it really helped me discern the role I play in the broader global community. My privilege became really apparent, and with that grew my drive to afford others the same opportunities I have been afforded.
I’ve witnessed change-making on the most micro of levels, all the way to sweeping national reforms. What was made clear to me in all of these experiences is the responsibility and ability we all have to form part of this community and work towards proactive, positive change.
Do you have any advice for young women eager to pursue a similar community engagement pathway and create tangible social change?
It can be really tough, being young, a woman, and a change maker. You are going to face obstacles and barriers that can be incredibly difficult to overcome. I am often overwhelmed by the sheer amount of change that needs to happen, and that is okay. I’ve learnt that creating change isn’t something that happens overnight, but bit by bit we will change these systems that work to oppress us. Despite obvious challenges, doing this kind of work is the most rewarding, inspiring and empowering experience I’ve ever had, and I encourage anyone who is angry about the state of our world to channel that into social justice and advocacy.
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