Tiffany Taylor is the 2013 US Youth Observer at the United Nations, a role that serves as the American equivalent to a UN Youth Delegate. In the yearly search conducted by the U.S. Department of State and UNA-USA, the Gulfport, Mississippi native was chosen among more than 700 applicants for her rich international experience in the fields of women’s health and economic development. She graduated with the highest honors from the University of Chicago and is currently studying for a Master in Public Health at Columbia University. Here, she shares the issue she feels most passionate about and her suggestions on how youth can become more involved with the UN.
WFUNA: What motivated you to apply to become a US Youth Observer?
Tiffany Taylor: I became really interested in international affairs post-Hurricane Katrina. I lived in Gulfport when it happened so a lot of people from all over the world came to help people who had lost their homes. That got me interested in humanitarian assistance, so in college I did a lot of volunteer work abroad in the same type of humanitarian assistance. That catapulted me to become more interested in international affairs more broadly.
Describe the process of becoming a Youth Observer.
For the US, the process started with an application online. It consisted of a resume and an essay on what you felt was the greatest global issue facing youth and why. From there it was an interview via Skype and then I had a second interview before I found out days later that I got it. I remember it being around 3 weeks to a month.
What was your essay about?
I felt that one of the greatest issues facing youth was poverty, but I felt it was important to see it through the lens of women and empowering them economically because they make up two thirds of those in poverty. I said in order to even begin to tackle the issues of poverty or inequality, you must tackle it amongst women.
In your time here in NY, what have you learned are the issues that youth are trying to push forward in the global agenda?
For my time here, even beginning with the Social Good Summit and the General Debates and one of my favorite events, the International Day of Girl events, I’m getting the sense that it’s becoming a priority to address the inequalities amongst women. I really get the sense that people are understanding the urgency, particularly on young girls. If things keep going the way they are and there’s not a focus in getting more young women involved, the MDGs are not going to be achieved. So many of the issues when it comes to global health, underrepresented populations, even nuclear attacks, they tend to affect women and children more than other groups.
What insight have you gotten into the UN process or system that you did not have before coming to UNHQ?
I’ve learned so much because a lot of the work I did before was really grassroots-level volunteering and humanitarian type work, so I had never done anything like Model UN or anything connected directly to the UN. But being at the UN and going to the events, it’s taught me the importance of engaging with people on the ground level. That’s where you’re going to create the most change. I think the structure of the UN itself, the structure of any bureaucracy, is going to be hard for one person or one part of a group to change. But when you’re at the grassroots level, it’s really easy to inspire people.
For example, I’ve had a lot of young people come up to me and say, I want to study abroad in China or India, and I thought it was great because these are places that, when I was studying abroad, people were saying, "Are you sure you should go because you’re a girl?" I think just inspiring more people to get involved in international affairs and to inspire people to learn about countries outside of the West--I would say that’s where I feel I’ve had the biggest impact. When it comes to the UN, I’ve learned a lot and relayed it back to youth via Twitter.
What are your plans for the Youth Observer program?
This is the second year the US has had a Youth Observer, so it’s structured but not too structured. It allows for a lot of fluidity. This year, I’m getting to do events that last year the Youth Observer wasn’t able to do, such as the UNESCO Youth Forum. For next year, I think it would be great to keep building on the program. Hopefully next year’s delegate would get to do more events and travel to more places, but I still like the fact that it’s not too structured and allows for more growth each year.
One thing the delegate from last year and I worked on was a journal that we’ve been keeping so that future Observers can read the journal. Also the Twitter is handed over each year so I had all the followers that she had and all the pictures, video footage and this online diary of this year. I felt like it was building upon it on social media. I feel like it was done exceptionally well for it being the second year. I feel confident that the next Observer would have even more opportunities.
What recommendations do you have for the youth delegate program?
I agree with [other delegates] about encouraging more countries to get involved. One thing that the U.S. didn’t do that a lot of other countries did was selecting two observers or delegates, especially since the U.S. is such a huge place. There are so many events that I get to go to that I’m unable to do it all. If one or two more spots were open, it would give youth more opportunity to experience all the great things that occur throughout the year. I think that would be amazing. It also allows you to pass back ideas with one another.
What would you say to youth to encourage them to become a part of this program?
For the Youth Observer in the US, I know they had over 700 applications so I think there was a lot of interest. The sense I got from a lot of people that applied and were not selected was that they felt that this was their only chance to have some sort of impact in international affairs. I almost want to caution people and say no, this is just one of the many different ways you can get involved. There are so many organizations that allow you to attend events at UN or go to different conferences. I definitely do want to encourage people to apply to the US Youth Observer program in the future, but I also really want them to know that this is one of the many different ways to get involved. You shouldn’t see it as the only way.
What do you do when you’re not a delegate?
I was on a Fulbright research grant on business management in New Delhi, India. What I hope to do afterward, I’m studying now for an MPH in epidemiology and global health at Columbia. I’d really like to do more grassroots health education activism focusing on helping women and children deal with preventable diseases. I just hope to get more into health education.
Social Media Question from Abu Shakeem in Nigeria: What’s the most important youth plight that the UN is presently addressing?
I’d say one of the most important issues is water policy. For example, a lot of women in African countries can’t go to school because they have to spend hours fetching water every day. And [the UN] found that that’s one of the reasons why a lot of African women don’t finish school. A friend of mine started a nonprofit called the African Development Initiative where they actually went to Ghana and built water wells and pumps. Something as simple as that has allowed many young girls to go to school.
Random Question: How many countries have you been to?
I’m pretty sure it’s around 24 because I’ve been asked this a lot.