From stepping into the role as 2017 Youth Ambassador to the United Nations to being named in Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25, Paige is definitely an extraordinarily driven and influential young person. Not only does she work incredibly hard to give others a voice everyday of her life, today especially, she’s given us some invaluable nuggets of wisdom!
To start off, would you like to tell a funny or interesting story with regards to your involvement with UN Youth?
When I was in Year 10, I went to the Rotary Model United Nations - the country our team got was Canada. We decided to have fun and get into the costume part of the day, so I hired a moose suit. We ended up winning the competition, so I had to go and collect the trophy and pose for photos in a giant moose suit. It was very difficult to walk down the stairs and I fell many times, eventually being helped down by a teammate. After that, I was pretty interested in the United Nations and went to UN Youth NSW Conference and then fell in love with the people and organisation.
Before you started working in International Relations and the not-for-profit sector, did you know that this was what you wanted? What did you think of foreign affairs back then, and how have you found that your view has changed?
I’ve never known what I wanted to do when I finished school, and I still don’t really know what I want to do after this. By the time I got to the end of school, I was pretty certain I wanted to study government and international relations but didn’t have a plan for what that looked like. I never really had much of a sense of how different people are involved in shaping decisions, and the impact that seemingly small events have. I did think that it was messy and difficult and I still do. Though I have much more respect for the people who spend every day of their lives trying to make improvements in such large and complicated systems.
After working in the non-profit sector and meeting some of the most dedicated, clever, and kind people I’ve come across, I definitely want to come back to that. I haven’t really got much of a plan though if something will challenge me, and allow me to do things that have a positive impact on great people, I’m interested.
So there's hope for any of us who don't know what we want to do. That's definitely inspirational!
Congratulations on becoming the 2017 Youth Representative to the United Nations! Could you tell us what motivated you to apply, and what it was like being selected?
Thank you! When I got involved with UN Youth, I was lucky to meet hundreds of young people across Australia. It felt like such a huge privilege to hear their opinions and learn from them. About three years ago, I knew that I was interested in the position. Having the chance to consult with thousands of young people who are so often reduced to a set of stereotypes, but I didn’t really know what I wanted my consultation to look like.
Last year, when I finally had an idea about sharing the stories of young Australians by asking them what they wish the government knew about them, I applied.
It was, and is, a huge honour to be selected to a role that’s so important to me, and so many young people across the country.
That's amazing - I'm sure many young people value the voice you're giving them. What types of tasks are you required to complete in your role?
The first part and longest part of the role is the consultation. That involves months of travelling the country, meeting with young people in schools, universities, full-time work, non-profit organisations, councils, and other government groups. The consultation is the thing that informs what I’ll be saying at the UN - when I speak in the General Assembly’s 3rd Committee, and what will happen during the report back.
There’s a lot of talking involved in the role, but hopefully more listening. Also taking lots of photographs (for the social media project), and report writing (to make some tangible change and really represent young people’s interests), as well as meeting with politicians and non-profits.
How would you describe the relationships between you and Youth Reps from other countries?
I haven’t met any yet! But we’ll be meeting in New York and hopefully spending a bit of time together. I’m really looking forward to discovering the differences and similarities between the issues young people in our countries care about.
Let's talk about your Listening Tour - what’s the most impactful story you’ve heard, and how do you think that’s affected your own life or worldview?
The theme of my consultation is "What would it mean if young people were seen by the government as being as complex as they are?" and I’ve been trying to answer that question by asking young people what they wish the government knew/considered about them when making decisions.
I’ve heard thousands of stories this year, and it’s really hard to pick one that stands out as being most impactful. And that’s not really the point of the exercise. It’s about showing that all young people have a range of experiences that inform the way they make decisions or why they have certain opinions. The most powerful thing for me this year has been the response of the online community to those stories.
That's definitely an eye-opening point. What do you consider to be the most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of being involved with UN Youth is watching the impact that it has on both the lives of the young people that participate in our programs and volunteers. I’ve made incredible friends and learnt so much about curriculum design, management, and governance. I’ve also been lucky to travel with the best people you’ll ever meet, and travel to some incredible countries.
Ultimately, the most rewarding part of the work this year is spending time with the fantastic students that are engaged with, and care deeply about global issues. I also love working with educators, I think they play such an important part in people's lives and it's great to be able to continue spending time with teachers and educators doing difficult and important work across the country.
Definitely. It's great that students like us can learn from incredible people like you! And the most challenging part of your work? How have you overcome that?
We as humans really struggle to imagine other people as complexly as we think of ourselves. All too often young people are reduced down to a set of stereotypes, and it’s really disengaging. It denies young people the space to engage with important issues in a way that’s genuinely meaningful.
So the most challenging part of being a young person, and working with young people has always been overcoming, and challenging those attitudes in a way that is productive. It’s important to create a space for young people to have important conversations with their peers, to give them support, and autonomy to carry out their ideas without being tokenistic. I like to think that the work I’ve been doing this year has provided genuine platforms for that engagement both with young people in workshops and the community viewing those stories online.
Absolutely, so a lot of it is about how people view us as young people. I'm sure you've really been able to help with that engagement. What motivates you to keep going?
It sounds like a bit of a cop out, but the young people I meet. They’re what motivates me to keep going. This is a very busy role, one that involves me being away from my home and friends for long periods of time. It’s quite challenging, but meeting really interesting and thoughtful young people is so rewarding that it makes it all worth it!
Do you have any advice for young people looking into International Relations or interested in similar types of not-for-profit work?
My advice to any young people looking to get involved in anything is to become part of communities and organisations that make them feel supported, and celebrated and powerful. I’ve always found that if you surround yourself with people who have experience in what you’re interested in, and have a shared passion, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.
But also, I think it’s important to not limit yourself too early. Try a range of things, and say yes to opportunities that come up. You might find that in trying to eliminate things you don’t enjoy doing, you’ll come across something that you really love.
Sound advice. Thanks for sharing your story and your wisdom, Paige!