INTL Youth Convening Day Three: How To Be an Effective Advocate

Written by Convening participant Samuel Andrews, Policy and Information Officer at the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

The third day of the Youth Drug Strategies Convening was focused on how to be effective advocates for the change we want to see.

We were joined in the morning by Dr. Sandro Calvani, who shared his extensive experiences of working with the United Nations. Over his career, he worked in over 135 countries for various UN bodies, including four years in Columbia as the Director of the UNODC office. Dr. Calvani outlined how to take a strategic approach to engaging with the UN while also providing an insider perspective on the many moving parts. One of his main talking points was that the nation state still reigns supreme and the strong veto powers mean the consensus process is ruled by a minority.

This went a long way to explaining the exclusion of youth voices from drug policy discussions at UNGASS and CND. Governments want to be a part of the UN but many do not uphold the principles of the charter, putting self-interest above global progress and a highly inequitable system. It is not all bad, though, and we heard amazing stories of the power that a global focus can have, and the times when the UN does act the achievements are impressive. While the issues are clear with the UN, there is room to work within that process towards improving global approaches which put people first.

Having heard of advocacy at the international level, we then shared stories of our own advocacy in our local communities and our various motivations to become politically active. Most people had personal experiences of themselves facing, or witnessing, injustices around drug use which became the catalyst for them to fight for change. The scope to be an advocate is broad and we all became closer as a group, with a stronger and more diverse understanding of what advocacy can be. It was a powerful reminder of why we all came to Bangkok, and being appreciative of that chance to share, connect and build future motivation.

The day finished with an exercise in taking one of our key beliefs about drug policy and rapidly putting together an advocacy plan. We got to practice the process of putting ideas into actions and being attentive to the environments we are seeking change in. The proposals involved: stopping drug testing at work or school, removing barriers to psilocybin research, optimising access to harm reduction from people most at risk, and creating spaces for young people to discuss experiences of drug use without stigma.

Now halfway through the convening, our similarities of purpose and principle are so clear. Through our youth voice, motivation, and local action we can contribute to global change.