In December 2023, the first-ever iteration of the “Youth Leader Fund for a World without Nuclear Weapons” initiative got underway. The new innovative learning programme, coordinated by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) and funded by the Government of Japan, aims to equip aspiring leaders of the future with the knowledge, skills, and network essential to join global efforts for the elimination of nuclear weapons, the most dangerous weapons on earth.
The programme is designed around two main elements: a foundational online learning component, and a five-day study tour to Hiroshima and Nagasaki complemented by a youth-led conference. The latter will be offered for fifty select participants who demonstrate an outstanding performance in the programme’s initial virtual phase. Participating youth are also expected to help create result-oriented activities in their respective communities, and to mentor, guide and inspire members of future cohorts. Regional activities will be held at later junctures of the eight-year span of the programme.
Last December, the selected 100 young aspiring changemakers joined a festive virtual launch event to embark on their journey to advance positive change and contribute to building a more peaceful and secure world.
In his video message, H.E. Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, underlined the importance to “convey the realities of nuclear weapons use to the world” and advance global nuclear disarmament. He recalled that the fund was announced at the Tenth Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held in 2022, and urged participants to carry forward the first-hand experiences of the Hibakusha – survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and become advocates for and future leaders in building a nuclear-weapon-free world.
The welcome message from United Nations Secretary-General, H.E. António Guterres – delivered by Mr. Adedeji Ebo, Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs – followed, adding weight to the urgent call for global efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons: “In the name of our common future – in the name of humanity – spare no effort to rid the world of nuclear weapons, once and for all.” The Secretary-General stressed the importance of educating future leaders across the globe about the devastating impact of nuclear weapons, particularly in the context of growing geopolitical tensions.
H.E. Ambassador Shino Mitsuko, Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, also extended a warm welcome to the group, emphasizing Japan’s unique perspective as the sole nation to have endured atomic bombings. In outlining the programme’s core principles, she identified “3L’s” for participants – as learners, listeners, and leaders. While acknowledging the formidable challenge faced in achieving nuclear disarmament, Ambassador Shino highlighted that a collective effort remains key to reaching this goal.
Ms. Radha Day, Chief of UNODA’s Regional Disarmament, Information and Outreach Branch, in her remarks noted that the primary focus of the very first United Nations General Assembly resolution revolved around nuclear disarmament. Underlining the importance of engaging and empowering youth, Ms. Day highlighted the power of individual agency, and stated that each person writes their own story and chooses their own path in approaching the pursuit of nuclear disarmament both regionally and globally.
In continuation, Ms. Mihoko Kumamoto, Director of Division for Prosperity at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), an implementing partner of the programme, reflected on her personal experience growing up close to Nagasaki and having the chance, later in life, to engage with and draw inspiration from many Hibakusha.
Some of the main highlights of the launch event were the testimonies delivered by Hibakusha from Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Mr. Seiichiro Mise, Mr. Toshiaki Nakagawa (a second-generation Hibakusha), and Ms. Miho Tanaka whose work involves amplifying the message and legacy of the survivors of atomic bombings. Their messages served as a poignant reminder of the human stories behind the use of nuclear weapons, and as a testament to the great responsibility to carry the lessons of the past forward to serve future generations.
In the next segment of the launch event, participants were introduced to the structure of the programme and engaged in an interactive Q&A session. As the event drew to a close, Ms. Soo Hyun Kim, UNODA Youth Coordinator, took the virtual stage with some words of encouragement. Stressing the importance of education as a crucial tool to foster nuclear disarmament, she urged participants to learn from each other and from experts in order to inspire collective efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons.
In her closing remarks, Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, shared her message of support and best wishes: “We are with you. We are rooting for you. We are counting on you.”
The first phase of the learning programme is under way. Future leaders are now in the process of completing self-paced e-learning modules; engaging with disarmament experts, including representatives from think tanks, civil society, media, and diplomats in live online discussions; and gaining practical skills with a view to contributing to nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control.
As the programme unfolds, it brings with it the promise of fostering a global community working together to script a new narrative of hope, resilience, and a shared commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.
Stay tuned for more updates on the journey of these young changemakers!