In the past year, the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) Geneva Branch together with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Implementation Support Unit (ISU) increased efforts to engage youth in the framework of the BWC, ushering in a new stage of youth involvement in promoting global biosecurity.
A game-changer in disarmament and biosecurity, the Youth for Biosecurity Initiative has been at the forefront of UNODA’s efforts to increase youth participation in the context of the BWC. In 2023, the program received a major upgrade with the launch of the first edition of the Youth for Biosecurity Fellowship. The programme offered 20 young biosecurity leaders from 17 States Parties to the BWC from the Global South a three-month capacity-building training of online learning sessions, a collaborative research project and a one-week visit to Geneva during the second session of the Working Group on the Strengthening of the BWC in August 2023.
Following the call for applications, which was launched on the International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Awareness on 5 March, the Youth for Biosecurity Initiative registered a significant surge in the number of applications. More than 800 applicants from 84 different countries registered their keen interested to join the programme, which represents an increase of over 600% in comparison with previous years and signals unprecedented enthusiasm from young minds determined to make a difference.
The 2023 Youth for Biosecurity Fellows share their experience of the Fellowship.
The initiative also saw an expansion in its interaction with health security experts and other BWC stakeholders as more than 40 biosecurity experts with distinctive expertise and backgrounds met with the Fellows. This included over 10 diplomats from BWC States Parties, including Ambassador Flávio S. Damico of Brazil, Chair of the Working Group on the Strengthening of the BWC as well as other office holders.
The 2023 Youth for Biosecurity Fellowship explored innovative ways to showcase the ideas by the participating young experts and provided space for meaningful youth participation in BWC discussions through a poster competition and exhibition. Bringing their creativity to the forefront, the Fellows used the posters as canvasses for offering key recommendations for strengthening global biosecurity through the BWC. The winners of the poster competition – selected by a jury of BWC diplomats – were announced on International Youth Day on 12 August, which marked the Fellowship’s closing ceremony.
After four editions of Youth for Biosecurity programme, the rapidly growing Youth for Biosecurity network now consists of 100 passionate alumni from 48 countries in the Global South, 56% of which are young women scientists. These young minds are teaming up with new partners and raising awareness about the importance of the Biological Weapons Convention in their local and professional communities. The same momentum also resulted in a growing network of partnerships and collaboration. For example, UNODA partnered with the Global Health Security Fund, a Geneva-based nonprofit association that supports impact investment in global health security innovations, thereby strengthening the Youth for Biosecurity Initiative’s ties with civil society actors and industry that are active in global biosecurity.
The clearest demonstration of the rapidly growing interest in biosecurity issues by young people is the record number of endorsements for the 2023 Youth for Biosecurity Declaration. Over 150 individuals and organizations subscribed to this powerful call for action which is still open for further endorsements and available in all six United Nations official languages.
The Youth for Biosecurity Initiative is made possible by funding from the European Union and the Global Health Security Fund. Learn more here.