A breath of new hope is blowing across the globe -- from Australia to America, from Canada to China, from Africa to Europe. It is the Millennial Generation, those young people -- 78 million in the United States alone -- born between 1985 and 2000 who define themselves by the social commitment and technological savvy that unite them worldwide.
Their optimism and hope for the future are propelling political causes; their distrust of a corporate world motivated by greed promises to change business as we know it; and their commitment to technology and service can transform society for the greater good. They believe in a better future. They believe the world needs to change, but more importantly, they believe the world can be changed, and they want to be part of it. They have the talent and the enthusiasm and the energy. All they need is the education and the opportunity.
Education and opportunity are now meeting head on in a new initiative led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, uniting global universities and the United Nations. The United Nations and its charter represent humanity's most ambitious attempt to unite across borders to secure peace, promote social progress and confront global problems. But to fulfill the promise of the United Nations, we need to make the United Nations more than a conference table of diverse opinion -- it must enlist the help of educational institutions that can inform and empower the Millennial Generation with global perspectives and global skills.
This is the fundamental goal of the Academic Impact, an initiative that attempts to forge a common purpose between the world's institutions of higher education and the United Nations. When he first unveiled the initiative in an address at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Ban Ki-moon said the United Nations must continue to open its doors to new partners and "the academic community is surely at the top of that list... we hope to build stronger ties with institutions of higher learning, and we hope to benefit from your ideas and scholarship."
The Academic Impact, which was formally launched on Nov. 18 and 19, encourages schools and universities to endorse 10 principles that deal with human rights, sustainability, conflict resolution and literacy. These are causes with deep meaning for Millennials, and they are central to the UN's mission. The 10 principles represent a commitment to education's role in advancing human rights, world citizenship, and intercultural dialogue and understanding.
Why is the Academic Impact initiative so important to the future of the world? With increasing globalization, finances flow freely across continents as do goods, services and ideas. Unfortunately, so do the major problems facing humanity, such as terrorism, pandemic diseases, economic crises and environmental calamities. They all cross national borders with impunity, never stopping at passport control.
Quite simply, globalization has outpaced our ability to comprehend what is happening, and education must set the new cadence. Schools and universities must introduce more international lessons, language programs, study-aboard opportunities, cross-cultural dialogues and international students.
Our students are ready for a global education. The pollster John Zogby has described this age group as "First Globals," and he concludes they are "the most outward-looking and accepting generation in American history" who bring a "consistently global perspective to everything... More than any generation, they see themselves as citizens of the planet, not of any nation in particular."
They have crossed the gateway to the global century. Through the Internet and social networking, they interact with people everywhere. They are tolerant and appreciate differences, and they want to build bridges across the diversity of world ideas, people, cultures and nations.
But while America's "First Globals" are excited about the world, more than 90 percent say that high schools have not prepared them to understand international issues. The problem starts in elementary schools, where there is less and less room for social studies, and continues through college, where commitments to global studies are often woefully lacking.
Global awareness has to be supported by global education -- an education that prepares the Millennial Generation to be true world citizens who understand the interconnected nature of our planet and who are willing and able to act on behalf of people everywhere. Digital technology in particular, which has become the hallmark of this generation, can help schools introduce different perspectives to students by connecting them with their peers all across the globe and promoting the pillars upon which the work of the United Nations is based -- the causes of peace, development and protection of human rights.
The world's academic institutions can help the United Nations move forward by inspiring what promises to be the "greatest generation" of the Third Millennium. That generation could well make the world a place we only dreamt it could be.