Feature story

NewGen Asia: Helping young leaders find their voice

27 August 2011

Michel Sidibé UNAIDS Executive Director and young mentees engage in discussion during the launch of the NewGen Aisa initiative.
Credit: UNAIDS/Kim

Across the Asia and Pacific region an estimated half a million young people aged 15-24 are living with HIV. A significant number of all new infections in the region are among young key populations including sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender people and young people who inject drugs.

To ensure that people who need HIV services are reached, young people require a strong voice and increased representation in the AIDS response. An initiative called New Generation (NewGen) Asia aims to develop the capacity of the next generation of young leaders from key populations to make their voices heard.

Launched on 27 August at the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific in Busan, Republic of Korea, the NewGen programme, spearheaded by the Asia-Pacific Inter-Agency Task Team for Young Key Affected Populations, stepped up a gear with an event which showcased the NewGen Mentoring Young Leaders Programme and the official launch of a new leadership course.

“You are not just the leaders of tomorrow, you are the leaders of today,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé at the launch. “Leadership is about commitment, courage and confronting what is wrong. With your energy we can build a better world.”

Leadership is about commitment, courage and confronting what is wrong. With your energy we can build a better world

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director

The NewGen Asia event involved a long table lunch which brought together 30 high-level mentors and the new young leaders, predominantly from key populations, whom the mentors will encourage and support.  The mentors are drawn from a diverse range of backgrounds, such as civil society, the United Nations, government and young people who already have strong leadership experience. They include among others Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, Vice President of the Asian Development Bank, Khartini Slamah, Chair of the Asia-Pacific Transgender Network and Jimmy Dorabjee of the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs.

A two-way learning and sharing exercise

“I believe NewGen mentoring component is a very important initiative to help stimulate dialogue between young leaders from key populations, who are often stigmatized or in difficult circumstances, and mentors who can help provide vision and leadership,” said mentor Ursula Schaeffer-Preuss, Vice President of the Asian Development Bank.

Gerard Ompad, a young mentee with experience in HIV prevention, thinks the NewGen Asia initiative will help him become a more effective champion of the needs and concerns of his community. “I’m very pleased to be part of this initiative. The training will empower us as young people from key affected communities to become real leaders and develop our advocacy skills. Youth ownership and leadership of the AIDS response is critical and this is a significant step forward for the region,” he said.

Youth ownership and leadership of the AIDS response is critical and this is a significant step forward for the region

Gerard Ompad, young mentee from the NewGen Asia project

During the lively lunch, mentors and mentees discussed their expectations and planned various activities over the coming year. It was generally agreed that it would be a two-way learning and sharing exercise.

Five day leadership course

The event also provided an opportunity for the launch of a five day leadership course for young people from key affected populations and those working with them. The programme has been developed and delivered by a team of technical experts from Youth LEAD, a regional network of groups committed to advancing HIV prevention. Youth LEAD members are also heavily involved in the mentoring programme in collaboration with academic experts and UN partners. 

The course will include information on HIV and key affected populations and will have a special focus on skills-based training, including advocacy, communication and leadership.

In a further commitment to championing youth engagement in the AIDS response, Youth LEAD, in collaboration with the HIV Young Leaders Fund also launched a request for youth lead initiatives working to address the needs of those most affected by HIV in Southeast Asia and the Pacific for its 2011-2012 funding round.

It is hoped that the multi-pronged NewGen Asia initiative will reap clear benefits in increasing the effective engagement of key communities which are bearing the brunt of the AIDS epidemic in the region.

Anupama Rao Singh, UNICEF's Director of East Asia and the Pacific Region commented on the importance of the NewGen initiative:

“Young people most affected by the AIDS epidemic are at the heart of prevention revolution in Asia and the Pacific. The NewGen Asia initiative, with support from the regional inter-agency task team, will build young people's leadership to advocate policies and programmes that concern them and prepare a new generation of change agents for the region's AIDS response.”