Generation17 member Daniel Calarco shares how he empowers young people to address human rights challenges.
Daniel Calarco is a member of Generation17, a partnership between Samsung and the United Nations Development Program [UNDP] highlighting young leaders worldwide who are helping to achieve the 17 Global Goals.
I’m 24 years old and live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I’m the co-founder of International Youth Watch. We open doors for young people who want to develop new skills and work with partners across the globe to ensure that the perspective of youth is central to decision-making and progress.
My days involve juggling meetings, trainings, conferences, and more. Every day, there is a new challenge, but I’m motivated by the passion of other young people and the power of technology to bring us together to create solutions.
Most mornings, I wake up to a full schedule. I go through my morning routine—coffee, reading Twitter or the news, checking in with people on WhatsApp—and then I usually jump right into meetings with my team or with organizations we’re working with to address the human rights challenges unfolding around us.
I consider myself fortunate to be in a position to change those realities. But my life hasn’t always been like it is today. Far from it, in fact.
Early on, my parents moved us from the countryside to a favela here in Rio, so they would have more work opportunities. Growing up in a favela was a constant struggle. Poverty and marginalization were my everyday reality.
My parents told me education was the answer to creating a better future, so at 11, I worked hard to get into a federal school near my home. That was a huge turning point. I started working on projects related to social inequality and public policy, and I realized the life I had known—and the lives of millions of people like me—could be transformed.
I recently completed my law degree because I wanted to drive real impact at the policy level. I believe we have to continually educate ourselves about the world around us.
I spend most of my days online, collaborating with people around the world. COVID-19 has had a big impact on our organization. We had to figure out how to continue helping communities virtually, like leading a digital training on economic empowerment. I also taught a course on digital activism and how young people from favelas can use the internet as a tool for promoting human rights.
In some ways, our dependence on technology has been a struggle. I live in a good neighborhood in Rio, but my Wi-Fi connection is often unreliable, and many of the people we are trying to help don’t have devices or networks strong enough to host a video call.
But working remotely through technology has also been great in a lot of ways. I’ve been able to work with people from around the world—many of whom I’ve only met in person once or maybe not at all. More recently, I’ve spent countless days and weeks launching Favela Labs, which convenes leaders from favelas to help advance the Global Goals through art and technology.
Since we started International Youth Watch in 2015, more than 6,000 young people have engaged with us. Not being able to get together in person since early 2020 has been hard, but we were recently able to gather a small group safely to reconnect with each other.
Before COVID-19, I would often spend my evenings meeting friends for dinner. I’m eager to be able to do that again when it’s safe. I also tend to use the last hours of my day reflecting on what I’ve heard in my meetings and thinking through where opportunities exist and what my priorities are.
When I think about the youth movement, I believe our biggest priority is defining a clear message. We need to do the most we can with the resources available, and every person and every thought counts.
The pandemic deepened systemic inequalities. In the coming months and years, we have to combat this and keep making progress. It takes a lot of resilience, but we have to be restless, and we have to work together to solve all the Global Goals.
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