Two years ago Kareem El-Ansary was in his final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne. Now, he's Australia’s Youth Representative to the United Nations.
By Sarah Hall
I first spoke to Kareem El-Ansary a month ago, when he was sitting in a waiting lounge in Tullamarine Airport. The next time, he'd just landed in Sydney where he was staying for a few days with his grandparents; and most recently, he was in an air-conditioned hotel room escaping blistering 43 degree heat in Longreach, central Queensland, and would soon be boarding a plane to Townsville.
El-Ansary is in the midst of a national tour for his role as Australia's 2019 Youth Representative to the United Nations.
The Youth Representative to the UN is annually appointed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and UN Youth Australia. The role aims to give a voice to young people who are often left out of the decision-making processes that affect them.
Over the course of six months, El-Ansary will travel to every state and territory, leading the country's largest face-to-face consultation with young people this year, running workshops in schools, community groups, universities, TAFEs, juvenile detention centres and many other institutions.
The goal? To discover the issues that are most important to young Australians – and then to present his findings to the Australian government and General Assembly of the UN at the end of the year.
Nearly a month in, he's already run 39 consultations in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
"I have walked away from each one with new ideas and new stories to share", he said. "I've been blown away by the complexity of these young people’s ideas, the optimism they have about the future and their eagerness to make positive contributions to society."
When El-Ansary graduated from the BA in 2017 having majored in Media and Communications and Politics and International Studies, he was unsure what his next move would be. Now, just two years after graduation, he has already made a name for himself in youth advocacy.
"My initial plan was to study the JD immediately after finishing my BA, but instead I decided to take a year off and explore. I travelled through Asia and commenced internships in a number of very different fields," he said.
After completing internships in consulting, banking and politics, El-Ansary landed himself a job at the Oaktree Foundation – an aid and development NGO focused on eradicating extreme poverty in the Asia-Pacific region.
"Oaktree is a particularly unique organisation as it’s entirely run by people under 26. As a result, I found myself in a fairly senior leadership position straight away," he said.
El-Ansary became the National Director of Oaktree's 'Live Below the Line' campaign, which has raised over $11 million in the last seven years to fund development projects in Asia.
After leaving Oaktree, he took on a role leading the Asia-Pacific Youth Organisation (APYO), a think tank which builds platforms for young people to engage with the creation and implementation of public policy on issues that affect them.
El-Ansary also serves on the board of the Youth Affairs Council of Victoria, the peak advocacy body for young people in the state.
In recognition of all of his work, El-Ansary was named a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum in 2018.
El-Ansary says his Bachelor of Arts degree prepared him for the workplace in ways he didn't expect.
"The best thing about an Arts degree is that it teaches you how to think. This is something that's proven to be incredibly valuable in my work – the ability to problem solve, to critically analyse information, to adapt and continually learn new skills."
After his six-month national tour, El-Ansary will travel to New York for two months to work as a member of the Australian Permanent Mission to the UN, where he will deliver an address to the General Assembly on behalf of young Australians.
"I'll have the chance to communicate the stories [of young Australians] to the public and build important conversations around the issues that are affecting young people most. This is an incredible privilege", he said.
Upon returning to Australia, El-Ansary will publish a comprehensive report detailing his findings, which will be delivered to both State and Federal governments.
"My BA really taught me that I may not always have the answer, and that's okay, as long as I'm asking myself every day how to create a positive impact in the world around me."
Banner image: Kareem El-Ansary. Image courtesy UN Youth Australia.