Imagining Health Futures, a joint initiative of the Governing health futures 2030 Commission and UNICEF, leverages foresight, storytelling, and youth imagination to feature new narratives about the future of health
There are 1.8 billion young people in the world – that’s 1.8 billion health futures to be written. Leveraging direct insights and imaginations of 60+ young people across 20 countries, 13 promising and awarded authors are producing a collection of speculative fiction short stories that reveal young peoples’ collective hopes, fears, challenges, wants, needs, and imagined solutions for health futures in a digital world.
In the wake of COVID-19, young people are feeling like they’re no longer in control of their futures - from disrupted schooling, to increased anxiety, to the challenges of finding a first job and standing up for a more sustainable planet. Imagining Health Futures was launched in September 2020 by The Lancet & Financial Times Commission Governing health futures 2030: Growing up in a digital world and UNICEF to support and encourage youth participation in their own health futures, while informing a deeper understanding of their health and well-being in a world increasingly impacted by digital technologies and data.
What happens when we imagine health not as it is today, but as it could be in 2030 or even 2045? Will contact tracing and wearable technologies transform into AI chips under our skin? Will drones, laptops, mobile phones, and other technologies become a more frequent first point of care in emergencies, and also in our everyday lives?
Youth voices, imaginations, and experiences have inspired 13 promising and awarded authors to craft a collection of short speculative fiction stories that put to paper possible health futures in a digital world.
Here's 1 recipe for reimagining the future of #health:— Governing health futures 2030 (@GHFutures2030) February 23, 2021
60 young people 🧑🤝🧑
20 countries 🌍
10 #scifi/#fantasy authors 🤖
All week w/ @UNICEF+@GHFutures2030, #youthvoices are inspiring short stories about health, well-being & tech in 2045! 📌 Pin this #MyFutureMyHealth thread 👇 pic.twitter.com/RXiCKAy0JB
PROMOTING YOUTH DIALOGUE AND IMAGINATION
At the heart of the Imagining Health Futures initiative is youth engagement - a series of virtual discussions with young people who will be confronting 2030 all too soon. Organised by UNICEF and the Governing health futures 2030 Commission Secretariat, these safe spaces mirror a ‘writers’ room’ for small groups of adolescents (aged 14-18) to imagine the future of health and well-being as shaped by their own experiences today.
Imagining Health Futures has engaged more than 60 young people in country-specific and regional dialogues to imagine future challenges—and solutions—when it comes to health and well-being. Participants from 20 countries shared their personal experiences: Nigeria & Sierra Leone, Fiji & Federated States of Micronesia, Rwanda, Indonesia, Namibia, Argentina, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, India, Serbia & Bosnia and Herzegovina; Egypt, New Zealand, Belize, Bulgaria, Ghana, Cuba, and Iran.
These insightful dialogues among youth inform us about community health and well-being, and identify the many personal, socio-technical, and commercial determinants of health and how these are viewed by a distinctly impacted population: young people.
The aim of the initiative is to produce a collection of 13 creative stories based on the imagination and diverse experiences of young people, each touching on various themes that affect our health and well-being.
There are 1.8 billion young people in the world – that’s 1.8 billion health futures to be written.
Imagining Health Futures provides an opportunity to encourage young people to imagine the health futures that they have the power to create. In a way, this youth engagement started with two young professionals who were encouraged to co-lead and co-create this experience.
The first two pilot writers’ rooms hosted in 2020 were driven by young people in the Pacific Islands (Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia) and in West Africa, (Federal Republic of Nigeria, Republic of Sierra Leone). Speculative fiction authors Zoya Patel and Suyi Davies Okungbowa joined each respective regional discussion facilitated by Serial Box, a digital audio and reading platform.
The first two writers’ rooms followed a week-long social media dialogue co-hosted by UNICEF and the Secretariat in September 2020. This online awareness campaign used #MyFutureMyHealth to ask relevant questions about the future intersection of health and technology, in parallel to the 75th commemoration of the United Nations.
LEVERAGING TALENT OF SPECULATIVE FICTION AUTHORS
Creative minds are often asked to participate in 'futurism' workshops or have pieces commissioned to think about what consumer habits might be. For many science fiction thinkers, the decade between 2020 and 2030 is one full of change and has always promised to be different.
The Imagining Health Futures team selected a group of 13 awarded and promising speculative fiction authors from around the world to contribute creative pieces narrating and illustrating the imaginations of young people. Each country-specific and regional group discussion included local youth and an author with a significant personal connection to the locale.
Participating authors include: Asja Bakić (The Balkans: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina); George Jreije (Lebanon); Ndinaelao Moses (Namibia); Norman Erikson Pasaribu (Indonesia); Paula Bombara (Argentina); Suyi Davies Okungbowa (West Africa: Federal Republic of Nigeria, Republic of Sierra Leone); Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (Sri Lanka); Zoya Patel (Pacific Islands: Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia); Ray Mwihaki (Global); Malena Salazar Maciá (Cuba); Samit Basu (India); Ghada Abdel Aal (Egypt); Mika Hirwa (Rwanda).
Inspired by the youth-led dialogue, each author completed a short narrative piece bringing the participants’ imagination to life. Each story has been written in the author’s native language (e.g. Indonesian, Bosnian, Spanish, Arabic), and will be accompanied by an English translation. The collection will also include reflections by the writers’ room workshop participants.
WHERE TO READ THE STORIES
The Imagining Health Futures stories and related content is intended to help advocate and inform better health for children, families, and society. Youth voices from around the world must be heard to understand the complexity of health futures in a digital age, and can inform global policy and shared action toward achieving better health futures.
Our goal is to publish these stories for free global consumption in Q4 2021, complimenting the September launch of the Commission report. These stories will be registered as digital public goods with a CC-BY-NC Creative Commons license to allow interpretation, illustration, and other adaptations by young people and health professionals for a brighter post-COVID-19 era.
You, too, can use your imagination and create content for your own social media channels! Share your experiences with us using our hashtag #MyFutureMyHealth. The below prompts can help get you started- let your imagination run free!
Want to organize a similar activity with young people and an author in your area? Here are other helpful existing resources to start creating content or become a youth advocate:
- Blogging 101 - A Voices Of Youth Beginners Guide To Blogging
- Blogging 201 - A Voices of Youth Guide to Advanced Blogging
- How to write about disability rights
- How to do digital advocacy
- Writing in a gender-inclusive way (pdf via UN Women)
- How to strengthen your message with data
- UNICEF’s Adolescent health dashboards
- How to stay safe online
- Engaged and heard! Guidelines on Adolescent Participation and Civic Engagement
- Adolescent Kit for Expression and Innovation
How did you choose final participants for the youth ‘writers rooms’?
UNICEF Country Offices and UNICEF partners on-the-ground in more than 20 countries came together to identify, nominate, and include adolescents in the youth dialogues. These young people were chosen with diversity in mind, ensuring equal or greater participation of girls, an array of backgrounds, use of common local languages, and more.
Our goal for each ‘writers’ room’ was to ensure ample space and time for creative story-building, which meant that ~five participants in each room was the ideal size.
Is there any way I can be involved in Imagining Health Futures?
Of course! There are several ways in which you can be a part of the Imagining Health Futures initiative and other opportunities to voice your concerns and imagination.
- You can create content for your own social media channels, and even share it by tagging @GHFutures2030 on Twitter or LinkedIn. Simply share the above images with your vision of the future.
- Learn new skills with masterclasses and skills-building resources from UNICEF’s Voices of Youth on this Youth Mediathon website, where you will be able to learn new digital storytelling skills from top professionals.
- You can become a U-Reporter and be part of a global platform to change the lives of young people. More information here.
Will there be other editions of Imagining Health Futures?
The Lancet & Financial Times Commission:
Commissioners from a wide range of sectors, expertise and backgrounds are contributing their guidance, intellectual input and ideas to a report on Governing health futures 2030: Growing up in a digital world. This report will be published in The Lancet in 2021 and explore the convergence of digital health, artificial intelligence (AI), and other frontier technologies with universal health coverage (UHC) to support attainment of the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The Commission is cooperating with partners to support inclusive dialogues with the private sector, youth organisations, and other key stakeholders.
UNICEF is the world’s leading organization for children, working in over 190 countries and territories to protect the rights of every child. UNICEF has spent 70 years working to improve the lives of children and their families. UNICEF approaches young people from an assets-based perspective, convinced of their promise, and focusing on their strengths. Evidence shows that when adolescent girls and boys are supported and encouraged, along with policies and service responsive to their needs and capabilities, they have the potential to break longstanding cycles of inequality, poverty, discrimination, and violence.