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Imagining Health Futures, a joint initiative of the Governing health futures 2030 Commission and UNICEF, leverages foresight and storytelling 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. Inspired by the experiences of young people today, Imagining Health Futures is a joint initiative of the Governing health futures 2030 Commission and UNICEF that leverages foresight and speculative storytelling to feature new narratives about the future of health.

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. But 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? 

What if youth could share with the world a vision of challenges - and solutions - when it comes to health and well-being? That’s what Imagining Health Futures is all about – using the talents of awarded speculative fiction authors and experiences of young people to imagine the future of health while revealing the way young people feel about the present to inform health and health care now!

PROMOTING YOUTH DIALOGUE AND IMAGINATION

At the heart of the Imagining Health Futures initiative is 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.

These engaging first-hand 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. 

Drivers of the first two pilot writers’ rooms included young people in Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Federal Republic of Nigeria, and Republic of Sierra Leone. Speculative fiction authors Zoya Patel and Suyi Davies Okungbowa joined each 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.

There are 1.8 billion young people in the world – that’s 1.8 billion health futures to be written.

UNICEF and the Secretariat plan to continue this joint initiative by conducting additional dialogues throughout Q1 of 2021. The aim of this expansion is to produce a collection of 15 creative stories based on the imagination and diverse experiences of young people, each touching on various themes that affect our health and well-being. 

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 15 awarded speculative fiction authors from around the world to contribute creative pieces narrating and illustrating the imaginations of young people. Each country-specific group discussion was joined by an author pre-selected based on the author’s significant personal connection to the home country of the participants. 

Inspired by the dialogue, the author completes a short narrative piece bringing the participants’ imagination to life using the most common native language. Their content will be published in Q3 2021 under a Creative Commons license and used to advocate and inform better health for children, families, and society. Each short story will also include an introduction written by a young participant from the writers’ room workshop, sharing their own reactions and thoughts related to the story.

WHERE TO READ THE STORIES

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. Once published, these stories will be registered as digital public goods to allow interpretation, illustration, and other adaptations by young people and health professionals for a brighter post-COVID-19 era. 

Stay tuned to #MyFutureMyHealth throughout 2021 for updates and creative pieces derived from the imaginations of young people from more than 25 countries around the world. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, where some of these updates will be shared.

PARTICIPATE

You, too, can use your imagination and create content for your own social media channels and share it with us through our hashtag #MyFutureMyHealth. Use the below prompts to start and 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:

FAQ

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. But even if you aren’t participating in a ‘writers’ room’, you can still join our discussion by sharing your thoughts with us (see the sections below and above). 

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 with us through our @GHFutures2030 platform. 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?

We will keep you posted if there are future editions! In the meantime, follow @GHFutures2030 on Twitter as we will be announcing new and exciting health-related projects soon. Or follow UNICEF’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram channels for exciting innovations that help the world’s children!

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.

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UNICEF:

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.

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