What does Futures Thinking mean for children? Hiba Umar talks to Deona Julary


Deona Julary is a senior at Hinsdale Central High School in Illinois, USA (FPS Coach + Evaluator, North America’s UNICEF Youth Foresight Fellow)

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Deona Julary

Deona Julary is a senior at Hinsdale Central High School in Illinois, USA. She has interned at Teach The Future and SDG Align and worked as a UNICEF Youth Foresight Fellow, working on foresight and technology-oriented projects and publications. Additionally, she is an active competitor, coach, and evaluator for the Future Problem Solving Program International. She believes it is important to consider young people’s perspectives when solving global issues because, simply put, young voices are the future.



Hiba:  Hello, and welcome to another episode of Kidding the Future. Today we have a very special guest with us, Deona Julary. She’s 16 years old at Hinsdale Central High School in Chicago, USA. Among many other achievements, she has worked at Teach the Future as a youth network coordinator. Currently, she’s working with UNICEF as a Youth Foresight Fellow. There she analyzes global trends as they relate to children with a futuristic plan, specifically focusing on digital and technological trends. Deona, thank you for joining us today. It’s a pleasure to have you here today with us.

 Deona: Thank you so much; it’s a pleasure for me to be here 

Hiba: So, I’m gonna start. So you know that we’re overloaded with studies and extracurricular activities, and you’re also telling us to learn about the Future. So why do you think we should learn about it? What’s in it for us?

Deona: I think today, a lot of kids our age are so focused on the present. They’re so focused on college applications. They’re very rooted in the past and what people have been doing in the past in regards to their studies and in regards to applying to college. And I feel like if we understand the future better, then we can make better decisions for ourselves, for the people around them, around us and for our community. So I think it’s important to understand future trends so that we can better suit ourselves and the people we love, for the future.

Hiba: So, how were you introduced to futures studies, and what made you interested in it?

Deona:  Yeah. So, I’m going to be a Senior in high school right now. So when I was in the sixth grade in my middle school, there was a program called Future Problem Solving Program International. You guys can search it up on Google. It’ll lead you to a website. And the purpose of the program is each year; there’s a topic.
This topic can be poverty, cloud storage, human environmental impact, and terraforming. There’s a topic every year, and the purpose of the program is you’re put into groups of four, and you have two hours, and you have to use Dr. Ellis Paul Torrance’s problem-solving process, a six-step problem-solving process, to solve the topic of that year. And you’re given a future scene at the beginning of a competition, and you need to analyze that future scene. This future scene takes place 20 or 30 years into the future. And you have to analyze that future scene and all the problems in it. And you have to come up with the best solutions, and you have to come up with an action plan.
So that was my first introduction to Future Thinking because it showed how important it is to think about the future, especially because our world today has a lot of global issues, such as climate change and such. So yeah, that was my first introduction in the sixth grade.

Hiba: So, did you find it interesting in hindsight?

Deona:  Yes, it was very interesting to me. It was actually a club at my school as a program, so that’s how I got involved into it because one of my teachers was like oh this, I think this would be a great program for you, and I’ve been doing it ever since, Now I’m a coach actually instead of competitive instead of competing I’m a coach for my local middle school, and I also evaluate competitions every year at the state and international level. 

Hiba: That’s lovely to hear.

Deona: Thank you

Hiba: So, you recently worked with UNICEF; could you share some experiences and your inspiration for it?

Deona:  Yes. So last summer, I worked at a tech startup based in Australia, virtually, called SDG Align. And I got introduced to the tech startup because one of my mentors at Teach the Future, Mr. Willem Overbosch, works at the tech startup. And on the last day of work, he told me about the UNICEF fellowship. And he encouraged me to apply to it. And at first, I was like, should I really? I don’t have; I am very young. I don’t have much experience as other people that are applying. And he was like, yeah, go for it. And I had only two or three days to apply. And school was about to start. So it was a very intense application process. And I believe over like 3,000 people applied to the fellowship. But I figured out that I got into the fellowship. And my core responsibilities were with big organizations like UNICEF and UNESCO. They don’t have much youth input when they’re coming up with these regulations and laws, and agreements, every single day with these big world leaders. So my responsibility was to include more youth voices in UNICEF’s processes as well as foresight. And I will send the link to you after this meeting. But I wrote a report with UNICEF analyzing the nine biggest global trends that are affecting children today.
And will be effecting children in the future. And I focused more on the digital and technological trend of Internet fragmentation and how the Internet’s affecting children and youth, their information, and misinformation. So that was a big thing I did at NSF as well as I organized workshops. So I could, before we wrote this report, we really wanted to get the input of youth across the world. And this was the first workshop of its kind that UNICEF has conducted. So that was a big thing. And also we launched at the very end of our fellowship, we launched a campaign called #OurFuturePledge. And it taught kids how you can be more involved in your futures and really shape your futures. And I’ll also send you a link to that as well. So I wrote just a lot of futures thinking and teaching kids and incorporating more futures and youth into UNICEF’s processes.

Hiba: Speaking about kids, so do you think that kids actually have a voice in terms of making decisions about the future? Are they just going to suffer the consequences of what problems elders have left?

Deona: I strongly think that youth should have a voice in the problems we face today because of anything. I think the reason why we can’t solve our problems today is because youth don’t have a voice. Because problems like climate change and misinformation and social media issues and poverty, I think a lot of, especially a lot of adults and older figures, they’re solving; we’re trying to solve these issues with the very old lens, whereas they understand the amount of technological innovation, creativity we have today as a society. So I really think if we include more youth into solving these global challenges, I feel like we’ll be more successful as a society in general. As well as, I don’t think if we don’t implement such processes, I do think youth will simply inherit the problems from generation to generation. So I think it’s really important that we start including youth more in these higher-level decision-making processes.

Hiba: Yeah, and then you should have a voice. So, is there something that, as a futurist and an activist, is there something that bothers you a lot, that a problem that bothers you a lot, and then us kids are going to face it when we grow up eventually?

Deona: Yeah, I have two problems. One is very broad; one is very specific. I once got into computer science and just technological studies in general, and I always have since I was a little kid, because my parents are software engineers, and I’ve always really liked computers and found them really easy to navigate. I started doing a lot of research on the social impact of technology when I was a freshman in high school. And I learned more about the harms of social media, the harms of the Internet, and how policymakers and higher level officials are not effectively solving these problems. So this is definitely a problem I’m scared about for the future because technology is revolutionizing our world at an unimaginable speed. And if we don’t solve the disinformation, misinformation it’s creating, I feel like we will lose power over our own society and technology will take control. So that’s the first problem. And the second problem is a bit broad. I mentioned this in a webinar either for UNICEF. But we have so many problems today, like climate change and poverty, and social media misinformation. And we are all trying to solve these problems separately, where we don’t understand today as a world that all these problems are connected. So if we understand the connections between these problems, I feel like we can better solve these problems. But our beneficiaries are so focused on solving each problem separately that they forget that there are so many connections between these problems. So I think we just need to understand the interdisciplinary nature of our world today, better.

Hiba: We do. So what do you think your what your role is in that? How are you changing the world, the future of kids, and what role are you playing in it? Do you think you do?

Deona:  Yeah. So, I think just I’ve been really good in high school on exploring the world around me and picking up on these new opportunities and experiences. And I feel like, as I know a lot of kids around me in high school, I feel like they’re obligated to do so many clubs, so many volunteering hours, so many this, so many that. And they don’t have the chance to explore themselves and figure out their role in the world today. So I’m grateful that I’m able to contribute to my community and to my world by, for example, through UNICEF. I was able to incorporate more young voices into decision-making processes or through future problem-solving programs. I’m a competitor; I’m a coach; I’m an evaluator for that program. And I’m teaching kids how to solve global issues that affect them today and use more futures thinking with that or with my work at Teach the Future. They focus a lot on getting futures to gain education in all curriculums. So I was able to help them make some curriculums and programs with that. So I feel like my work is kind of inspiring kids to, kind of get out of their comfort zone, explore the world around them, explore the connections that the world provides for them and really utilize them to their benefit.

Hiba:  But why do you think kids would take an interest in it? Like Yeah, it’s their future. But why do you think they would be interested in it overall? Because there’s something that they would like or prefer in it.

Deona:  Yeah, I think a lot of kids around me, I feel like they’re very dissatisfied with their current lives. And something like a common trend I’ve noticed with that, is that they’re kind of sticking with the old ways of the past, or they’re kind of following the generations before them have done. And I feel like with futures thinking, that gives them a solution to be happier, more satisfied with what they’re doing in their everyday lives. Because then they can see, oh, they’re utilizing their own passions. They’re utilizing their own personal interests to make a difference for themselves as well as their community. So I feel like future thinking is a solution for all kids to be just more satisfied with what they’re doing every day.

Hiba: That is very true, I think. So you have been focusing on digital and technological trends and technology and relation to us. And technology and its relations to inequality is a global phenomenon. How do you think we should have it so that children across the world would have access to technology like the Internet?

Deona:  Yeah, so I think, for starters, things that policymakers are doing right now, I view them as ineffective because they’re not including enough youth voice and youth perspective into the laws they’re making and the regulations they’re making. And there’s a YouTube video online, or it’s also on TikTok, if any of your viewers have TikTok. There’s a couple of years ago, Mark Zuckerberg was called into a Congressional hearing regarding Facebook and its practices. And when the congressmen were talking about Facebook, they had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. They didn’t know how the platform worked. They didn’t know how the technology worked. They didn’t know how the data behind it worked. So I feel like if you include more youth voices into the process, I feel like these higher-up officials and these policymakers and these congressmen have a better idea of how to solve the problem. And so I think more youth voices should be included. That’s step number one and also step number two is to get educated on the dangers of social media as well because I feel like we all use technology every day, like we’ll have it in our back pockets. And a lot of us are very oblivious to the fact of what technology and social media are doing to us every day. So I feel like if we get educated on it and if we get more involved in changing it and become more active in the like number of times we touch our phone or the number of times we use the social media platform, I feel like we can make change at a grassroots level.

Hiba: So talking about how internet and stuff. So how do you think that we’re supposed to get this message to every single person in this world? Like not everyone has access to the Internet or so. How do you think you’re planning to let everyone know of this problem?

Deona: I think you have to get control and leverage through big organizations such as like the United Nations or UNICEF, because these organizations have networks upon networks, across all, across the world and even in developing countries to get this message across. And that’s what I tried to do during my fellowship with UNICEF. Like I was able to elevate voices even in countries in Africa or in South Asia. So I feel like if you leverage the power of these big networks you can really get your message across.

Hiba: Is there a question in the back of your mind that you really want to ask me or something that you really just want to say but you didn’t get a chance to comment?

Deona: Yeah, I was just curious how did you get into futures thinking, and how did you get into making this podcast?

Hiba: So the thing is that I had no clue about futures or futures thinking, but my father introduced me to this and he’s actually a futurist himself, and he introduced me to this platform, and I took workshops and then learned more about it. He taught me more about it and soon and soon enough when I had a little bit of experience, he set up an interview and I had done an interview, and then I did that with Dr. Peter Bishop, which was very fun, and that’s how I was taught. I had no clue before, but he introduced me to it.

Deona: Yes, that’s really cool, and then how did you kind of get into making this podcast?

Hiba: The podcast. I wasn’t really interested in doing a podcast but when I realized that I could share my opinions and how I could teach the world about the future. I was really interested in, I decided to take the first step, and yeah, we started the podcast.

Deona: Yeah, that’s really noble of you, for starting such a great podcast and initiative because I feel like a lot of kids like, no one around me basically knows, what futures thinking is, so stuff like this, is the first step so kudos to you for that.

Hiba: Thank you, Deona, so much I had such a wonderful time here today, and I hope people will be able to get get a lot of foresight from this, and I hope you enjoyed it as well. 

Deona: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Hiba: We really appreciate your being here today as well.