If there was a key word to describe Min Yang’s work so far in the UN system, it would be “youth”. If there were two, they would be “youth” and “gender”. But her experience and research interests go beyond that and include the field of communication and ICT (information and communication technology).
Before joining UNU Macau as a Researcher, Min Yang worked for the Social and Human Sciences Sector in UNESCO, where she focused on advancing the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She undertook a series of programmes at global and regional levels for empowering young women and men, enhancing gender equality and social inclusion, and promoting peace education and peacebuilding.
As Min Yang explains, her work with youth at UNESCO, and the strategies used within the organisation, were mainly centred around three ideas: “work with youth”, “work for youth” and “work by youth”.
Guided by these principles, the researcher highlights the importance of “building international and intercultural dialogue platforms for young women and men”. These platforms, she says, allow young people “to exchange with each other” and provide them with “a great opportunity” to “voice their concerns”.
Min Yang also points out UNESCO’s “Youth As Researchers” global initiative, which was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic and is aimed at encouraging young people to “observe the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on youth, “do some research” and “come up with potential solutions”. It also helped young people have their “voices, insights and research outputs heard by different relevant stakeholders”, she explains.
“We aimed at encouraging young people not only to be passive beneficiaries, but also to be empowered and become active agents of change for communities they are living in”, she says.
With a PhD in communication studies, Min Yang is passionate about “critical thinking” and “knowledge generating and sharing”. The latter, she tells us, “contributes to the shift in mindset”.
Her research interests include not only “youth and sustainable development”, but also “gender and communication”. She is currently working in a UNU Macau project in collaboration with UN Women that provides a gendered lens to issues such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber resilience.
And how can a background in communication contribute to research on digital technologies and sustainable development?
Digital technologies, Min Yang says, are “a very critical part” for the communication process and are “developing very rapidly”, while “attracting lots of attentions from people – from the individual to the public, from policymakers to academia, and civil society”.
“Digital technologies not only facilitate the transferring process of ideas and information in terms of quality and quantity, change the way of communicating, but also pose challenges to the existing communication system, to the global communication order, and even to the technology-related norms setting across the globe.”
Challenges to be addressed include “digital divide”, and “digital gender divide”, “digital ethical dilemmas”, “imbalanced development”, “security and privacy issues” and so on.
Having an interest in “mutual influence between technologies and social development”, linked to the UN 2030 Common Agenda and the 17 SDGs, communication studies “aim to find solutions” on “how digital technologies can be used for promoting communication and sustainable development” and “how the development of digital technologies can be more human-centric, sustainable and fair”, while promoting equality and justice “for everyone”, Min Yang says.
The potential impacts of AI
Min Yang’s work has also been focusing on the ethics of AI. She says: “AI has a very profound impact on a variety of areas, including decision-making, employment and labour market, social interaction, healthcare, international travel, education, media, information assessment, data consuming and data protection.” “AI also has social implications”, she adds. “For instance, will AI reinforce the existing gender biases and racial discrimination? Will AI technologies bring negative implications for the diversity and pluralism of culture, language and media?” Min Yang also stresses: “We cannot address these concerns properly without full ethical considerations”.
She recalls that, when the Internet was available for everyone in early days, most of online content were in English. “So, what about the non-English content? What about those people who don’t speak and understand English? How can they understand the world through the Internet? This is the influence brought by technology and deserves our attention.”
The development of AI technologies is imbalanced globally. She witnessed a dialogue about AI ethics between people from a developed country and a developing country. The latter pointed out: “We don’t even have the infrastructure and technical capacity to develop AI, how can we discuss AI ethical issues with developed countries and come up with a universal ethical standard for AI?” Min Yang says “this dialogue reflects a gap which is not only about technology but also about capacity, and overall social and economic development.”
“Imbalanced development across the globe persists for a long time, which could be intensified with the impact of AI technologies.” However, Min Yang is still optimistic about the future. She says: “We are facing many challenges which cannot be tackled by one but need efforts from all. We need hear all voices, need efforts from multiple stakeholders, need an inclusive regulatory system that is more representative, equitable and sustainable in the long term, to ensure no one will be left behind.”
“The UN has been committed to bringing together diverse voices around innovative solutions for problems we are facing”, she says. “We realise what and where the gap is, but we can find inclusive and sustainable ways to address it.”
Min Yang dreamt of becoming a paediatrician in her childhood. Luckily, she can keep on supporting the younger generation in her current position. Moving to Macao from Beijing, she is happy to embrace new challenges in the UN family. But sometimes she does miss blooming flowers all the year round in her hometown Kunming, in Yunnan province.