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A Changing World: Why Youth Hold the Key to Success

Ané Coetzee

In 2015 the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to continue the global agenda that had been established with the creation of the Millennial Development Goals a decade earlier. This agenda is geared towards solving the most pressing problems facing the world today.

The 17 goals, often referred to as the ‘global goals’, provide a framework to which governments, the United Nations (U.N.) and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the private sector, and individuals can align their activities to achieve clear development objectives. The goals cover everything from eradicating poverty to ensuring responsible consumption practices. Each goal includes clear achievable indicators that can be tracked against to monitor progress against the overarching goal. The SDGs provide a path along which investments in capital, programming, infrastructure, advocacy, and aid from around the globe can be directed to help move the world towards being a better place for all.

However, the world desperately needs urgent action on the goals if we are to reach the targets by their intended completion date of 2030. Currently no country in the world is on track to meet all of the goals. Unfortunately, this means that many people around the world are living without the necessities they need to survive and without the full realisation of their human rights that the achievement of these goals would help support.

It is only by engaging the global youth population as key stakeholders that we will be able to drive progress at the rate necessary to achieve the goals as planned. There are currently 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 worldwide, the largest population of young people in recorded history. Not only does this population have the numbers to create meaningful change, but we have seen through global movements, including climate campaigns such as Fridays for Future, that the current youth generation have a clear passion to take action on issues that affect the world as a whole, including the issues the SDGs seek to address.

It is therefore vital that youth are engaged in taking action on the SDGs at all levels, whether that be by governments or other stakeholders working in the space. Young women in particular have an integral role to play in driving progress and policy to meet these challenges. Many of these issues affect women and girls disproportionately and as young people make up a large percentage of the population in many countries, young women are often a population group most affected by these challenges. Studies have shown that gender inequality affects progress on each of the 17 SDGs. Young women therefore must be actively included in policy creation on sustainable development issues to ensure planned solutions best meet the needs of affected communities worldwide.

In 2018, the UN released the Youth2030 strategy to ensure effective youth participation in driving progress on the SDGs, as well as two other key thematic areas: peace and security, and human rights. It outlines practical steps that all members of the UN system can take to ensure that youth have a seat at the table when deciding how to deal with some of the world’s most challenging issues. This includes measures such as mainstreaming youth representation in organisational structures, creating youth engagement platforms, dialogue opportunities, capacity building, and recognising youth issue experts.

By ensuring that policies are created with youth, it also ensures policies are created in part for youth and that the challenges that particularly affect youth are not forgotten but addressed in a holistic manner. This not only drives significant impact on the SDGs but it empowers young people to take action in their communities creating multiplier affects that ensure maximum positive impact. To date 33 U.N. entities and 130 U.N. country teams have been involved in integrating the strategy into their programmatic activities which has led to significant positive outcomes for youth in many areas around the world.

All stakeholders working to achieve the SDGs, including governments, should be guided by the example that the Youth2030 strategy sets in engaging youth. This is vital to ensure that youth are fully recognised for their ability to be agents of change the key role they will play in driving progress on the SDGs as we move towards 2030.

Ané Coetzee is the CEO and Founder of Young Women in Sustainable Development.

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