Young People Need ‘Seat at the Table’ as Agents of Change to Help Build Better, More Inclusive World, Speakers Stress as Annual Youth Forum Concludes
Young people must “have a seat at the table”, youth delegates and high‑level Government officials told the Economic and Social Council today as it concluded its eighth annual Youth Forum.
Focusing on the theme “Empowered, Included and Equal”, the Youth Forum heard from ministers, high‑level speakers and youth organization representatives, who shared approaches, proposals and innovative suggestions on how to better capitalize on the skills, input and ideas young people can bring to the table. From tackling discrimination to working towards the achievement of the objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, delegates broadly recognized that young people are agents of change who can help to build a better, more inclusive world.
Secretary‑General António Guterres said young people are a lightning rod for change. However, if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, Governments, civil society and international partners must scale up their investment in young people, ensuring they are educated, empowered and employed.
“Around the world, young people are striving for peace, justice, inclusion, gender equality and human rights,” he said. “You show the courage and persistence that is often lacking among older generations. Because it is your future, your livelihoods, your freedom, your security, your environment, you do not and you must not take ‘no’ for an answer. To make sure our work is relevant and effective, we need your ideas, your energy and your creativity.”
Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy on Youth, said the general outcome of the Forum shows that not enough is being done. Efforts must be scaled up with a sense of urgency to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Young women and girls are being left behind, and they must move to the front to have equal opportunities. Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals is not “doing young people a favour”, but fulfilling their rights.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, elaborated on this point, saying that the 2030 Agenda is designed for all Member States, but primarily for young people, as “the next decade is for you”.
However, he said, there is a long way to go. Young people must be at the forefront of all related efforts. Commending efforts youth have made to support peacebuilding, education and pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals “as a package” and not through a silo approach, he said the messages heard today will be delivered to the Member States at the highest level of Government so they can take action.
Delivering a keynote address during the closing segment, Rakoen Maertens, NGO delegate to the United Nations, World Esperanto Youth Organisation, shared stories of intercultural understanding that allowed for common power to fight for common goals. He described his participation in a protest against climate change in Cambridge, United Kingdom. “It did not matter, our political affiliation,” he said. “We had our planet and our world that we fought for together.”
Encouraging participants to make use of the High‑Level Political Forum to express their voices, establish youth committees and to “proactively create your seats at the negotiating table”, he added that “we have to unite in the networks we created and be sure we are represented everywhere”. Quoting an indigenous Australian woman, he said: “If you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, let us work together.”
Youth delegates also presented findings from breakout sessions held on 8 April to discuss priorities for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.
During the two‑day‑long meeting, the Forum also held thematic sessions and interactive round‑table discussions on: “Youth 2030: Working with and for young people”; “Investing in youth development: financing and other means of implementation”; and “Youth, peace and security: challenges and prospects”.
The interactive discussions held today spotlighted steps taken to create space for youth in a range of sectors — from new policies, training programmes and national strategies for engaging young people to ways of fostering improvements in their lives. Carlos Do Canto Monteiro, Deputy Minister for Youth of Cabo Verde, said his country empowers young people through entrepreneurship, training, internships and educational reform, reserving $6 million annually for youth projects and $1 million for professional training.
Agreeing with such an approach, Andrew Rabens, Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues of the United States, said that as education remains a springboard to meaningful employment, his country funds related programmes, with training and assistance projects to, among other things, create jobs. Efforts must focus on addressing the needs of youth to ensure building a better future, he stressed.
Similarly, Ruth Carrasco, Director General of the National Institute of Youth of Spain, said the Government’s “change agenda” hinges on the 2030 Agenda, stressing that “education is a passport to the future”. As such, Spain is building a flexible system so that young people enjoy equal opportunities.
More broadly, Yavuz Selim Kiran, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, highlighted the need to establish a United Nations youth institution, reiterating President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s offer to host such a centre in Istanbul.
Vanja Udovicic, Minister for Youth and Sports of Serbia, pointing out that the city of Novi Sad won the title of the Youth Capital of Europe for 2019, invited young people to come to their “youth capital” to participate in activities conducted with and for young people.
Speaking to youth delegates, he said: “We are here to support you to invest your energy and knowledge in your own development. You should be at the top of the agenda of all Governments and we will work with you and for you, so please do not wait for someone else to create the future you want for yourselves. You are not only the future of your countries, you are the empowered present, so please, participate, be active and work hard to create the world you want to live in.”
Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Chair of the High‑Level Committee on Programmes, also delivered an intervention.
In closing remarks, Economic and Social Council President Inga Rhonda King said the Forum “sends my generation back to the drawing board to reflect on how we can arrest this existential trend. Youth is challenging us to act and transform the way we live, produce wealth and entertain ourselves.” Policymakers have reaffirmed their commitment to give youth the tools they need to exercise their rights and live the kind of life they want. “This commitment must translate into actions in all countries,” she stressed.
Interactive Round Table
The Forum began its second day with an interactive round table on “Investing in youth development: financing and other means of implementation”. Moderated by Oliver Schwank, Senior Economic Affairs Officer in the Financing for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it featured ministers, other high‑level speakers and youth representatives, who explored national lessons learned and how to implement them more broadly to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
SHAMMA AL MAZRUI, Minister of State for Youth Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, said her country is working to achieve its “Vision 2021” plan, which aims to make it among the best countries in the world to live a fulfilling life. As meeting this objective would be impossible without making sustainability a leading aim, the Government created a national body for achieving it. It also integrated the Sustainable Development Goals into Vision 2021. Moreover, the national youth strategy explores five major life transitions: education, work, family, active lifestyle and citizenship. As each transition involves various challenges, the Government is moving beyond sport to harness an entire youth ecosystem. “Our most important job is to identify need and create smart policies,” she said.
AZAD RAHIMOV, Minister for Youth and Sports of Azerbaijan, said young people comprise more than 60 per cent of his country’s population of 10 million people. Noting that the President adopted three main programmes covering the 2009‑2021 period, he said the youth programme reflects most of the Sustainable Development Goals and noted that young ambassadors have been selected from among 300 people. As 3 million young people are looking for work, he suggested that the Secretary‑General’s Youth Envoy work with Azerbaijan to create a coordination committee that would help address the issue of youth employment.
SOCHEATH SROY, Director General of Youth, Ministry for Education of Cambodia, said her country has prioritized young people in its national development plan, with young people themselves playing an increasingly important role. Her ministry has launched policies to mainstream youth volunteerism into the national strategic plan, with opportunities provided to young people. More broadly, the Government has carried out reforms to ensure inclusive, quality education for all young people, as well as created jobs. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, which needs collective efforts,” she said, urging youth delegates to take part in that mission.
JOSEFINA VILLEGAS, Chair of Youth Constituency for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Civil Society Organization Partnership for Development Effectiveness, said the global financial structure constrains the achievement of international commitments. The recent Inter‑agency Task Force for Financing for Development report points out that, rather than elaborating a coherent strategy for financing, countries are facing rising debt risks, inequalities and greenhouse gas emissions. She pressed the international community to strengthen national financing frameworks, as enhanced global support to overcome structural challenges is needed. She drew attention to the impact of debt on sustainable development, and particularly on youth, stressing that an intergovernmental tax body has not been created to explore more mutually beneficial tax systems. The trend of resolving development challenges though finance lacks balance, she said, underscoring the importance of promoting integrated social protection systems.
CARLOS DO CANTO MONTEIRO, Deputy Minister for Youth of Cabo Verde, said his country empowers young people through entrepreneurship, training, internships and educational reform. For example, the Government reserves $6 million annually for youth projects and $1 million for professional training. Cabo Verde’s internship programme is quite large, with 60 per cent of salaries ensured by the Government. An ambitious education reform meanwhile allocates 20 per cent of the national budget for education, with subsidized preschool and free education access through twelfth grade. In addition, a youth consultative council works with the Government to help determine priorities, he said.
YAVUZ SELIM KIRAN, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, said its cooperation efforts with the United Nations span projects with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), all with a strong mandate based on the Sustainable Development Goals. His country also contributes to humanitarian assistance. Eighty per cent of cross‑border humanitarian operations to Syria are conducted via Turkey, which hosts more than 3.6 million refugees. Turkey’s 12.5 million young people represent 16 per cent of its total population, the highest in Europe, and policies and programmes are in place to address their needs. Highlighting the need to establish a United Nations youth institution, he reiterated President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s offer to host such a centre in Istanbul.
FELIPE SALOMÓN, Minister for Youth of Paraguay, said a national development plan embraces the Sustainable Development Goals. A recent draft bill raises his ministry to the cabinet level and provides for funding for targeted programmes for young people. Current programmes include scholarships for vulnerable youth and the construction of libraries in remote areas. Ideals must match action, he said, emphasizing the importance of investing in youth.
Mr. SCHWANK then posed a series of questions to participants.
NASSER AL-SHEIKH, Director of Research at the Ministry of State for Youth Affairs of Kuwait, elaborating on programmes and youth participation, said Kuwait attaches great importance to initiatives targeted at young people. It has invested $6.6 billion in non‑profit initiatives and adopted a national youth policy that demonstrates a clear commitment in this regard. Governmental action focuses on challenges and priorities underpinned by data that reflect reality on the ground. Indeed, data has played a critical role in updating youth policies. So has youth participation, he continued, noting that a youth action plan will be managed with the Council for Youth in Kuwait, engaging young people who can share their views and make decisions.
VANJA UDOVICIC, Minister for Youth and Sports of Serbia, said a national strategy and a new law on youth were created in partnership and with active participation of young people, with the Youth Council acting as the most important monitoring mechanism. The Ministry of Youth and Sports funds projects linked to the national strategy in line with the 2030 Agenda. Pointing out that the city of Novi Sad won the title of the Youth Capital of Europe for 2019, he invited young people to come to their “youth capital” to participate in activities conducted with and for young people. Speaking to youth delegates, he said: “We are here to support you to invest your energy and knowledge in your own development. You should be at the top of the agenda of all Governments and we will work with you and for you, so please do not wait for someone else to create the future you want for yourselves. You are not only the future of your countries, you are the empowered present, so please, participate, be active and work hard to create the world you want to live in.”
ADIL SKALLI, World Federation of United Nations Associations, answering a question on data collection, said strong systems influence policymaking and can lead to improvements in quality of life. Data collection and analysis can also lead to entirely new data sets that provide more accurate information about existing situations. He suggested a number of ways to advance data collection, including for young people to take ownership of the indicator framework. One way would be mapping their own Sustainable Development Goals indicators, which could identify gaps. Harnessing the private sector is also important.
GUILLERMO RAFAEL SANTIAGO RADRIGUEXA, Director General of the Institute of Youth of Mexico, said young people are being put at the heart of economic policies, with targeted resources to fund projects. For instance, a $2 billion training programme that partners with Microsoft aims at ensuring 120,000 people are equipped with technology skills. Other efforts include opening 100 universities in remote regions. A national youth plan will provide further guidance for such targeted efforts, he said, adding that the Government’s vision sees young people have rights.
YANG YEGONG, Deputy Secretary‑General of China Young Volunteers Association of China, said efforts centre on the 2030 Agenda and priority areas. The Chinese Government encourages youth to act as agents for building a future for all humankind. Citing examples of youth volunteer activities, he said many are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, and include targets related to poverty reduction, education and environmental protection.
CURTIS PERRY OKUDZETO, Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports of Ghana, said the Government prioritized five areas for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, notably the role of the private sector, data and innovation, women and youth, policy imperatives for underpinning the 2030 Agenda, and mobilizing innovative financing. Stressing that millennials face a lack of jobs, feeding into the bigger lack of requisite skill sets, he described a “skills corps” project that employs 1 million young people to participate in job training. The programme has employed youth in Government and the private sector alike. A $10 million fund has also been created to finance young businesses in efforts to meet Goals 8, 9, 10, 11 and 17, he said, adding that the “One District, One Factory” initiative aims to establish a factory in each district to provide jobs, including for young people.
IGOR ZHDANOV, Minister for Youth and Sports of Ukraine, noting that youth unemployment in his country is 18 per cent, cited a skills gap between the education offered and expectations of employers, as well as a large number of young internally displaced persons as a result of the Russian Federation’s occupation of the autonomous republic of Crimea and military aggression in the eastern part of Ukraine as factors impacting youth unemployment. The Ukrainian Pact for Youth: 2020 is a unique platform for dialogue on youth unemployment. It has united more than 120 companies from nearly all regions of the country, and created more than 32,000 new internships and jobs, and 600 partnerships with the educational sector. Ukraine is also drafting a national action plan on youth employment.
Participants then shared experiences in preparing young people in the areas of science, technology and innovation.
RUTH CARRASCO, Director General of the National Institute of Youth of Spain, said the Government’s “change agenda” hinges on the 2030 Agenda, stressing that “education is a passport to the future”. Spain is building a flexible system so that young people enjoy equal opportunities. In formal education, it is working to reduce the dropout rate, from a belief that the gap reflects a failure of the system to address what young people need. A youth guidance programme helps to ensure young people are prepared, while a young mediator programme pairs young people with their out‑of‑school peers to help them return to school. Regarding skills, Spain is working to ensure recognition of informal education, volunteerism and internships so that young people have the skills for the new labour market.
WAZIHA RAQUIB, Major Group for Children and Youth, on ensuring that innovations are inclusive, said artificial intelligence and renewable energy can help achieve many of the Goals. Yet, the gaps between the poor and super rich are hard to miss. She noted apprehension, as well as excitement, about the impact of new technologies, signalling the need for discourse. Recommending ways that science and technology can maximize achievement of the 2030 Agenda, she advocated for greater resources for the science and technology facilitation mechanism, and conducting anticipatory assessments on the social, environmental and legal implications of technology systems. An intergenerational lens is important in that regard. It is also crucial to consider formal, informal, indigenous and traditional knowledge systems, and as technology replaces human work, all people should have access to the benefits of greater productivity, including through universal labour guarantees and social protection floors.
MA-UMBA MABIALA, Director of Education and Youth of the International Organization of la Francophonie, said his organization attaches high priority to young people, citing its 2014 youth strategy which focuses on education and training, with a view to facilitating decent jobs for young people. Also, the Francophonie Education and Training Institute in Senegal supports Member States in carrying out policies that meet the needs of their young people. He also cited a digital strategy to help young people become job creators, an international youth and green jobs initiative, and a “youngest entrepreneur” initiative, which facilitate young people’s immersion in businesses in the Francophone area.
JAGAT BAHADUR BISHWAKARMA SUNAR, Minister for Youth and Sports of Nepal, said the Government has laid out plans to empower and include young people in efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Noting that young people between 16 and 30 years old comprise 25.3 per cent of the population, he said the 2015 national youth policy focuses on education, entrepreneurship, skills development, youth engagement, and health and entertainment, among other areas. However, there is an acute shortage of resources for such work and it is often difficult to prevent skilled youth from migrating abroad. Equally, efforts must focus on educating youth on the importance of using their knowledge for youth‑centred purposes to prevent them from becoming victims of human trafficking and drug abuse.
ANDREW RABENS, Special Adviser for Global Youth Issues of the United States, cited trips he has taken to Juarez, Mexico and Baghdad and Erbil, Iraq, to see how to best help youth abroad. It is rarely the fault of young people who are vulnerable, but rather, it is conflict, discrimination and conditions on the ground that affect youth. He has seen how terrorists prey on these ills. As education remains a springboard to meaningful employment, the United States funds related programmes, with training and assistance projects to, among other things, create jobs. The United States is also trying to combat discrimination. As Governments and youth stakeholders around the world, “we cannot sit back while the lottery of birth plays out”. Instead, efforts must focus on addressing the needs of youth to ensure building a better future.
LAYNE ROBINSON, Economic, Youth and Sustainable Development Directorate of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said intergovernmental organizations can provide context‑specific training programmes for Government officials to ensure all people working with youth are equipped with the knowledge and skills to best achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Such organizations can also provide a critical platform for dialogues with youth, which is essential for effective programming. This type of contact is critical to advance achievement of the Goals. International organizations can help monitor and track progress. For its part, the Commonwealth has developed indicators to do so.
FAIZAL ABDULLAH, Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports of Indonesia, said a national focal point is ensuring the involvement of many stakeholders. Efforts include fostering foreign direct investment, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy. Initiatives also aim at ensuring the Sustainable Development Goals are part of the objectives of national projects. Providing examples of activities across a range of sectors, he said Indonesia is committed to employing youth to implement projects at the national level.
KIRSTY COVENTRY, Minister for Youth, Sports, Arts and Recreation of Zimbabwe, said that given the current levels of education and job readiness, youth today need updated tools to realize their potential. To address some of these needs, higher technology‑driven skills training is part of an effort to create an enabling environment to achieve that aim. Striving to become a middle‑income country, Zimbabwe is working to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and examining its youth policies towards that end. The Zimbabwe Youth Council will review these developments. Highlighting some activities, she said funds directed towards young people are helping them to start their own businesses. She emphasized the importance of investing in youth.
The Forum then held an interactive dialogue on “Youth, peace and security: challenges and prospects”. Moderated by Mridul Upadhyay, Asia Coordinator, United Network of Young Peacebuilders and Co‑founder of Youth for Peace International, it featured presentations by: Rosario del Pilar Diaz Garavito, Founder and CEO, The Millennials Movement and Regional Caucus Coordinator, Major Group for Children and Youth‑Latin America and the Caribbean; Ana Pirtskhalava, Global Focal Point, International Union of Socialist Youth; Farai Mubaiwa, Member, The Aurum Institute and Africa Matters Initiative; and Yazan Gneim, Member, Youth Leadership Programme of Palestine, UNDP Arab States.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, opening the discussion, pointed out that young people have frequently been perceived as either perpetrators or victims of violence, with little attention given to their positive contributions to preventing and resolving conflict. “Fortunately, this is changing,” she said. Young people’s contribution to peace and security is increasingly recognized as essential to realizing the 2030 Agenda. It is important to stop considering young people as “just the future”. Young people are the present and it is essential that they are fully included in civic, political and economic life.
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCÉS (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, voiced her full commitment to the youth, peace and security agenda, as well as to youth inclusion and dialogue, stressing that youth issues have benefited from recent attention in the Economic and Social Council, and the Security Council, with the latter’s adoption of resolution 2419 (2018) on the importance of young people as change agents.
Along similar lines, she said her goal is to ensure that youth, peace and security issues are at the heart of her work. Roughly 600 million young people — or one third of the world’s youth population — live in vulnerable States or those affected by conflict, making it difficult to guarantee essential services, especially education. By empowering young stakeholders, “we are paving the way for peace in the future,” she said, noting that she had seen first‑hand how young people have advanced peace processes and promoted integration to achieve peaceful coexistence. At the first International Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes in Helsinki in March, she heard peace activists share their experiences in fostering dialogue in Colombia, Liberia, Syria and elsewhere. Their stories strengthened the already robust argument for fostering young people’s involvement in peace efforts.
Equally, today’s dialogue is an opportunity for young people to recommend ways to foster a safer, more sustainable world. She asked participants what steps can be taken to change the narrative on youth, noting that the “Missing Peace” report had found that States associate youth with violence and extremism. She also asked what more could be done to fully include young people in civic and economic activities, noting that less than 6 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians are under age 35. At the United Nations, increased funding is needed for young people’s activities and she asked for suggestions on both creating and improving mechanisms for ongoing youth participation. Assuring participants that the ideas expressed today will be taken seriously, she said she will summarize and integrate them into the main messages she will deliver going forward.
Mr. UPADHYAY shared a fear that youth contributions to making the world a better place are insignificant compared with global challenges such as the refugee crisis and an increase in civil wars. These phenomena affect young people disproportionately at a time when young people play a small role in peace efforts. Underlining the importance of making such contributions and of including young people in various processes, he said reports show that $1 of investing in youth can provide a $13 return. Yet, challenges remain, as only 0.012 per cent of funding for peace targets youth. Indeed, about 49 per cent of youth peacebuilding organizations are operating with budgets of less than $5,000. It is important to examine how this information and subsequent recommendations are being implemented and used to establish trust‑based relationships with youth. Opening the dialogue, he asked panellists for their views on broadening the involvement of young people on a range of issues, from political participation to roles for youth in peacebuilding processes across regions.
Ms. PIRTSKHALAVA said youth traditionally are kept aside. But, when young people are given the space, time and platform, they demonstrate that they have the skills to be decision makers. Pointing at the young people currently in the room, she said political parties must open avenues to hear youth. Addressing the crisis of traditional political systems is essential, as youth are often seen as victims, perpetrators of violence or people who need protection. “We have been the objects, not the subjects of solutions,” she said, stressing: “We need to be at the negotiating table.” Instead of creating underfunded youth councils, young people must be at the table making decisions. As representatives of governmental and non‑governmental organizations, young people represent the voice of the voiceless. Coming into politics and peacebuilding processes is difficult, but efforts must be made to give youth access to education and other benefits. Having more young people involved in peacebuilding will not solve all problems, but it will create more inclusive societies.
Mr. GNEIM said the Israeli occupation must end so all people can live equally. “We are not asking for the world, we are just asking for our basic human rights,” he said. In the State of Palestine, 29 per cent of the population are between 15 and 29. While movement restrictions and blockades prevent youth from improving their lives, hope persists. Still, a total of 69 per cent of youth in Gaza are unemployed, which is why thousands of young people are going to the Israeli border to protest. Palestinian youth, who face Israeli settlers that are threatening their lives, want to live in peace. The Sustainable Development Goals are a guide forward. Using peaceful means, in line with Security Council resolution 2250 (2015), he said outreach efforts include a smartphone legal application for mobile phones and volunteer efforts that are finding ways to assist communities to stand up to Israeli violations. Above all, Palestinian youth want to create a future of peace.
Ms. GARAVITO said Latin America is a diverse region, with youth being among the biggest assets. However, youth are running away from violence and corruption with a view to chasing their dreams, she said, pointing out that young women are often victims of systematic violence. Asking for rights has become common yet ensuring the real participation of youth requires a focus on pressing issues, such as climate change. Youth must start to be seen as agents who can transform their societies. Currently, youth organizations are organizing a participatory process to open space for young people in monitoring the 2030 Agenda. Even though youth in Latin America are dealing with a multitude of challenges, young people’s organizations are working together towards this objective. Youth are building a youth agenda despite their differences and are showing that that they are indeed resilient and real peacebuilders.
Ms. MUBAIWA said she wants youth exclusion to end in her lifetime, noting that her work with unemployed young people in South Africa has shown her that economic exclusion leads to violence. It takes the form of physical violence, as disillusioned young people engage in criminal activities to survive, or dangerous behaviour such as drug use and unprotected sex, exposing them to HIV risk. It takes the form of mental violence as they battle mental illnesses caused by their circumstances. “Exclusion is violence,” she said. “It is a global shame.” Yet, in the African context, it is a sad reality. With the world’s largest youth population aged 15 to 24, Africa’s youth are often economically, socially and politically excluded. “This narrative must change if we are ever to see a rising Africa,” she said. She highlighted the Aurum Institute’s collaboration with companies and donors to employ young people in health‑care facilities. High HIV incidence and unemployment are inextricably linked, with unemployed women aged 15 to 25 among those most in need. She shared the story of a young woman from an area of Johannesburg where HIV and youth pregnancy are normalized. Through her involvement in the institute, she gained work and leadership skills, eventually taking on a role as a youth ambassador. Today, she educates youth about the power of economic participation, non‑violence and caring for one’s physical and mental health. “Empowered and employed youth can change the world,” she declared.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, a speaker from South Africa pressed participants to collectively advocate for a quota in all decision‑making structures. Young people must refuse to be used by politicians “to do bad things” in different countries. He urged youth to help prevent xenophobia and ethic wars.
The representative of Mexico, noting that poverty and inequality are at the heart of violence, pointed to the “young people for change” programme involving the 44 regions in Mexico with the highest poverty levels. Young people — beyond being beneficiaries — must be agents of change, he said, advocating for a change of mindset and stressing the importance of social inclusion.
A youth representative from Papua New Guinea, recalling that Bougainville had seen fighting between 1989 and 1998, said that while money can support activities such as weapons disposal, it can also foster people’s dependence on money to resolve conflict. He asked how the United Nations can use traditional means to resolve conflict, especially between tribes, and asked the Assembly President in particular for her views on the “genocide” taking place in his country.
Responding to those and other queries, Ms. ESPINOSA asked about the number of indigenous youth representatives attending the Youth Forum today. She pointed to the issue of indigenous representation as a challenge requiring attention. She underscored the importance of intergenerational dialogue within indigenous communities, as well as intercultural dialogue, stressing: “We have to struggle hard here in this house to ensure that all languages have the same weight and the same importance.” The decisive role of indigenous youth is extremely important in that context, as it brings a wealth of world views.
A speaker from Niger, noting his involvement in a youth council, asked the Assembly President about changing the perception of young people’s contributions to peace. He highlighted Niger’s role as a transit country for irregular migration through the Mediterranean towards Europe. Despite its poverty, it hosts 400,000 refugees. To change perceptions, young people must use the media to communicate their role in resolving such issues, he said, pointing to the creation of an early warning system for Boko Haram activities.
A speaker from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict said children affected by conflict are not simply victims; they are essential for building peaceful, strong societies, with girls requiring specific protection and empowerment to ensure their participation in economic and civic life. He asked how to ensure that children’s needs are considered during negotiation and mediation processes, and that services for children recovering from conflict are more widely available. Ensuring that children affected by conflict have access to education and health services is a factor in preventing conflict. Children associated with conflict parties must be treated in accordance with international justice standards.
Also participating in the interactive dialogue were speakers from Slovakia, Israel and Ecuador.
The Forum then concluded its interactive round‑table discussion on “Investing in youth development: financing and other means of implementation”, with a focus on partnerships.
KATE LEWIS, Minister with Responsibility for Youth Development of Grenada, said partnerships and cross‑sectoral coordination are vital for fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals. In order to end poverty and hunger, achieve food security, foster equitable education and promote gender equality, Government resources must be optimized. She touched on the philosophical and institutional framework for youth development in Grenada, outlining roles for key stakeholders. Such coordination has advanced youth development. She also pointed to an interministerial committee that carries out various activities.
MARIAN SEDLAK, International Federation of Medical Students Associations, noting that he is a young doctor representing 1.3 million medical students, said the cornerstone of meaningful youth participation is through involvement in decision‑making and having an equal chance to be represented on international platforms through funding and training. “We need transformative action from youth‑led organizations,” he said, as well as professional cooperation and transparent platforms for sharing information about common goals.
Participants then turned to issues of technology and innovation.
JAYANA NICARETTA DA SILVA, National Secretary for Youth of Brazil, said her Government values life from inception, and believes that family is important for young people’s social development. The most powerful action the Government can provide is autonomy through wealth and job creation. She cited Government programmes to equip young people with the skills they need for the twenty‑first century, with a particular focus on those who are marginalized. With a new President, the Government seeks to support the right to life, property and education, she said, and extends a hand in dialogue to youth around the world.
JIMENA TORRES ALVAREZ, Deputy Director of the Youth Institute of Uruguay, said her country is built on law, citing legalization of cannabis, same‑sex marriage and abortion rights as causes in which young people are at the forefront. She cited young people’s involvement in the development of the Youth Action Plan 2025, noting that the fourth national survey on youth — and youth status —offered a snapshot of their situation. It aims to ensure that those outside the education system or labour market have the support they need to advance their lives.
FADIMATOU IYAWA, President of the National Youth Council of Cameroon, said civic education is a foundational part of education. In Cameroon, it involves holistic training, both inside and outside school, aiming to familiarize young people of the realities of living together with respect for everyone’s rights in a context where diversity is important. Instilling a feeling of belonging to the same society is achieved through reading and national integration clubs established at national universities and training centres. The national civic service also offers a volunteer programme, while the Cameroon National Youth Council leads activities with youth associations.
The Forum held a discussion on “Looking to the future: A dialogue on the High-Level Political Forum (SDG) Summit”. Moderated by Noura Berrouba, Member of the Governing Body of the European Youth Parliament and Board Member of the National Council of Swedish Youth Organizations, it featured an intervention by Sheila Gweneth Carey (Bahamas), co‑facilitator for the Political Declaration of the High‑Level Political Forum Summit.
Ms. BERROUBA, opening the dialogue, said “it has been so inspiring to hear your suggestions and feel the buzz and energy of hundreds of young people coming together in a spirit of cooperation” to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. She encouraged participants to reflect on how the United Nations can better support, expand and leverage youth participation in the implementation, follow up and review of the 2030 Agenda, and to consider the type of guidance the Organization should convey to Member States to advance youth engagement in those efforts.
Ms. CAREY recalled that the Assembly President appointed the Bahamas and Sweden to conduct political discussions on the High‑level Political Forum Summit, to be held in September, and El Salvador to coordinate the modalities. Explaining that the outcome document is negotiated several months in advance, she said the Bahamas and Sweden have launched consultations with States, and planned consultations with other stakeholders. They are also participating in meetings with Member States to hear their views, and in regional preparatory meetings. She asked Youth Forum participants to share their expectations for the Summit so that the political declaration to be adopted accelerates action for achieving the 2030 Agenda. The document must have a focused political message that inspires action by all stakeholders. It must speak directly to people but be phrased in a high‑level manner, she said, noting that Assembly resolution 67/290 requires that the outcome be concise, for consideration by the General Assembly, and adopted by consensus.
RUBEN ESCALANTE (El Salvador) said his delegation is responsible for the Summit’s agenda and the various interactions to take place. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said, as it will be the first high‑level Summit held since 2015. He voiced hope that the Summit would be infused with the Global Sustainable Development Report being written by academics and scientists, which will analyse progress in fulfilling the Goals. He encouraged participants to read it, own it and ensure their Governments understand it.
TINA HOČEVAR, European Youth Forum, provided an update on the regional breakout session on Europe, where participants discussed discrimination and the difficulties faced by young people in accessing their rights. Governments have ignored the hundreds of thousands of young people advocating for change. “You must be more ambitious in fighting climate change,” she said, pressing Governments to ensure that all youth can access quality education. In the transition from school to work, young people must have access to equal opportunities and be included in decision‑making.
ANJA OLIN PAPE, Chair of the Council of Europe Joint Council on Youth, noting that indigenous young people and women are among the most affected by inequality, called for political leadership in efforts to end it. Further, the labour market must be adjusted to fulfil young people’s rights and needs, and immigration must be viewed as a phenomenon that strengthens society. Women’s access to reproductive health and education must be ensured, as must the participation of indigenous young people throughout the implementation of Goal 10.
VICTORIA IBIWOYE, Major Group on Children and Youth, on the breakout session on Goal 4, said inclusive education is a driver of sustainable development, including for climate change adaptation and building peaceful resilient societies. Yet, millions of children are out of school, including 1 per cent of refugee children. She advocated for equitable education for all learners, stressing that young people need skills through formal and non-formal education, both hard and soft skills. Indeed, migrants and refugees should be included in the education system, she said, also calling for rights‑based sexuality education.
MARTINE ZAAROUR, Youth Leadership Programme, said young people in the Arab region lack opportunities for decent work and education and often have inadequate health services. They also face legal discrimination, gender violence and broader economic marginalization and exclusion. “Youth in the Arab region want more control over their lives and self‑expression”, and to claim their position as change agents, she said, calling for their participation in decisions affecting them. The session had heard from young social entrepreneurs tackling important challenges. She called on the United Nations to promote youth‑positive narratives.
The Forum then heard reflections from several participants on the priorities they would like to see in the Summit, with speakers citing the important role of young people in nation‑building and in ensuring a sustainable future for all.
YI YANGQIANXI, World Health Organization China Special Envoy for Health, updated the Forum on the session for the Asia‑Pacific region, citing gender equality, education and empowerment as three top needs. Participants looked at what meaningful participation means for the five Sustainable Development Goals under review. He recommended placing people at the centre of policymaking and advocacy, ensuring that empowerment is a key principle embedded in all development agendas, and equipping young people with the skills they need to meet labour market needs.
GOGONTLEJANG PHALADI, Founder and Executive Director, Gogontlejang Phaladi Pillar of Hope Project, reporting on the breakout session on Africa, stressed that one third of the world’s forcibly displaced people are in Africa. Young people must be supported in attaining political leadership roles to, in turn, meet the needs of their constituents. Among solutions highlighted was the ratification of the African Free Trade Agreement to drive growth while also reinforcing integration and curtailing xenophobia. It is important to leverage partnerships with all partners, including the United Nations, and enact national legislation that criminalizes xenophobia.
SOPHIA FEI YA CHEN, thematic focal point, updated on the breakout session on Goal 8, stressing: “We must go beyond today’s obsession with gross domestic product (GDP) to place people and the environment at the core of development efforts.” States must involve young people in creatively incentivizing partnerships among Governments, the private sector, academia and other stakeholders. More and better jobs for young people are also needed that build on quality education and engage people from all backgrounds, including the rural economy. Indeed, only through the meaningful promotion of human rights can a brighter future for work be attained.
VALERY DEL CARMEN SALAS FLORES, Latin American and Caribbean climate youth delegate, updating on Goal 13, identified a lack of political will to meet the Paris Agreement on climate change. “It is about intergenerational justice,” she said, noting that young social entrepreneurs can help find solutions. Small local projects must be published and scaled up. Noting that climate change will take centre stage with the review of Goal 13, she pressed Governments to “open the doors to your institutions to youth. Together we can raise the ambition to address climate change.”
ROSARIO DIAZ GARAVITO, The Millennials Movement, updating on the Latin American region, recommended that Governments include young people in decision‑making, ensuring that their interests and ambitions can influence policies, and guarantee that entrepreneurship is an option for them. Indeed, young people must be seen as strategic partners in addressing climate change and attaining intergenerational justice.
GUY RYDER, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and Chair of the High‑Level Committee on Programmes, making an intervention, provided an assessment of Sustainable Development Goal 8 — full employment and decent work for all — and how it pertains to youth. Global unemployment has dropped, but there are more than 170 million unemployed people in the world, with many people under age 25 seeing unemployment rates that are two or three times higher than the global average. In addition, young people often enter the most precarious and insecure parts of the labour market, with many living in poverty. As such, the quality of work should be examined. Young worker participation is actually dropping, which could mean that they are staying in school. But, it could mean that young people are discouraged, as 20 per cent of them are neither in school or training or have jobs. The future of work depends on the policy decisions and goals set today. Governments have gotten the message and ILO will partner with them to make those changes.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, offering reflections on the discussion, said the 2030 Agenda is designed for all Member States, but primarily for young people, as “the next decade is for you”. But, there is a long way to go. Young people must be at the forefront of all related efforts. Commending efforts youth have made to support peacebuilding, education and pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals “as a package” and not through a silo approach. The messages heard today will be delivered to the Member States at the highest level so they can take action. For its part, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs launched a new report on youth and supports gatherings such as the Youth Forum, and it remains committed to supporting young people and development as well as the goal of ensuring words go beyond paper and make real change.
JAYATHMA WICKRAMANAYAKE, the Secretary‑General’s Special Envoy on Youth, providing her reflections, said the message is that not enough is being done. Efforts must be scaled up with a sense of urgency to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Young women and girls are being left behind, and they must move to the front to have equal opportunities. Delivering the Sustainable Development Goals is not “doing young people a favour”, but fulfilling their rights. Commending the fruitful discussions held during the breakout sessions, she said many salient points were raised, including low political participation rates and the lack of funding for youth organizations. The Secretary‑General has prioritized youth, she said, adding that she will take these messages to continue to work towards addressing young people’s needs and desires.
Ms. CAREY, co‑facilitator for the Political Declaration of the High‑Level Political Forum Summit, pledged her office’s support for taking the Forum’s message to the broader membership.
Mr. ESCALANTE, facilitator of informal consultations for the High‑Level Political Forum, underlined the importance that participants should return to their countries to ensure that efforts continue to engage with Governments to promote the adoption of forward‑looking legislation and budgets.
RAKOEN MAERTENS, NGO delegate to the United Nations, World Esperanto Youth Organisation, delivered a keynote address for the closing segment, sharing stories of intercultural understanding that allowed for common power to fight for common goals. He described his participation in a protest against climate change in Cambridge, United Kingdom. “It did not matter, our political affiliation. We had our planet and our world that we fought for together,” he said. During his visit to the Republic of Korea, he hugged a group of local people, and in Togo, he joined a group of children walking down the street singing and holding hands. He used those experiences to demonstrate that the Youth Forum will continue beyond today. “We have to unite in the networks we created and be sure we are represented everywhere,” he said, encouraging participants to make use of the High‑Level Political Forum to express their voices, establish youth committees and to “proactively create your seats at the negotiating table”. Quoting an indigenous Australian woman, he said: “If you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, let us work together.”
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivering a keynote address, pledged that the Organization will work with “you to deliver on your hopes”. Unless social, economic and environmental challenges are faced head on, the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved at a time when the world is facing a myriad of tests — climate crisis, protracted conflicts, unsustainable levels of youth unemployment, growing income disparities, a clamp down on dissent, and opposition to gender equality efforts. “Young people in our world today are a lightning rod for change,” he said. “You show the courage and persistence that is often lacking among older generations. Because it is your future, your livelihoods, your freedom, your security, your environment, you do not and you must not take ‘no’ for an answer. In the United Nations, you have partners that will accompany you on this journey towards a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.”
Highlighting the launch in September 2018 of the United Nations Youth Strategy, he said the Organization is working hard to translate its promises into tangible change, to increase action to address young people’s needs and advance their rights. Young people face many challenges, with 64 million being unemployed and 617 million youth worldwide lacking basic mathematics and literacy skills. Young women are too often discriminated against, with some regions reporting female youth unemployment being almost double the rate of their male counterparts. If the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, Governments, civil society and international partners must scale up their investment in young people, ensuring they are educated, empowered and employed.
“To make sure our work is relevant and effective, we need your ideas, your energy and your creativity,” he said. “Around the world, young people are striving for peace, justice, inclusion, gender equality and human rights. Last month, we saw hundreds of thousands of young people marching for climate action. I count on you to keep up the pressure as we move towards my climate action summit this year and the crucial climate talks last year.” Youth are also critical to efforts to address hate speech and to promote intercultural and interfaith understanding and tolerance.
Engaging youth globally is essential for the well‑being of the entire world, he said, adding: “We need your insights and partnership as we work for a better future for all.” The key messages and outcomes of the Forum will be shared with decision makers and policymakers at the forthcoming series of meetings in New York in September that aim to catalyse greater ambition, leadership and action to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change and the 2030 Agenda. “But, that is not enough. We need you to mobilize. We need you to activate your networks. We need you to engage in youth‑focused events leading up to September.
“Above all, we need you to both be the change we need and to push world leaders — in Governments, in cities and the private sector — to step up their ambition and to meet their responsibilities, to do what is right for people and place alike,” he said. “Together, we can ensure peace, prosperity, opportunity and dignity for all on a healthy planet.”
Ms. KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, delivering closing remarks, said young people need the tools and space they are entitled to in order to live fulfilling lives, emphasizing that “it is unacceptable that many societies and politics still treat youth as a silent and marginal spectator.” Youth unemployment is a silent emergency, there are unacceptable levels of inequality, and many young people are exasperated and indeed deeply scared about climate change.
“The Forum sends my generation back to the drawing board to reflect on how we can arrest this existential trend,” she said, adding: “Youth is challenging us to act and transform the way we live, produce wealth and entertain ourselves.” Policymakers have reaffirmed their commitment to give youth the tools they need to exercise their rights and live the kind of life they want. “This commitment must translate into actions in all countries,” she stressed.
She urged all participants to keep advocating for the Sustainable Development Goals ahead of the Council’s High‑Level Political Forum in July and the General Assembly’s Sustainable Development Goals Summit and the Secretary‑General’s Climate Action Summit in September. She also called on young people to continue to speak up and to relentlessly put pressure on their Governments to raise ambitions for climate change. “The momentum has to change; without you, we will not be able to move forward,” she said, calling on countries to engage young people in a meaningful way to make the world a better place and adding that she will issue a presidential statement to highlight the Youth Forum’s key messages that will inform the Sustainable Development Goals Summit and the High‑Level Political Forum.