Financing, Mentorship, Safe Spaces for Youth Initiatives, Organizations Key for Achieving Sustainable Development, Speakers Tell Forum
Youth-led and youth-focused initiatives and organizations must be fully supported by Governments, the private sector, and other key partners, with financing, mentorship, skills training, capacity-building, and safe spaces to ensure achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, speakers told the Economic and Social Council’s annual Youth Forum today, spotlighting the power of youth in designing solutions to address global challenges.
The Youth Forum, which meets from 25 to 27 April, is focused on the theme “Accelerating the COVID-19 Recovery and Full Implementation of the 2030 Agenda with and for Youth”. (For background, see Press Release ECOSOC/7122.)
The afternoon meeting began with a “spotlight session” on peace and prosperity moderated by Leonardo Párraga, Peace Advocate, Artist, Founder of Fundación BogotArt and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, who pointed out that the youth population, numbering at over 1.9 billion, is the largest ever and the most affected by ongoing conflicts, the climate crisis and other challenges. At his request, Youth Forum participants “time-traveled” to 2030, by turning around three times, to meet three inspiring young leaders who are helping create an equitable, resilient and sustainable future.
Among them was Richa Gupta, Education Innovator, Social Entrepreneur, CoFounder of Labhya Foundation and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, who stressed the catalytic role of education in ensuring peace, safety and prosperity for young people. Investments in their mental health systemically can have game-changing effects on the present and future of the globe, she added, noting that her non-profit organization has partnered with Governments to co-create some of the world’s largest at-scale well-being programmes for young people and children in public schools. She called on all young persons, Governments, private companies, philanthropies and organizations to go beyond the talk, take action and fund youth mental health and well-being.
Ronelle King, Gender Justice Activist Founder of Life in Leggings and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, pointed out that, in 2023, 2.6 per cent of the world’s parliamentarians are under 30 years old, and less than 1 per cent of young members of parliament are women. In 2019, she founded the Pink Parliament initiative in Barbados, to facilitate learning and mentorship for girls and young women and to accelerate the opening of institutional decision-making spaces. Looking ahead to 2030, she said governance structures are more democratic and representative due to the bold action of those who occupy spaces of power. Moreover, young women and girls took steps to mobilize and create their ideal future, she added.
Heela Yoon, Peace Advocate, Founder of Afghan Youth Ambassadors for Peace and Young Leader for the Sustainable Development Goals, pointed out that 583 days have passed since schools and universities were closed to girls and women in Afghanistan — the only country in the world where girls are banned from receiving basic education because of their gender. Her non-profit organization has trained more than 100 girls and young men on peace and justice, conducted 10 peace-building dialogues with religious leaders on women’s education from an Islamic perspective, and supported over 5,000 families with emergency food packages and access to clean water. Calling for grassroots representation and support, she stressed that real impact starts with implementation and sustainable partnerships with grass-roots leaders and activists who are making real impact.
The Forum then held the second of two ministerial round-table discussions among ministers, Government representatives and youth-led and youth-focused organizations and which was co-moderated by Sovanvotey Hok, Global Partnership for Education Youth Leader, and Jacob Blasius, Executive Committee Member of the Global Students Forum and youth delegate from Denmark.
Addressing Sustainable Development Goals 11 on sustainable cities and communities and 17 on partnerships, speakers highlighted the critical role of youth in creating sustainable cities and communities and provided recommendations on how to make them safe and inclusive for everyone, and how to build effective partnerships with and for youth.
Qais Khan, Member of the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing Young People, noting that he is a deaf young person with a cochlear implant, said the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that one in five people worldwide live with hearing loss. Individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing face major barriers to their inclusion in everyday life, he stressed, calling for accessibility to communication in public places. Policymakers must address the acoustics and loud noise in public places, so that those with hearing aids or cochlear implants can hear and they must provide assistive technology. Warning that more than 1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss because of listening to loud music, he called for policies to raise awareness of the impact of hearing loss and what people can do to help those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
Laura Valencia, Member of the Global Refugee Youth Network, noting its support for several refugee youth-led organizations, said that in Zimbabwe, Assorted Energies trained other young refugees, especially women, to install and maintain solar panels at the Tongogara refugee camp. They serve as climate ambassadors, support clean energy technology by providing a basic and indispensable service to the community, promote gender equality and launch their own initiatives. In Nakivale, Uganda, Botanica, a social enterprise start-up that manufactures organic mosquito repellent from locally sourced plants, helps keep malaria-vulnerable populations safe and teaches them the business model for making the product. It is important to change the perception and narrative of refugees, she pointed out, stressing that they must be empowered to be agents of change.
Foster Cummings, Minister for Youth Development and National Service of Trinidad and Tobago, said its Youth Agricultural Shade House Project is a one-year full-time programme designed to equip young citizens with the necessary skills, infrastructure and inputs to produce high-value short-term crops. This project expands youth intervention strategies and promotes agro-entrepreneurship. The Youth Agricultural Homestead Programme, which aims to address socioeconomic challenges such as youth unemployment, youth housing deficit, climate change and food security, provides accredited training for 1,200 new twenty-first century agro-entrepreneurs, with a view to establishing six youth-owned farming communities. It also seeks to promote environmental consciousness to mitigate climate change and provide nutritious, affordable and accessible food, and reduce pollution and support waste management.
Jean Todt, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Road Safety, in a pre-recorded video message, pointed out that every year, over a million people lose their lives to traffic injuries. It is unacceptable that 500 children die every day on the road, often on their way to or from school, he stressed, highlighting that youth have made significant contributions to road safety. Their voices and actions are needed now more than ever, he emphasized, calling for resources and action to implement change.
Turning to Sustainable Development Goal 17 on partnerships for the Goals, Chester Shum, Global President of AIESEC International, said it aims to promote cross-cultural understanding by facilitating leadership development experiences through volunteering, internships or within our membership programme. Addressing global and complex issues such as those under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires thought leadership driven by values that promote acceptance, integrity and sustainability. He called on everyone to take a closer look at their countries, territories and organizations and to question whether their systems are conditioning young people to value individual productivity over collective responsibility.
Željka Josić, State Secretary of the Central State Office for Demography and Youth of Croatia, noting that her office supports youth organization projects every year, said her country’s cross-sectoral Advisory Board for Youth brings together stakeholders from all spheres of life, including representatives of youth civil society organizations, ministries, educational and scientific institutions. This Advisory Board is involved in both monitoring and developing public policies involving youth, while promoting at the same time youth engagement on all levels, she added.
Alen Šukurica, youth delegate of Croatia, stressing that social networks play a big role in youth activism, added that investments in education, training and skills-development for young people must be increased. Moreover, employment issues and social safety-net programmes are critical to ensuring that young people are not left behind in pursuing a more just and equal sustainable development.
Estefanía Valderrábano, youth delegate of Mexico, participating virtually, said that in her country, diversity is wealth, pointing to the young people, Indigenous People, young persons of Afro-descent and youth with disabilities who form part of the Mexican population. Through initiatives, such as Young People Building the Future and the youth delegate programmes for the Conference of States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as the General Assembly, Mexico ensures that young people play an ever-greater role in national and foreign policy, and that international actors see them as allies to achieve the Global Goals, she added.
Guillermo Rodríguez, Director General of the Mexican Institute of Youth, emphasized that young people are main partners in development and transformation. They are recognized as rights holders, he added, pointing to the recent lowering of the age for members of the federal parliament from 21 to 18 years old and the age requirement to be Secretary of State from 30 to 25 years old. Together with the Ministry of Labor, the Mexican Institute of Youth, is promoting initiatives such as youth commerce, youth market and “youth ticket”, so that young people can be involved in sustainable business.
In a special session that followed, titled “Financing our Future” and which was moderated by Maria Rodriguez [Alcazar], President of the European Youth Forum, Member States, youth leaders and key partners discussed their experiences and strategies to boost employment opportunities, foster inclusion for most disadvantaged youth and create impactful partnerships.
Susana Puerto, Coordinator Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth of the International Labour Organization (ILO), in opening remarks, said the power of youth-led innovations cannot be overstated. With the right resources, platforms and cooperation, these innovations have the potential to reach scale and become national programmes, policies or investments that can transform the world in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Pointing to the challenges facing the global youth labor force, she stressed the need to equip young people with the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the labor market. “Let us also work hand in hand with young people as true partners, amplifying their voices, replicating and scaling up their innovations, and ensuring that they are at the forefront of driving positive change in our societies,” she stressed.
Touching on youth-led solutions for youth employment, Kirsty Coventry, Minister for Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation of Zimbabwe, said its youth empowerment bank, which was just handing out loans, did not do very well as young people do not have much collateral or insight into value chains. As such, the bank pivoted a year ago, creating youth business starter packs, introducing young people in agricultural sectors and helping them create agreements. The pilot project, which has been extremely successful due to mentorship, will be expanded across all sectors, thus ensuring that youth have a “foot in the door” to starting their youth-led businesses.
Addressing youth-led solutions for inclusion of most disadvantaged youth, Diana Kimojino, Founder of the Nailepu Girls’ Empowerment Programme in Kenya, noting that she is part of the Maasai community in Narok, said it is an organization that helps young women to acquire useful skills, such as computer programming, fashion and design, hairdressing and makeup artistry, enabling them to enter the labour market. The programme, started last year with a cohort of 20 vulnerable girls in the communities, she said, highlighting that 18 of them have completed a three-month training. Moreover, 15 of them are now taking certificate and diploma courses with a view to taking university-level courses, while 3 girls have found professional employment. “Losing young girls through harmful cultural practices, like female genital mutilation, and watching them become mothers as young as 11 years old is traumatic and needs immediate action,” she stressed, calling on all Governments to step up and take action that safeguards young women, especially in marginalized areas.
Angeline Callista, Co-founder of Nara Synergy in Indonesia, was among several speakers who highlighted the power of impactful partnerships through effective collaboration with and for young people. Her social enterprise aims to build meaningful partnerships to transform the waste management sector in Indonesia and to empower communities and institutions on waste management. By building a community-based waste-management system, Nara Synergy, empowers women and youth to manage their waste. With over 1,000 participants, it has managed and converted more than 80 tons of waste and converted the waste to an economic value equivalent to $15,000. It has also provided scholarships for the waste-pickers and their children through funds earned from selling the waste. Moreover, it has established over 40 partnerships, including with Government, international donors, academia, media and young peoples’ networks. “I implore all of us to take actions to believe in the power of youth, not only in our respective countries but beyond borders, age, gender and other limitations. Let us take bold steps towards a sustainable future and leave a positive legacy for generations to come,” she stressed.
Also speaking during the ministerial round table were ministers, youth delegates and other Government officials of Botswana, Thailand, Uganda, Venezuela, Mauritius, Chad, Malawi, Panama, Colombia, Uzbekistan, Germany, Russian Federation, South Africa, Singapore, Egypt and Gambia. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, delivered closing remarks.
Also speaking during the special session were ministers and other Government officials of Namibia, Gambia, Uganda, Netherlands, Mexico and Saudi Arabia, as did Amandeep Singh Gill, United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, and a representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Representatives of the following organizations also spoke: World Organization of the Scout Movement, All-China Youth Federation, Destellos de Luz, Wayuuda, major group for children and youth, and IBM.
The Youth Forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 27 April.