Youth Forum,
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World Needs Infectious Energy, Conviction of Young People to Tackle Today’s Interlinked Challenges, Says Secretary-General, Opening Global Youth Forum

The world needs the infectious energy and conviction of young people to tackle interlinked challenges, tragedies and injustices, the Head of the United Nations told a global youth forum today, pledging that he will bring this demographic into political decision-making.

“We need you,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his message to the opening of the Economic and Social Council’s 2024 Youth Forum, which will run through Thursday, 18 April.  The Forum provides a global platform for dialogue among Member States and young leaders from around the world on solutions to challenges affecting youth.

Mr. Guterres described how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are off track, the climate crisis is spiralling downward and great rifts within and between countries are fuelling mistrust and eroding solidarity.  Against this backdrop, he established a new Youth Office in the United Nations to advance advocacy, coordination, participation and accountability for and with young people, and intends to renew the Organization’s Youth Strategy to take this work to the next level, he added.

He also expressed his commitment to ensuring young people have a strong role in the Summit of the Future in September, including their participation in virtual consultations on the Pact for the Future, which will include a chapter on youth and future generations.  Furthermore, he encouraged youth to support the Summit of the Future digital campaigns being launched today and take on the ActNow challenge.

Commending that young people are on the front lines for bold climate action, he stated:  “Every generation serves as caretaker of this world.  Let’s be honest:  mine has been careless with that responsibility.  But yours gives me hope.  The United Nations stands with you.”

Paula Narváez, President of the Economic and Social Council, observed that 86 million of the world’s 1.1 billion poor people are under the age of 18 and are fighting against inadequate infrastructure to break the intergenerational cycle of inequality.  “We know that poverty seriously limits the prospects for development among young people,” she said, stressing the need to include them in the public decision-making process and address barriers to their education and employment.

Describing the youth as “the leaders of today”, she urged them to play an active role with the Member States and other entities to direct the communities towards sustainable development.  “The Economic and Social Council invites you without exclusion to claim the voice that you deserve and to point out that young people are not a homogeneous community,” she concluded.

Sarah Baharaki, Global Youth Ambassador of Theirworld, and representative of the Major Group for Children and Youth, shared a story of Afghan women’s resilience in the face of the Taliban regime, stressing:  “As the restrictions get tough, we get tougher […] As the conflict goes high, our determination to never give up and fight for change goes higher.”

“We have power, the power to dream for a better world and the courage and bravery to work and make these dreams a reality,” she said, adding that young people are fearless, fresh, open-minded and unfamiliar with the term “impossible” and, most importantly, are the future citizens of the world.  The young generation does not wait for the right time but creates it to act and change societies, she declared.

Throughout the day, the Forum held plenary sessions and interactive thematic discussions.

Youth for Solutions and Innovation

Moderated by Augusta Saraiva, Economic Reporter and UN Correspondent for Bloomberg News, the panel discussion, titled “Youth shaping sustainable and innovative solutions:  Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda and eradicating poverty in times of crises”, featured four speakers:  Felipe Paullier, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Youth Affairs; Oumaima Makhlouk, Data Scientist at Intel and Data Focal Point of the Youth Science-Policy Interface Platform of the Major Group for Children and Youth; Narabene Farka Zeinaba, Telecom Engineer, President of the Network of Sahelian Youth for ClimateMali, and Youth4Climate Champion; and Justice Faith Betty, Co-Founder of the organization “Révolutionnaire”.

Ms. SARAIVA said that the Youth Forum is happening amid multiple global challenges — from deadly conflicts to climate change to an urgent cost-of-living crisis.  All of those are issues that impact young people.  Quoting from Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, she said that no matter how much one walks, one never reaches Utopia, but “it makes you walk”.  Similarly, all the world’s issues will not be solved in this room this week, but the Forum can be used to help all walk towards Utopia, she added.

Mr. PAULLIER said that it is extremely powerful to see hundreds of young people from around the world gathered together and joining this Forum in person, but let’s not forget the 1.9 billion young people who don’t have the chance to be here.  Asked how to translate ideas and conversations into action, he said that for those working in the United Nations, it’s about bringing these voices into the continuity of dialogues and decision-making.  His office is committed to “connecting the dots” along the whole UN process.  Upon returning home, everyone can bring what is being discussed here to the decision-makers in the national, regional and other spaces.  His office launched an advocacy campaign in the form of an open letter from young people calling for world leaders to take immediate action to make local policymaking more representative of the communities they serve.

Ms. MAKHLOUK, responding to a question about technology, said 95 per cent of people live close to regions where there should be Internet access, but only 66 per cent have access.  Access to technology should be a universal right.  Youth can do a lot to bridge this gap.  They can advocate for equitable policies by lobbying local governments and institutions.  A multi-stakeholder approach involving the private sector and civil society can help bring Internet access to 1 billion people by 2025.  Partnership with the industry is critical because businesses are the ones who own these technologies and can design more affordable and inclusive services.  Youth can also engage at the community level by volunteering one or two hours of their time to engage with local governments.

Ms. ZEINABA, responding to a question about climate change, said that her country, Mali, is experiencing record temperatures of about 50°C. Measures to fight the impact of climate change should include investment in resilient infrastructure, setting up early warning systems and putting emergency plans in place.  Awareness raising among communities is also key as many people are not aware that climate change is killing people.  Education at the youngest level is important to enable them to act responsibly to protect the environment.

Ms. BETTY, asked to share the lessons learned from innovative young people, said that a young environmentalist, Elijah, embarked on a journey to the Arctic, where he conducted studies on contamination levels and the impact of these contamination levels on Indigenous communities.  His story is a powerful reminder of how deeply personal and scientifically rigorous activism can be, and also how crucial it is to intertwine efforts with those directly affected by environmental issues. The example shines a light on the remarkable outcomes that can be achieved when the gap is bridged between grassroots initiatives and poor capabilities channelling vast resources into meaningful action, she said, declaring:  “No dream is too big […] We’re not just dreamers but are doers committed to taking action.”

Progressing from Poverty to Prosperity:  Youth as Agents of Change

In the ensuing panel discussion, titled “Progressing from poverty to prosperity:  Youth as agents of change,” moderated by Sophia Fei Ya Chen from the Global Youth Caucus for Decent Jobs and Sustainable Economies, and Murilo Fragoso Slomka de Oliveira, a founder of the Blossom Project, the five youth leaders discussed challenges, opportunities, and tools for poverty eradication among young people. Among them were:  Bénédicte Mundele Kuvuna, a founder and manager of the Surprise Tropical; Asami Segundo, an Ikalahan youth leader from the Philippines; Abobakar Sediq Miakhel, a co-founder of the AILEM; Elliot Harris Reyes, the head of international community programmes and LATAM at CITI, Mexico; and Mwinji Nachinga, a member of African Youth Commission and Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network. 

In her opening remarks, Francine Pickup, Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Director in the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), emphasized the importance of harnessing the hope and energy of young people to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly in eradicating poverty. Pointing to the increased inequality between countries with young people disproportionately affected, she emphasized the need for collective action to address global challenges like climate change and inequality with young people at the centre of this action.  “We need to take advantage of these three days to share knowledge, build partnerships and develop sustainable solutions to address poverty, especially in fragile and crisis context,” she said, welcoming ideas and recommendations from the young people.

On that note, Ms. KUVUNA stressed that collaboration among different entities — Governments, the United Nations, civil society as well as academic institutions and private sector — is crucial for a holistic approach to addressing poverty, especially among youth.

Ms. SEGUNDO shared how including young people in her community’s traditional practices, which have sustained them for generations, ensured continuity and knowledge exchange.  Underscoring the importance of intergenerational dialogue, she put a spotlight on the youth initiatives supported by elders, which combine indigenous knowledge with modern technology like GIS for land use planning and documentation.

Mr. MIAKHEL emphasized the role of education and technology in empowering communities and eradicating poverty, especially among refugees. Highlighting the impact of language on integration into the labour market, he detailed his organization’s work in providing education tailored to refugees and using simple technologies like mobile phones and applications.

Mr. REYES shared his organization’s experience of aligning corporate goals with sustainable development and collaborations with Governments and civil society to empower youth in poverty eradication.  He went on to detail a successful corporate-led initiative, “Pathways to Progress”, which partners with UNDP to provide mentorship and skills development to young people in 28 countries and demonstrates the effectiveness of multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Speaking about policy and legal changes to enhance the youth involvement in social development, Ms. NACHINGA emphasized the need for youth-focused education policies that meet the needs of the labour market and provide entrepreneurship skills.  Additionally, she highlighted the role of employment and entrepreneurship policies that create job opportunities and access to financing for young people.

Closing the discussion, Lopa Banerjee, Director of the Civil Society Division for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), said that today’s discussions will be “invalid” without accountability for the solutions and recommendations provided by young people.  The strategies offered by young people should not only be implemented but also “resonate with all those who will inherit those policy outcomes”, she added.

Engaging Youth in Building Peaceful and Inclusive Societies

Moderated by Andrea Carstensen, Member of the Global Youth Caucus for SDG16, Major Group for Children and Youth, the panel discussion, titled “Engaging Youth in Building Peaceful and Inclusive Societies”, featured four speakers:  Claude Mbuyi, Executive Secretary of the National Youth Council of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Rolando Pelicot, Co-founder of “Fipie” and Council Member of the “Resolution Project”; Mohamed Diakite, President of the Union of Youth for Sustainable Development; and Bahia Gatti, Executive Director of the Organización Argentina de Jóvenes para las Naciones Unidas and Regional Coordinator of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

Ms. CARSTENSEN said that global inaction and lack of political will have stalled the SDGs, but young people remain undeterred and committed to inclusive societies.  “The buck stops with us,” she said, citing a political idiom meaning that responsibility cannot be passed to anyone else.  “We are the future, yes, but we are also the present.”  Youth are the ultimate long-term investment in accelerating the SDGs, with the highest return on investment for intergenerational peace and security, sustainable development and human rights.

Mr. MBUYI underscored the importance of respect for the social contract with young people.  A lack of youth involvement in decision-making and processes creates a deficit in trust and the gap between the populations and those who govern them.  Many youths are having difficulties in finding employment. Their frustration can lead to juvenile delinquency.  Restoring trust requires implementing programmes or mechanisms that address the needs and aspirations of youth.

Mr. PELICOT, noting that 2024 is the biggest election year in history and youth must be able to play a full part in this process, warned that youth often encounter obstacles to having their voices heard, including legal, financial and socioeconomic barriers that prevent youth participation, for instance, in conflict zones.  To improve political participation, Governments must ensure inclusive policies based on rights.  In Panama, various projects are under way to increase awareness of the importance of youth participation in elections, including the rollout of workshops.

Mr. DIAKITE said that young people face reprisal and persecution for their commitment to civic activities.  This is most evident in countries in the Sahel currently in political transition. Freedom of expression has taken a considerable step backwards, and civic and political space is shrinking with the dissolution of several groups and a recent suspension of activities of political parties. This demonstrates the weakness of institutions.  His country, Mali, has seen three coups d’état in 10 years.  “You can imagine the impact this has on youth.”  In 2021, he was persecuted for what he said, being detained for over 50 days.

Ms. GATTI said that her organization is a network of about 130 young members in more than 70 countries, striving for a world free from violence, and empowering young people to transform conflict.  Her role as Regional Coordinator for America involves coordinating and supporting organizations in the region and facilitating knowledge and resource exchange.  The Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace and the youth, peace and security agenda represent action.  But the challenge is to ensure meaningful youth participation to bridge the gap between policy and practice and to facilitate the work of the next generation of leaders, she said.

Urban Youth Leading Climate Action, Community Resilience Initiatives and Sustaining Peace

In a panel discussion titled “Urban youth leading climate action, community resilience initiatives and sustaining peace” and which was moderated by Ali Mustafa, representative to the United Nations, AFS Intercultural Programmes, and Adviser to the Youth Representative Steering Committee, United Nations Department of Global Communications, youth leaders discussed solutions for resilient communities amid climate challenges and conflicts.  The discussion featured:  Yosuke Nagai, Founder and Executive Director of Accept International; Milagros Costabel Bionda, a board member of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) Youth Advisory Board; Miroslav Polzer, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of IAAI GloCha; Sarah Syed, a climate activist from Canada; and Alexandra Kulik, President of Sempre a Frente Foundation and representative of Lublin European Youth Capital 2023.

Addressing the session in a pre-recorded video message, Michal Mlynár, Acting Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said that the world needs “the vibrant energy and innovative spirit of youth”, especially those from challenging environments, to turn SDGs into reality.  In recognition of the remarkable potential of young people to spearhead transformative changes, UN-Habitat has collaborated with a fictional character, Hello Kitty, to amplify the message of SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities.  This initiative aims to educate, motivate and engage youth to contribute to realizing the SDGs in their communities.  “Each of us, regardless of age and background, has a crucial role in crafting a more sustainable and just future for our planet,” he concluded.

Maria Cristina Pisani, President of the National Youth Council, Italy, in her opening remarks, encouraged rethinking urban spaces to create democratic and sustainable territorial instruments.  She called for empowering young people and women as active agents of change, starting at the local level to transform globally.

Mr. NAGAI, reflecting on his work in reintegrating youth combatants, emphasized that these individuals, often in their twenties and thirties, have been overlooked in policies and practices.  Despite their past involvement in violence, they have unique potential to become agents of peace, he said, urging for serious consideration of how to empower these youth to contribute to sustaining peace and building community resilience.

Mr. POLZER highlighted the concept of local pacts for the future, developed by his organization ahead of the Summit for the Future.  These pacts allow young people to identify and find pathways towards addressing local challenges, as well as mobilize local and global resources for this local action.  In response to the question about how to involve marginalized youth in promoting the SDGs, he emphasized the significance of not merely integrating youth into discussions but also empowering them to act.  He suggested creating social entrepreneurship ecosystems that incentivize young people for their contributions to SDG implementation, thereby harnessing their creativity.

Ms. BIONDA, noting that she is totally blind, emphasized the importance of inclusivity in policies, especially concerning issues like climate change and natural hazards.  She called for a change in how society perceives and supports people with disabilities, highlighting the need for their voices to be heard to build an urban system in which no one is left behind.  In response to the question about promoting SDG 17 on partnerships, she stressed the power of local communities, urging greater cooperation at the local level.

Ms. KULIK noted that while young people are the leaders of today, the responsibility they bear and the power they possess can be overwhelming.  Therefore, she called for providing support for the mental health and well-being of young people.  On the inclusion of marginalized youth, she emphasized the importance of providing them with information, creating safe environments for conversations and addressing their basic needs.

Ms. SYED, expressing concern over the lack of access to electricity for 34 per cent of schools and 759 million people worldwide, mostly youth, called for funding mechanisms to support clean energy entrepreneurship for young people.  She also urged to redefine the value of social capital as a currency of progress, noting that the knowledge capital possessed by young people can pave the way for a sustainable future when included in decision-making.  On the role of partnerships, she stressed that climate change can be mitigated through the power of communities and collaboration.

For information media. Not an official record.