All for One and One for All: Lessons of Inclusion and Participation for Youth in SDGs

Margianta Surahman is a One Young World Ambassador representing Indonesia and the Project Coordinator of the Young Health Programme at Lentera Anak Foundation

It was early December when Emmanuele Parra recommended me and other One Young World Ambassadors in Indonesia to apply as speakers at the ASEAN Youth Engagement Summit (AYES) 2019. The summit was set to be held in Manila, Philippines and it will be a second one following its first conduct in 2017.

“I knew you were going to apply,” Emmanuele said to me, and I was already excited to share my experiences being a development worker and an International Relations Scholar whose university was focused on Southeast Asia studies. If I were going to be accepted as a speaker, it would be my 3rd time attending an ASEAN-related event outside of Indonesia, as I attended an ASEAN development agenda discussion in Myanmar on 2017, and the 3rd ASEAN Community Forum in Singapore in 2018.

Eventually, I was accepted as a speaker on Health and Social Policy on ASEAN Youth Chat, representing Youth Movement for FCTC, Lentera Anak Foundation, and One Young World. It was the only thing I was supposed to do on the summit. Turns out, it wasn’t the only thing I was going to do. My friend reached out to me, and asked me to speak on the plenary session on the behalf of Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth (SDSN Youth) Indonesia. I was also set to speak on an information session on SDSN Youth, and attend the Multilateral Meeting on Strengthening Youth Engagement in Southeast Asia with Representatives of Youth-Led or Youth-Focused Organizations.

Knowing all the agenda lining up for me, I hurried to send the details to my Programme Manager for the Young Health Programme, Mr. Fahmi. I reached out to him to apply for support with my transportation and accommodation. Long story short, my application was granted by Plan International Indonesia, and I had my flight to Manila on February 19th.

It was my first visit to the Philippines, and it strikes me of how similar Manila was to Jakarta in many ways. One of the similarities were the hospitality of my local pinoy friends, who since I have arrived greeted me at the airport, and took me to a dinner with local delicacies. My first dinner in Manila wasn’t only full of laugh, but also a discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as I was meeting representatives from SDSN Youth Philippines, whose network my organization is a part of in Indonesia.

Role of Youth in Attaining SDGs

The next day, I was ready to speak at the plenary session of AYES 2019. Located in GT-Toyota Asian Center, the venue was at the University of the Philippines, a university that is referred to by many as the best in the country. I spoke on stage after fellow ASEAN diplomats, a former ASEAN Secretary General, and some ASEAN Young Leaders spoke beforehand.

Being among inspirational young leaders got me very comfortable on stage. I was speaking on the importance of youth’s role in the attainment of SDGs, sharing some best practices I have done for the past 9 years related to tobacco control and modern slavery through meaningful youth participation.

Aside from sharing the best practices of the works I have done with Youth Movement for FCTC and Emancipate Indonesia, I also conveyed my perspective on ASEAN in general. ASEAN may still have challenges in terms of economics, human rights, security, and how these three aspects affect each other. ASEAN is not a perfect regional body like Southeast Asian people expect. Nevertheless, my experience has shown me that ASEAN youth are trying their best to meaningfully engage in these challenges.

Youth may not always have many resources to start their development works with, but the key is to do what we can with what we have. As long as we are united under collaborative approaches, ASEAN youth has much to offer for the attainment of SDGs in the region. One of the most important thing to be underlined from my speech was that the role of youth in attaining SDGs must be a meaningful one. By meaningful, I mean regardless of their resources, young people should be seen as equal partners to government, private sector, civil societies, and academician. Yes, young people don’t always have more experience, but they are the potential bridge between sectors to make inclusive understandings with each other.

I also stated some existing reports that we can refer to, such as the SDGs Index by SDSN and ASEAN Youth Development Index. These reports could be a way for us to examine the progress made in each of our countries on SDGs, and see the potential points in which we could intervene as young people to contribute through our initiatives. Later at the multilateral meeting with other young leaders across ASEAN, I would add to explain that Indonesia already has its own Youth Development Index on country level, even though it still has many things to improve on.

Lesson of Inclusion and Privilege

Aside from that, one of the topics for my plenary session was about inclusion. How can we make youth participation in development more inclusive? My experience in social works, and my recent work on the Young Health Programme with Plan International and AstraZeneca has underlined the importance of gender equality in development works.

I cut the chase and addressed my concern of what I would call as ‘an elephant in the room.’ I abruptly stated on stage that I was a bit disappointed with the fact that there were a lack of female speakers at the plenary session. The panels were mostly male dominated, and as a man I felt the need to address the matter to the floor, because before we preach about inclusion, we better practice it first-hand, especially at a regional level event that we were all attending.
Thus, it brought me to my second point: we need to check our privilege. Giving way to a more diverse, inclusive discussion will make us realize that at some point, we have a privilege that we need to check once in a while. By doing so, we will understand that not every solution has a one-size fits all.

If we were going to work on a more inclusive discussion and solution, we need to do more listening when we map the solutions we were going to offer to some developmental challenges in our communities. Some issues may have close relations from one to another, and the more inclusive our solutions are, the more sustainable our solutions would be.

The Close Proximity of Health and Social Issues

The next day, I would bring up the topic of inclusivity again in my ASEAN Youth Chat session, where I shared my revelation that health issues are actually closely related to social issues. I gave a specific example as my focus that would lay on SDGs no. 3, which is Health and Well-Being. As it was stated in SDGs no. 3, health is one of the most important issues in global development agenda. Health has its own potential as the 3rd largest market economy in the world, but also its challenges like the increasingly threatening Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

Globally, NCDs (which include cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disorders) claim 40 million lives every year, with 8.5 million of whom are in Asia. One third of these deaths occur before the age of 70, thus affecting economically productive individuals. The four major NCDs are mostly caused by 4 identifiable risky behaviors: unhealthy diet, insufficient physical activity, harmful use of alcohol, and tobacco use.

Following my explanation on NCDs, I played a video of Terry Crew’s introduction as my counsellor at my One Young World speech in The Hague on 2018. Terry stated that if Indonesian male think smoking is a ‘male thing to do,’ they are wrong. Terry’s statement underlined the close relation between health and social issues, and I can vouch for him because I experienced the peer pressure first-hand when I grew up as an Indonesian man who doesn’t smoke.

Deriving from this close relation between health and social issue, a comprehensive approach to the solution of SDGs no. 3 is needed, including one that involves young people as its active subjects. Acknowledging that NCDs affect mostly economically productive individuals, therefore young people as a productive community has to be involved in working to tackle this challenge.

Comprehensive Youth Participation in Health Policies

I stated in my Youth Chat session that young people need to be involved in planning, supporting, and even supervising health policies to help tackle NCDs as early as possible. Even so, youth participation in health policies requires support and assistance. This is where the comprehensive approach comes in.

Based on my experience as a development worker who focuses on youth participation and tobacco control since 2010, comprehensive approach of youth participation in health policies comes in two forms: education and advocacy.
As for education, one of the examples that I have been involved with is the Young Health Programme (YHP). Supported by AstraZeneca and Plan International, YHP is conducted in 21 countries and aim to improve health and gender equality for young people on the age of 10-24. The program includes education for students, teachers, health providers, and community members about NCD-related issues, and empower them as peer educators and support health policies. In Indonesia, YHP aims to directly engage 14.000 young people between 2018 – 2020.

As for advocacy, my experience focused solely in tobacco control. Youth Movement for FCTC, which I co-initiated in 2015 with Lentera Anak Foundation, was established to support the Indonesia to sign Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and enforce tobacco control measures to protect young people from cigarettes. Our movement has reached more than 50.000 people in 25 cities across Indonesia, mostly are youth ranging from the age of 13-24 who have been joining our advocacy involving government stakeholders both on local and national level.

At the end of my session I wrapped up by stating that my experiences in terms of education and advocacy actually shared some similarities. Aside from their focus on tobacco control, both were a multi-sectorial partnership, involving collaborative approach between government and non-state actors such as NGOs, private sector, and youth organizations. In line with the concept of “no one left behind” from SDGs, I believe a comprehensive approach to youth participation needs to emphasize on the importance of multi-sectorial partnership. I think this is exactly why international summits like AYES or One Young World exist: to bridge an inclusive understanding between sectors, and formulate an equal and sustainable partnership for all, particularly young people and their contribution to development.