The power of youth in achieving the SDGs

On September 25th, 2015, world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. At the Assembly, they also adopted the long debated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) also known as Global Goals.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a continuation of the Millennium Development Goals, which aim at eradicating poverty across the world by 2030. They cover areas such as food security, health, education, energy, gender equality, infrastructure development, employment, urbanization, environmental protection and combating climate change.

The United Nations, which is an umbrella of 193 states is often debated for its accomplishments and relevance. The undemocratic system of the Security Council with the veto power, the lack of preventing catastrophic phenomenon from happening, which in our present day we can refer to the civil war in Syria and the refugee crisis are some of concern. Yet, there is a lot of hope and many accomplishments to be celebrated, such as the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in some parts of the world.

The United Nations celebrated its 70th anniversary in June 2015. The event took place in San Francisco- where the charter was first signed in 1945. At the event UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "the founders achieved what many thought was impossible". Thus, the SDG's remain another test for the leaders and generation of today to turn them into reality.

Still, a greater concern remains in the developing world. Little opportunity, lack of peace and undemocratic governance have forced young people to revolt. Progresses made with MDGs in many countries was dragged backwards. Such was the case of many North African and Middle Eastern countries. Little progress could only be made without building strong institutional foundation.

With more youth living in our world today, more emphasis is needed towards youth empowerment. The UN needs to advocate greatly in youth involvement and youth policy through member states. There should be more focus on education and job creation. Job markets should truly go global and western countries should open their borders to a youthful workforce from the developing countries. Opportunities should trickle down to the poor.

Over the last few years we have witnessed the rise of youth dissatisfaction with an older generation model of leadership. This has led to not just the ousting of many dictators, but also to the unwanted result of failed states in countries like Libya, Yemen, and Syria. The older, wiser men have proved to be the undoing of many African countries. Merit not age should be the criterion of leadership.

If the youth are not cared for, more unrest, civil war and migration are the end results that we will witness. We will see an Arab spring every generation or so. The refugee crisis that is unfolding in Europe will be replayed more often. This cycle of doom and gloom will be the lot of so many countries that are being squeezed between poverty and conflict. Mind you, the frustrations of so many people and youth in the majority will spill into the comfortable corridors of Brussels and New York. In this highly globalized world, our fates are entwined.

Despite the challenges, it is worth mentioning that many young people around the world were actively involved in making the MDGs possible and they continue to pledge for their contribution with the adaptation of the SDGs. After all, change could only be successful with a buy-in from the youth. Hence the UN and member states need to recognize the power of youth in making the SDGs possible and as such create opportunity for them to flourish.  

In Africa, the Network of African Youths for Development (NAYD), is a good example of platform for young people working in community projects in different capacities towards sustainable development in Africa. NAYD seeks to foster an environment where information, resources and opportunities are shared and meaningful partnerships build. NAYD has an estimated 60,000 members across the globe; with the highest membership being from Africa. Over the last few years NAYD has managed to bring a huge number of youth together, creating awareness of the SDGs through weekly discussions on social media, highlight the work done by small CBOs in Africa as well as conduct research on the youth and the SDGs. These activities, among many others, have created a synergy that is needed at the base of youth-led development in Africa. Most importantly NAYD, together with other youth organizations in Africa, has set up country-specific teams that will harmonize efforts of implementing the 17 Global Goals.