Our Perspective

2030 Agenda and Youth: from Rhetoric to Action

by and

Since the end of 2015, momentum has been building on the 2030 agenda on the Sustainable Development Goals in the development sector. In global fora, planning meetings, donor circles, social media, the term 2030 agenda is prominent and omnipresent. One would ask why such prominence given, what do they all mean, and more importantly; why we, as youth should be interested in this set of elaborate yet seemingly straightforward goals. In a nutshell, the ECOSOC Youth Forum on the 2030 Agenda which was concluded recently in New York centered on these goals and the part youth can play in its implementation.

How indeed can youth engage in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 agenda?

The two-day forum at the UN headquarters brought on to a single stage young activists, youth leaders, government representatives and UN agencies for a discussion on “Youth Taking Action to implement the 2030 Agenda”. While reestablishing the need of increasing access to decision making processes among young people, the forum was a wakeup call that young people are not just the beneficiaries of the SDGs but also the key players.

Yet, ‘How should young people take action?’ is the question that remains yet to be answered. Following two days of keynote addresses, plenaries and interactive breakout sessions (both thematic and regional), it was realized that solutions do not materialize instantaneously but should rather be custom made specifically for each respective region and/or country. Stories shared from different regions brought in different experiences and ground realities. It is no wonder that prioritizing the areas of focus from the 17 goals was not in any way easy in a global audience of that magnitude. However, the overarching issues which echoed over the regions are youth (un)employment and entrepreneurship, changing the culture of violence, accountability, quality education and gender equality.

Much was discussed on strengthening youth networks within regions in order to facilitate stronger mechanisms. While calling on for a high level representation at the UN for rights of youth, channeling more funding sources for youth oriented, youth-led and youth centered projects was also highlighted throughout. Solutions such as more disaggregated data and research on issues related to youth were also welcomed by the participants as crosscutting systems and initiatives were seen to essential in effective implementation. Social media activism as a tool to hold governments accountable and monitoring the implementation of SDGs similarly featured strongly among the few mechanisms proposed to be implemented across the world among the youth organizations.

While many voiced their experiences and thoughts, it was evident and brought into light during the Main Plenary session that adequate participation from the Global South is still not a reality. While youth from the Global South constitutes the majority of the world’s youth population, their voice is still not predominant in global fora. It was also noted that a palpable contradiction exists between the various opinions expressed by youth globally, who have called for increased engagement in policy making and decision making; and accounts given by government representatives on remedies being implemented. 

All in all, it is evident that youth are key partners of this global development agenda. Speaking of the Sri Lankan context we still have to realize the goal of engaging more young people in the process because it is more about a lot of people engaging in the seemingly ‘little’ initiatives than a few people trying to do larger related activities. It is more a matter of giving an opportunity for young people to realize that 2030 is about our future. North, South, East or West it is those who are currently termed as ‘youth’ who will be inheriting this planet with all its travails, issues and developments. And so, it might be just the right time to move from a whole coterie of rhetoric to practical and meaningful action. 

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