On 15-17 February 2019,  SDSN Youth partnered with the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) to host the 23rd Session of the Youth Assembly at NYU. We had speakers in 9 sessions throughout the two days - including various panel sessions and two huge workshops; one on SDG innovation & entrepreneurship (Youth Solutions Program) and one on education for sustainable development (Global Schools Program).

The Youth Assembly continues FAF’s legacy of youth empowerment by serving as a platform to strengthen and mobilize youth with the skills and opportunities needed to be agents of impactful change. The conference connects the world’s foremost young talent in the fields of sustainable development and social entrepreneurship, together with leading professionals and practitioners in various fields. Through discussions, skill-building workshops, networking sessions, and ideation challenges, youth delegates gain the relevant knowledge, resources, and opportunities they need to take action and build projects of their own. The theme of the 23rd Session, “Empowering Youth for Global Development” addressed the various challenges that young change-makers face such as age discrimination, underrepresentation, lack of resources, and unemployment and how we can better address these gaps to foster the inclusion of youth.

On the first day, UN Focal Point and Arts Twenty Thirty Project Lead, Isabel Pérez Dobarro moderated a panel on SDG 1: From Poverty to Prosperity: Decent Work & Economic Growth. Panelists included Dr. Christopher J. Stanfill, Director of Learning and Evaluation at Pencils of Promise; Bradley Michelson, who is the director of Business Development at the Idealist; Audrey Williams-Lee, Vice President at the Corporate Human Resources and Global Philanthropy Department at the Hyatt Hotels Corporation; Christopher Lamoureux, Manager at the Policy and Stakeholder Engagement Department at Social Accountability International, and Christine Albrecht, Chief Strategy Officer, Junior Chamber International. The discussion focused on how education and new technologies can have a positive in alleviating poverty. The speakers also discussed challenges and possible solutions to ensure decent work. By describing particular projects of their organizations as well as telling their personal stories, the panelists inspired the young delegates to take action in implementing SDG 1 in their communities.

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Later that day, Isabel Pérez Dobarro also moderated a second panel on the SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.  Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict; Soomin Lee, Program Associate at the New York University Center on International Cooperation; Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS; Tanya Domi, Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, and Laurie Smolenski, Outreach and Development Officer at the Institute for Economics and Peace were the speakers in this session. The panelists explained the concept of peace in depth, discussing the notions of positive and negative peace, showing trends in the expansion of violent conflicts worldwide, sharing research on non-violent civil movements and post-conflict research. Also, the participants explored the concept of SDG16 +, a notion that interrelates the SDG 16 with the rest of the SDGs. All of them highlighted the crucial role of youth in the consecution of more peaceful societies.

Workshop: Education for Sustainable Development: Building a Movement Starts in the Classroom

On Saturday morning, Global Coordinator Sam Loni, Events Project Lead, Kayla Colyard, and Global Schools Project Lead, Antonia Samur facilitated a workshop about Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and highlighted the importance of schools’ participation in the implementation of the SDGs. Educators, schools, and parents play a tremendous role in the socialization of young minds and their stake in empowering youth globally around topics in sustainable development through education and community engagement needs greater emphasis.

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In breakout groups, delegates developed communication campaigns and presented pitches targeting various key stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, administrators, and local officials. Focusing on a specific stakeholder, groups were asked to consider the behaviors, actions, beliefs, and habits that need to be considered in order to attain buy-in and support for ESD implementation. Groups were made up of delegates from around the world which encouraged dialogue that recognized the need to begin addressing various challenges from not only a global standpoint, but at the local level. Delegates came up with innovative ideas on how to advocate for ESD and their key focus areas to include were adaptive learning environments, flexible teaching styles, the open flow of necessary information through social media channels, informed dialogue and community engagement. Overall, delegates agreed that numerous stakeholders are needed in order to utilize classrooms as a vehicle to educate our future generations about the SDGs and that their varying support for ESD is highly significant.

After groups were given the floor to present their campaigns and pitches, they were provided with information about SDSN Youth’s Global Schools Program, SDG Student Progrm, and SDG Zone, as well as SDSN’s SDG Academy. The interest in these programs was extraordinary and hundreds have asked for further information on how to get more involved.

On the second day of the assembly, SDSN and SDSN Youth participated in two parallel sessions in the morning. Lauren Barredo, Head of Partnerships for  SDSN, joined Karen Newman, Consultant to U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Ayesha Khan, Manager, Special Projects and Events, for the U.N. Global Compact, Isha Patel, Social Impact Associate for Eileen Fisher and Raj Thakkar, Founder & CEO of Charter School Business Management to speak on the panel: Partnerships Across Sectors for Social Impact & Youth Leadership. The discussions focused on the significant success building and forming partnerships has on any project seeking to bring social impact. Throughout the session, panelists spoke about the various pathways youth can take through the public and private sectors and delegates were offered advice on a number of topics including how to form meaningful partnerships and how to craft a business that brings social change, among others. Lauren also encouraged delegates to join the Youth Solutions Hub as a means to foster meaningful partnerships.

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Upstairs, Sam Loni joined Frank Fredericks, Founder and Executive Director of World Faith and Monica Olveira, Community Engagement Fellow for UNICEF USA on the panel, Empowering Youth for Action on the SDGs. This session highlighted different strategies and pathways for youth to become active players in the global movement for sustainable development and the challenges they have faced in doing so. Special attention was given to the crucial issue of making youth voices heard, and delegates were given advice on how to make sure they secure a seat at the table.

Later that afternoon, Sam Loni joined Dr. Dickson Despommier, Professor Emeritus of Columbia University, Abbey Wemimo, the Co-Founder of Esusu and Ivan Shumkov, Founder & CEO of Build Academy on the panel: Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation for the SDGs. This session focused on the development and implementation of innovative approaches to solving social and development issues and explored how cutting edge technology helps such development. Examples of successful approaches were highlighted and delegates were reminded that the journey to being an entrepreneur is not always easy, but worth it. Panelists also offered points of advice based on their own personal experiences on finding the strategy, resources, and partnerships needed for success.

Workshop: Youth Innovation: The Role of the Youth Solutions Hub

Directly following the panel, Sam Loni and Kayla Colyard hosted the second workshop, Supporting Youth-led Innovation for the SDGs: the Role of the Youth Solutions Hub  - which had over 350 delegates in attendance. In a series of thought-provoking exercises, delegates were encouraged to work together in an innovation challenge, where they were asked to create a project using only 3 objects in the room. You would be surprised with the ideas they stirred up from simple, everyday items including water bottles, pens, pads of paper, etc. Delegates were then asked to do problem-solving on a specific SDG and the challenges that they would face in trying to construct and implement their project/idea in their respective country. Delegates were then introduced to the SDG Index and Dashboards Report which presents a revised and updated assessment of countries’ distance to achieving the SDGs; Delegates were highly interested and surprised to see how their country ranks in overall performance.

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While there are numerous challenges that young innovators face, delegates agreed that there are three fundamental challenges that exist: lack of visibility, training, and funding. They voiced their concern that it is vital to creating innovation systems which target youth skills and youth-led solutions that provide training for innovators, mentor matching, and access to funding. “Does such an integrated approach exist?” delegates asked.

They were excited to learn that our final segment of the workshop would provide them with a platform that aims to do just that. Delegates were introduced to the Youth Solutions Report and encouraged to join the Youth Solutions Hub to scale their projects, connect with peers, and utilize the necessary resources available. The Hub takes an integrated approach that sees these challenges as part of a single vision and a goal that goes across all the goals of the 2030 Agenda: making sure that the solutions of young people are not left to themselves, to the invisible hand of a benefactor or of the market, but they are developed, supported and included in the strategies for the implementation of the SDGs by all the stakeholders, public and private. Only in this way can such solutions reach the maximum of their impact.

As you can imagine, interest in the Hub was through the roof and delegates were eager to find out more about how they can sign on and start engaging with the platform. Throughout the course of the weekend, the interest in SDSN Youth was extraordinary - with hundreds seeking information on how to get more involved in various programs.

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A big thank you to Xan Northcott, Andrew MacDonald and the entire FAF team for including us in the Youth Assembly programming (Also to Johnny Vacar for capturing photos from this event)- we look forward to supporting the 24th Session taking place in Washington D.C. this summer!


Special thanks to the entire team at the NY Secretariat who all pitched in to make our presence at the Youth Assembly a success - Antonia Samur, Zoltán Tarnai, Borbala Bretus, Shoeb Haque, Shannon Kobran, Jude Chisom Erondu, Lauren Barredo, Isabel Pérez Dobarro, Aaron Homer, Hiba George, and Yuntong Man for helping out and supporting the sessions.


Kayla Colyard is the Events Project Lead at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network - Youth Initiative, based at the secretariat office of SDSN in NYC. Kayla earned dual Masters degrees in International Development & Service and Business Administration from the College of Mount Saint Vincent.