The 2017 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) was held from 10-19 July with the theme “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”. In the Forum, which this year reviewed six of the 17 SDGs, young people are increasingly seen as a key stakeholder. On the one hand, we see a solid awareness on the role that youth led initiatives around that world can play in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). On the other, there also appears to be a rising consensus on the need to involve young people in the review of progress, through the preparation and presentation of the member States’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). Countries including Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark, among others, have all included formal youth representation in preparing their VNRs, and their official youth delegates have been present during the HLPF to highlight this fact.
A number of side-events within the HLPF effectively showcased contribution of youth-led initiatives to SDGs. These youth-related side events revolved around multiple SDGs, including an interesting focus on health during the earlier days of the Forum, with events such as ‘Youth action today for a healthy tomorrow: Overcoming barriers to achieve health equity’ and ‘SDG3: Creating communities where children, adolescents and youth can thrive’, both being held on 11 July. With health being recognized as a crucial subcomponent for human well-being, these side-events emphasized the need to create a concrete action plan for the achievement of SDG 3 and to devise efforts to actively engage youth into it.
Further, youth’s role within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) was highlighted in the event ‘Youth in STEM for achieving peace and positive social change for all’, on 14 July. Successful STEM professionals, social entrepreneurs and representatives of academia and the private sector shared their experiences and knowledge to inspire and encourage young people to develop and use their STEM skills in all industries. In addition, the event focused on the importance of providing guidance to other stakeholders on how youth skills development in the fields of innovation, science and technology can contribute to a positive social change for all.
On the occasion of the World Youth Skills Day, on 15 July, the side-event on ‘Skills for the Future of Work’ focused on best practices and strategies to meet future skills needs and ensure that young people across the globe can seize the employment opportunities provided by the digital economy. The incoming UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, speaking for first time in her new role emphasized the need for skills to keep up with rapid developments in technology, and stated that “there is no better investment than in the capacities and potentials of young people.”
Another key side-event, ‘Youth implementing the 2030 Agenda: Operationalising Paragraph 89’, taking place on 17 July, highlighted the role of youth in different areas of work under the UN Major Group of Children and Youth umbrella, including policy and advocacy, youth action, capacity building and knowledge generation. The side-event focused on role of shadow reporting, youth-led innovations and solutions for the SDGs, and the importance of addressing the barriers to the success of youth led initiatives.
In the side-event, SDSN Youth presented their recently prepared policy brief on ‘Supporting youth-led innovation to achieve the SDGs’ under the youth action theme, along with Maximilian Mueller from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Boris Bulayev of Educate!, one of the youth solutions featured in SDSN Youth’s Youth Solutions Report.
Through its policy brief, SDSN Youth highlighted the challenges that young innovators face in delivering solutions to the SDGs and identified key benefits arising from youth-led innovation for SDGs. The IUCN representative, which discussed the PANORAMA solutions platform (a partner of SDSN Youth for the Youth Solutions Report), spoke of the contributions of youth-led solutions to environmental conservation, while Mr. Bulyaev shared the lesson learned while working to develop the skills of thousands of young people entering the job market in challenging conditions in East Africa. All the participants emphasized the importance of supporting the scaling of youth solutions to contribute to the achievement of SDGs and called for continuous engagement of young people at different levels (local, national and international).
On 19 July, young advocates joined Ministers from Denmark, Indonesia and Ethiopia to participate in another youth-focused event titled ‘Youth and the SDGs: From Local Roots to Global Reality’. The event provided a platform for young leaders from Europe, Asia and Africa who have led their own monitoring and accountability processes inside and outside formal government structures. Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake recognized the efforts of many youth-led organizations for their meaningful contribution towards the implementation and monitoring of SDGs.
On 20 July, the Youth Envoy used the opportunity to host an informal dialogue with some of the youth delegates and representatives of youth-led and youth-focused organizations attending at the HLPF. This dialogue brought about a fruitful discussion on the priorities and ideas of young people working towards the SDGs, and set the tone for future close collaboration between the Envoy and youth representatives from different organizations and countries.
Sushil Rajagopalan is a Project Officer for Solutions Initiatives with SDSN Youth. He is currently engaged as Research Assistant with the Graduate School of Sustainability of Arizona State University, where he is also pursuing his PhD in Sustainability. He holds a Masters in Sustainable Development Practice from TERI University.
Sushil has previously worked with TERI University, the Institute of Rural Management of Anand (IRMA) and the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. For past four years, he has been working on projects relating to climate resilient development in South-east Asia with sectoral focus on energy and agriculture.