On 8-10 August 2019, SDSN Youth partnered with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation (FAF) to host the 24th Session of the Youth Assembly at George Washington University in Washington, DC. 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. 

This year the conference was guided by the theme “New Horizons for Global Youth” and aimed to tackle four focus areas – Human Development, Environment, Peace and Security, and Technology. Participants had an opportunity to attend various panel discussions, hands-on workshops, insightful keynotes, and networking sessions to gain resources and opportunities they need to create impact.

The conference started with an opening ceremony on Thursday evening and inspirational welcoming remarks from Andrew Rabens, Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues, U.S. State Department and keynotes from Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist and Shamil Idriss, CEO, Search for Common Ground. 

On the second day of the conference, Sam Loni, Global Coordinator, SDSN-Youth and Kayla Colyard, Events Project Lead, SDSN-Youth along with representatives from the Hunger Project, Habitat for Humanity, and Save the Children USA participated in the Ending Poverty: The Resources We Need panel. 

Later that day, Sam and Kayla facilitated a workshop titled, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD): Building a Movement Starts in the Classroom which attracted approximately 100-150 delegates. The session was focused on the crucial importance of education for achieving the SDGs. In breakout groups, delegates were challenged to develop communications campaigns that would support ESD implementation in schools and present their pitches targeting various groups of stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers, administrators and local officials. Diverse background within groups encouraged dialogue and innovative approach to finding a better solution. The session helped delegates to develop concrete skills for spreading education on the SDGs within their communities and guided them through the programs and resources SDSN Youth offers that they could make use of after the conference.

The afternoon workshop held by Sam Loni and Kayla Colyard was titled: Supporting Youth-led Innovation for the SDGs. Participants learned more about the remarkably innovative work youth were doing to achieve the SDGs in their respective communities and their impact on both local and regional scales. SDSN-Youth guided them through thinking about project creation, and highlighted the Youth Solutions Hub as a powerful tool to help young innovators succeed in scaling their SDG projects. Once again participants were split into groups, but this time they worked together on various innovation challenges, where they were asked to create a project using only three objects in the room, like a pen or a cell phone. After that, participants were directed to the SDG Index and Dashboards to see how their innovation could be implemented in their countries and to take note of where their country ranks on SDG performance. 

Aside from then SDSN Youth sessions, the team attended a very useful workshop “Harnessing Technology and Social Media for Your Cause” led by Sarah Swan, Marketing Manager, Media Cause that we’d like to share some insight from. The session revolved around the incredible power of technology to help raise awareness and support for any project, campaign or initiative, and how to turn social media into a tool that brings you a great advantage. Sarah presented delegates a step by step guide to make their social media efforts successful.

First, she recommended participants start with the theory of change - think of what keeps you up at night thinking, “If only that was different… then...” and make your mission crystal clear. Next important step would be to identify who holds the power for change, think of: decision makers (world leaders, corporate leaders), influencers (journalists, bloggers), and your allies (NGOs, other activists). It is important then to build steps to change - start with your end goal and move backwards to create a blueprint. Then you would need to mobilize collective power. Your decision makers can’t ignore calls, emails, social media activations that go viral, boycotts - make them feel ashamed! Other helpful tips would be to pitch influencers, find allies and amplify your work, attend physical events, and most importantly share frequent updates with your network to keep the momentum. 

Another interesting block regarding social media was about creating engaging content. Go live often, use rich imagery, use video, don’t be afraid of sharing other people’s or organization’s content, use hashtags and tags, and don’t forget to use different messaging for different platforms. When you craft your message remember to keep it simple and concrete - the meaning has to be the same for everyone, as well as believable and emotional, make it unexpected. When you tell a story, remember that story of one is usually more impactful than story of many. Remember Greta Thunberg? And don’t forget to activate your message - ask! Be specific: ask to share it with 3 friends, watch a video, sign a petition, volunteer for X non-profit or donate money. As a final step, keep in mind that you should measure all your social media efforts by defining KPI, set smart goals and finally optimize your strategy based on the results. And of course, remember to solicit feedback from your community - you can get the data from quizzes, surveys, polls, and interviews. 

Special thanks to the team members who were on the ground in DC representing SDSN Youth - Yulia Lesnichaya, Kayla Colyard, and Sam Loni. 

A big thank you to Xan Northcott, Andrew MacDonald, and the entire FAF team for including us in the 24th Session of the Youth Assembly programming. Congratulations on a successful first conference outside of New York and we are looking forward to seeing and supporting the continued growth of the Youth Assembly globally.

 
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Yulia Lesnichaya is the Project Officer for the Local Pathways Fellowship at the Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth Initiative, based in Washington, DC. Yulia holds a Master’s degree in Communications from the City University of New York and a Bachelor’s in Marketing from the Moscow State University of Economics, Statistics, and Informatics, Russia.