According to the United Nations, we can build a world without hunger, with universal access to education, and with no structural inequalities in just 13 years. It sounds impossible, but in September 2015, 193 world leaders committed to 17 ‘Global Goals’ for Sustainable Development. In doing so they committed to end extreme poverty, to fight inequality and injustice, and to curb climate change – all by the year 2030.
These universal goals were the result of a massive consultation on what we, as global citizens, want to achieve for the long-term future of our world. Achieving them is plausible and, despite a few recent setbacks, the commitment shown by world leaders has been promising. This International Youth Day, it’s important that the next focus is on ensuring young people are at the heart their delivery.
Engaging young people in the Global Goals is different to youth tokenism. Young people are often ‘included’ as a mere gesture at summits, conferences, and forums around the world. Not only is such tokenism inherently patronising, but it also misses the fundamental reason why young people need to be given a voice in the strategic planning and implementation of global policies. Young people bring about their own unique expertise and perspectives, and they also constitute an enormous and growing demographic. There are now 1.8 billion people aged 10-24, almost a third of the world’s population, and they form the majority in the world’s 48 least economically developed countries.
Yet their importance is about more than just their number. Having been involved with several charitable organisations centred upon youth activism, like Raleigh International as a Youth Trustee, I can attest to the energy, enthusiasm and depth of interest among today’s young people on issues as broad as political representation and food poverty. The stereotype of apathetic young people just isn’t true. Over the last five years I’ve met and worked alongside passionate and engaged young people who are genuinely committed to making a tangible difference in their communities and around the world.
Not only are young people compassionate, they are connected unlike ever before. At the touch of a button, they can reach out to other global citizens worldwide. Among young people, this interconnected world has facilitated a greater appreciation of other cultures, rather than a desire to homogenise our differences. It is our generation who lead the forward-thinking debates on the world’s toughest issues, who understand that our strength derives from our differences, who appreciate that maintaining one’s cultural roots is an important aspect of mutual respect but know that this doesn’t stop us from working together to achieve our shared goals and ambitions. We are the generation where being ‘woke’ isn’t cool, it’s an expectation of being a global citizen.
But young people don’t just care about the issues facing our world, they are the ones most affected if we fail to achieve the Global Goals. Millions of young people face the prospect of early marriage, early childbearing, incomplete education, fast-moving pandemics, climate change, and the threat of HIV and AIDS. Youth unemployment rates seeing record highs in both developed and developing countries. Increasing young people’s knowledge, improving their services, and encouraging participation in programme decisions will help all young people to lead healthier and more productive lives. We need to hear the voices of those whose lives will be shaped for decades to come by the challenges the Global Goals were created to address.
Young people cannot change the world alone. We need development organisations and those in positions of influence to empower young people to be at the forefront of social change and activism. The Global Goals exist to link the world’s most pressing issues together and highlight the unprecedented collective response they require. To succeed they must be championed by the new global generation, by the young people who will eventually inherit our world.
Meg Kneafsey is a Raleigh ICS alumna, having completed her placement in Nicaragua in 2013. She is has since joined Raleigh International as a Youth Trustee. She is extremely passionate about youth empowerment and has worked with several organisations which hold youth at their core, including vInspired and Step up to Serve.