The world is getting younger. One in five people are aged between 15 and 24. Yet, young people are often not in the places where decisions are made, being at risk of exclusion and inequality. They face obstacles to political participation, are more vulnerable to poverty than the average population, and their number in conflict areas has dramatically increased in past years.At the same time, it has been estimated that young people are more likely than older adults to become entrepreneurs, have higher literacy rates and are more connected through technology than ever before. These qualities make the youngsters a very powerful tool to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To give voice to their ideas, the 2019 UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum gathered more than 1,000 young leaders from around the world, to share how they would achieve the Global Goals. The forum is the world’s largest youth forum and the only official intergovernmental meeting that brings youth representatives together with government ministers and officials.
At the centre of this year’s discussion was the role of young people in building a future without conflict and inequalities. It is crucial that they are able to better connect, and participate fully to sustain peace and bridge the gaps in the areas of gender, poverty, education, disability and political inclusion.
Here, six young inspiring leaders tell us about their work in promoting peace and inclusivity.
Creating inclusive spaces
Kasunjith Satanarchchi is the Youth Lead for UNDP in Sri Lanka. He is the first disabled person to have been recruited by UNDP in Asia. Together with his team, he is working to improve the workspaces of UNDP Sri Lanka, and other UN agencies, to include more disabled people. “UNDP has understood the value of being inclusive in the workforce since it has made them think ‘outside the box’ and view things from a different perspective,” he says.
Initiatives include improving accessibility, supplying documents in other formats, such as Braille, and training colleagues. It’s crucial that team members understand the dynamics of disability and that they learn how to work with young people of different abilities, making them feel comfortable and unlocking their potential.
“We need to mainstream disability into the existing workforce fully of UNDP, which cannot be done without the participation of persons with disabilities. We believe that nothing about us without us,” he says.
Rights for everyone
In Europe, young people are still facing barriers to their rights. There are age limits when voting or running for political office, and restricted access to education, quality employment and social protection.
Tina Hocevar, from Slovenia wants to change that. She is a member of the European Commission and Vice-President of the European Youth Forum. She is advocating for the equal rights of young people and for lives free from discrimination. She helped create an interactive online tool, where you can learn more about youth rights.
Designing a future of peace
Christian Achaleke’s outfit was designed by one of the prison’s inmates he has helped through the local organization, Local Youth Corner. Christian is working in Cameroon to prevent young people from violence.
“I grew up with violence in my community, but my mentor, who was the national coordinator of Local Youth Corner at the time, spoke to me about working for peace using my energy and talent to do something positive,” he says.
In 2015, the organization started working with young people in prisons, providing them with vocational and entrepreneurial skills, counselling, and activities like sports to promote social healing. The inmates learn to produce a diverse range of products, including clothes, and jewelry to help them start a new life once they are released.
Call to climate action
“Danish youth are very much aware that climate change is happening at a very rapid pace and there’s a lot of frustration that the government and the global community is not doing enough,” she says.
The gatherings in front of the parliament every Friday have led to the Danish Youth Climate Council initiative, a group of experts and motivated activists who are directly engaging and recommending initiatives on climate action to the members of parliament and the government. Pia is hopeful that this will result in concrete policy changes.
Ogutu Okudo works as a country manager for the oil and gas company Spring Rock Energy in Kenya. Having broken through the male-dominated world of the energy and extractive sector, Ogutu set herself to encourage and include more young women. In 2011, she founded Women in Energy and Extraction Africa (WEX Africa), a non-profit organization that works in sub-Saharan countries, providing entrepreneurial skills to young women and advocating for their participation in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Girls and women are often the ones fetching gas and water for household tasks. However, little is known about the ways in which energy directly or indirectly affects them. WEX Africa is also implementing programmes to study the impact of oil, gas, mining, nuclear and alternative energy on the livelihoods of women and girls.
“Women normally do jobs like cleaning or cooking, but we want to give them the opportunity to get involved in the entrepreneurial world,” she says.
Regine Guevara, from the Philippines, works with UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) and has also served as an ASEAN Youth Advocate. As a peace activist and educator, Regine has worked with young Rohingya refugees in Malaysia, trained indigenous women in Thailand, and helped to build peace in the Philippines.
Her work with Rohingya refugees in Malaysia focused on teaching English, language and mathematics, which helps them integrate into their new environment. Her work with indigenous women in Thailand focused on job skills for small businesses, and education about raising capital. For indigenous women, finding opportunities through eco-friendly businesses both unlocked their capacity to earn income and ensure environmental sustainability.
“Education comes in many different forms, but, like any development goal, is essentially rooted in building capabilities for peoples and communities to realize their own potential,” she says.
By Daniela Peris, Spanish Social Media and Web Editor Intern at UNDP New York.