We are 2030!

For the first time the world agreed that youth empowerment is a way to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This presents enormous opportunities, pressure and expectations on adolescents in 2015 when the goals are adopted. Realizing that it is “you” that is often looked at as immature or not skilled enough to be responsible for making it happen by the time you reach your adulthood. How can UN support, empower and prepare youth to be the driving force for the SDGs? In Asia and the Pacific, UNV jointly with UNDP are developing a regional partnership with and for youth to deliver on the SDGs by 2030.

In March 2016 we called for Video Stories of young changemakers in the Asia and the Pacific asking them to articulate their vision and examples of volunteer actions they are taking for inclusive and peaceful societies — an enabler for the SDGs. Finally the amazingly diverse group of 19 extremely brave young people from Asia ad the Pacific was selected that truly challenged the thinking of adolescence and is an ample example of the capacities of this generation to any policymaker. Why? These young people learn sign language (instead of a stereotypical foreign language) to be able to work with youth with disabilities and youth from SOGIE [1]and eventually create the Youth Diversity Alliance at the age of 22 in Indonesia. Or amidst all the country challenges start the first ever food bank at the age of 25 in Vietnam to fight poverty and contribute to sustainable consumption. And finally a young woman living with HIV aged 23 in Nepal empowering young affected populations to raise their unheard voices, providing them with a platform for a strong unified voice.

We gathered this amazing group for the first workshop “We Are 2030: Youth Driving Forward Inclusive and Peaceful Societies in Asia-Pacific” in Bangkok in June 2016. Through a very much youth-led sessions on regional development challenges and understanding conflict prevention and dimensions of inclusion, ways to “leaving no one behind” the group agreed that through volunteerism and “go-getter” attitude young people can achieve more. Some group members realized only at the workshop that they are in fact volunteers in everything they do as social advocates and activists but there is a lack of skills-based volunteerism and understanding volunteerism in the region, need for cross-border volunteer exchanges, “offline” impact of volunteerism and measuring volunteerism. The workshop culminated in the unquestioning willingness of youth to work together on difficult topics related to inclusion. It was clear that these young people were demanding for the space for regional action and UNV and UNDP welcomed this and will continue to provide support. With support of UNV and UNDP and in the presence of numerous partners and supporters, the Regional Asia-Pacific Youth Network was launched. With the tagline of #weare2030 and #700milstrong young changemakers chose “2030 Youth Force” as an empowering name for the network. Armed with knowledge on inclusive and peaceful societies they presented regional and country level youth-led activities targeted at SDGs. As a first step and in order to raise awareness and attract more young people to this movement of inclusion and change, the group plans to launch a massive campaign #sendloveON in social media appealing peers to act in their communities and share stories of change.

My big learning from the workshop was that young people absolutely need the space and opportunities to drive SDGs in the next 15 years, and moreover they have absolutely all the skills and capacities to do so. The trust, belief in them and invitation at a table to being part of the discussions of national development plans or localization of SDGs is all that it takes.

The International Youth Day (2016) themed “The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production,” is around the corner. Although one day is not enough to celebrate all the 700 million youth in the Asia and the Pacific, we rather need a decade, UNV and UNDP will jointly launch the aspirations and futuristic blogs of young changemakers looking 15 years ahead. As a UNV Regional Youth Specialist I already see the seeds of brighter inclusion of young people in the Asia and the Pacific into decision making and shaping up the future. For the IYD this year there are breakthrough developments for youth taking place with countries like Myanmar, which is undergoing through changes in power, prioritizing comprehensive youth policy and engaging different groups of youth across the country to shape what truly is the policy for and about them. Or another example is the UNV supported celebration of volunteerism through futsal tournament in Nepal bringing together youth and adults. I believe that through finding creative ways of volunteering or innovating with volunteerism young people can find themselves and be empowered and with this confidence and through their actions prove that the SDGs are possible to achieve. If they are not left behind…

[1] SOGIE stands for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (previously known as LGBTIQ)