Alhendawi: Investment in Youth “Ticket to a Better Future”

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“With half of the world’s population under 25 years of age, and 17 goals to be achieved in 14 years, we just can’t afford to leave half of the population behind,” Ahmad Alhendawi, then the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, observed at IPI’s January 27th 777 Club reception on the theme of young people’s roles in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As the largest demographic in many of the world’s most unstable areas, youth have a strong interest in curbing violence. Yet despite this, the “youth bulge” is seen by many policymakers as a problem, not an opportunity, especially against the background of youth recruitment by ISIS and other extremist groups.

Mr. Alhendawi cautioned against this negative perception, instead describing youth as potential agents of change. This large generation of young people could be the very thing to offer governments a “ticket to a better future,” with the right investment in their human capital now, he said.

This and other sentiments were captured in a video produced at the event. 

Michael Grant, Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN, drew attention to how youth input shaped the language that went into the SDGs, and as such, how they naturally will play a vital role in their implementation. They are already doing so in Canada, he said, through a Youth Council which advises the Prime Minister.

Youth can “provide advice to governments, to organizations like the UN, on their concerns, their interests,” he said. “I think that’s something that we’ve learned finally, after a number of years—youth are not just leaders of tomorrow, they’re leaders of today. We need to take their views into account as we devise policy, and implement this vital development agenda.”

Sanna Kaskeala, Programme and Policy Analyst, UN Women, encouraged young people to remain informed on their country’s situation and their rights, “holding decision makers accountable for those rights,” as well as, “advocating for space for themselves to be able to take part in those decision making processes.”

Saba Ismail, Co-founder and executive director of Aware Girls, said the the landmark resolution of the UN Security Council, Resolution 2250, which calls for UN member states to elevate the voices of youth in decision-making at all levels, offered youth an important tool at the grassroots and city levels. “Through this resolution the grassroots level civil society can create a global impact,” she said.

Lord Leomer Pomperada, President, World Youth Alliance, agreed that with youth now being heard in more policy formulation and program planning, “young people need to make sure the dignity of the person is placed at the center of sustainable development.”

Answering a question about how institutions and older generations can support young people in achieving the SDGs and sustaining peace, Caleb Otto, Permanent Representative of Palau to the UN, acknowledged that many governments “have not really inspired the young people.” He called for a creation of “space to use their knowledge and really harness their energy.”

Finally, offering perspective informed by her own experience as President of the membership committees team, at AIESEC (International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences)—the world’s largest non-profit student-run organization—Adriana Villar offered direct examples of how young people can take action for the SDGs.

First, she recognized that many people still do not have awareness about what the SDGs are, and youth can play a role by informing friends and family. “Everybody should know about them,” she said, “regardless of the social background that they have, regardless of political views, or their economical and political situation.”

Second, she called for action. “Young people should be out there, getting their hands dirty,” she said. “There are easy ways we can contribute through various small actions, every single day.”