Emilinah Namaganda from Uganda has been an intern with GWP in Stockholm, Sweden, since September 2016. As her internship comes to an end, she reflects on youth involvement in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Photo: GWP youth event at COP22, Marrakech, Morocco, November 2016.
“Leave no one behind” is the principle on which the historic Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development is grounded. The Agenda sets out 17 sustainable development goals whose aim is to transform the world in areas ranging from poverty reduction to building sustainable cities and communities. The goals are intended to improve the livelihoods of people in all walks of life, including the richest of the developed countries to the poorest of the low-income countries. However, the President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, H. E. Mr. Peter Thomson, emphasized that SDGs can be successfully implemented only if the global public whose livelihoods are to be enhanced is fully aware of the commitments made by their governments in September 2015.
Hence, the role of raising the global public’s awareness of the importance of SDG implementation cannot be overstated. But with such a wide target group how can all relevant stakeholders – especially the “general public” – be reached?
The Office of the President of the General Assembly made several proposals including “inclusion of the SDGs on the school curricula of every country in the world, maximizing the use of traditional media and online communications to bring the message of the SDGs to a new global audience, engaging youth activists in communities around the world and by delivering high-level advocacy at SDG-related events and workshops”.
For me, this statement raises many questions. Will these initiatives be followed through all over the world, given the differences in governance systems, available resources, etc.? Will they be sufficient to reach EVERYONE? For instance, if SDGs are included in school curricula, are there enough people with sufficient knowledge of the SDGs to pass it along to students? In some places, maybe, but in many, perhaps not.
This is where youth come in. In Uganda, youth below the age of 30 years make up over 78% of the population. The country has been recognized as having the youngest population in the world. Although higher than the average for sub-Saharan Africa which stands at 43.2%, many sub-Saharan countries can relate to the opportunities and challenges of such a large youth population. When a large percentage of this population is unemployed and struggling to make a living, it creates a burden on the small sect representing the work force, which inhibits growth of national economies and also promotes low standards of living. On the other hand, young people are innovative, driven, energetic, increasingly more and more educated, and ready to make their world a better place. For instance, research in 2015 revealed Uganda as the most entrepreneurial country in the world.
This is what SDG implementation needs: people interested in making their future better than theirs today, and that of their parents. Youth are curious to find ways to contribute to this vision, and in numbers large enough to reach entire populations. In countries such as Uganda, where young people are almost the entire population, spreading the word of the Agenda 2030 to the general public becomes feasible.
But how can young people be engaged in this vision? There have been several global and regional initiatives where youth have come together to speak out, and communicate ways in which they can be and/or want to be involved. This is a good starting point and necessary to put a face to the desire of youth to be involved. However, this tends to be biased. It is likely that such groups will mostly involve a few, young people with access to platforms at such levels. This does not work, for example, for unemployed youth in Uganda and many from sub-Saharan Africa. It is difficult to spread the word of Agenda 2030 when you are struggling to survive through the month. Not that we are looking for a quick fix or financial help, but instead institutions and governance systems can provide opportunities to implement our innovations and an opportunity to participate in planning our future.
Youth have shown initiative in creating a brighter future for themselves which is in tandem with Agenda 2030. Hence, discussions on SDG communication and implementation should take advantage of this group. However, this can be done effectively only with employed and productive youth. SDG-related initiatives should therefore put a strong focus on how to reduce youth unemployment. More productive and employed youth can contribute substantially to Agenda 2030. No one will be left behind!