As the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) swing into their second year, a new focus across a number of civil society organizations and policy-makers has begun to emerge.  Now, more than ever, the International Development community seeks to engage adolescents and youth on global issues.

 

However, as with all new global agendas, the SDGs have not been without some teething problems.  As this new era of development finds its feet amidst 17 bold objectives, an issue has begun to emerge around the notion of youth engagement; namely, that most engagements are neither sustainable, nor meaningful.

Whilst the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era did a great deal to kick-start youth engagement in development, the platforms allocated to youth were oftentimes tokenistic.  It seemed there were only two options for an aspiring young person to engage, if they were to be included at all:

  • To be the single youth on a high-level panel, only to be drowned out by older, established voices;
     

  • For a comprehensive, youth-centric event to be run as an informal side-event to a main forum, at a usually inconvenient hour, which in turn inhibited engagement from the wider sector.

The largest reason for these teething problems is that International Development is a space with low rates of turnover, which feeds into a perpetuity of the same names, organizations, and ideas.  Despite the rapid progress occurring globally over the last ten, fifteen, and fifty years, there is stagnation in International Development that often sees it struggle to keep up with cataclysmic changes within the community.  Therefore, opportunities to innovate are oftentimes missed as more conventional – if out-dated – practices are given precedence.

And where are the young leaders in this? Working as volunteers, or entry-level administrative employees, punching timecards as the well of innovations within their minds go unnoticed and untapped.

The 2030 Agenda has been proactive about placing the rights of youth at the center of its ethos, but this is not enough.  To truly represent the interests of youth in emerging countries, there must be a cross-functional, cross-cultural representation of these exact demographics on the global stage.  An initiative cannot and must not claim to speak on behalf of a group with whom there has been no consultation, inclusion, or engagement.

Whilst questions and suggestions around the notion of accountability arose frequently at a number of events at the 71st United Nations General Assembly in New York, 2016, the subject of accountability to youth demographics was seldom explored.  Whilst this may be acceptable in the first year of the SDGs, it cannot be as we push towards the 2030 Agenda.  To neglect these important voices is to stack the deck against our own interests.

Wellbeing for Women Africa (WBW) was founded with the explicit purpose of catalyzing youth voices on global issues.  Our platform was crafted to create an accountable, accessible network of Youth Partners from across Africa to speak on the International Development topics that are closest to their hearts.  These insights, which are published on the WBW platform, are disseminated not just across an exclusively youth network, or even an exclusively African network, but around the world – breaking the shackles of echo chambers, and providing an opportunity for change-makers to be accountable to those they seek to support.

The expertise of youth has traditionally been undervalued in not only International Development, but across a number of professional sectors.  However, the world is increasingly recognizing atypical backgrounds and experiences when it comes to defining one as an ‘Expert’.  Our Youth Partners are experts who boast a diversity of lived experiences.  Some of our Youth Contributors are passionate careerists who work in development, whilst others have dedicated themselves to academic study in their fields.  Others, still, have lived experience from the frontlines that permits them to comment authoritatively on which development interventions work, and how others might be improved.

It is possible that this crucial youth demographic is not neglected deliberately, but rather that civil society organizations, governments, and change-makers simply do not know how to locate and engage with young people.  This is why WBW facilitates the connection of change-makers with our Youth Partners, and seeks to elevate and amplify the advocacy of any organization that actively works with young people.

The International Development space has set an ambitious and audacious objective for itself with the SDGs.  Their securement cannot be achieved if we remain married to the same mindsets of yesteryear.  However, we at Wellbeing for Women Africa do believe that with innovation, accountability, and meaningful engagement of all demographics that the sector aims to represent, the SDGs can be achieved.  

 

So much the luckier we are that Africa’s young leaders recognize this need... and they are ready. 

 

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