The ambition of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is certainly inspiring.  Among other things, the agenda pledges to leave no one behind. But how can we make sure that these far-reaching goals are actually achieved? One way is to understand that young people are holding the key to ensure the active participation and engagement of young people.


The master key is that today, we are 1.8 billion young people globally whom are often poorly represented and marginalized from global decision-making processes. The lack of youth participation must not be taken for granted, as it limits access to progress in a environment where the door of the development agenda is generally closed to all but the most privileged, educated, and experiences.  As both a young person and youth advocate, I see great enthusiasm among my peers in their work within the networks that l collaborate with across the globe in pursuit of sustainable solutions and creative strategies for development.  However, there is a collective frustration at the lack of meaningful participation of youth in decision-making.  Young people often feel relegated to the periphery of decision-making, rather than being included emphatically in the process.  But when it comes to achieving sustainable development, young people are holding the key.

Below are the doors we as development actors can open to maximize youth participation in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Youth Engagement Door.

This is a door that needs unlocking.  Information should be shared at a frequency that speaks to youth, and this includes making language more accessible.  If it is too wordy, jargon-heavy or dense, young people will be discouraged from connecting with the heartfelt ideas beneath.  Capitalizing on digital and social media reach is also a great way to reach out to this tech-savvy generation and to mobilize them via the channels that they are already familiar and comfortable with.

Young people’s intimacy with digital technology paves the way for them to be key actors in holding leaders accountable on their promises. By digitally tracking data, young people can follow their governments’ spending and track progress on development targets, such as the SDGs.  Indeed, this is a really urgent issue —the launch of the SDGs has taken place recently, but we must ask what use they have if we can’t measure progress due to lack of data.  Right now, the world’s governments do not have more than 70 percent of the data they need to track progress, but tapping into technology and launching data revolution could change all of this.

Empowering Youth.

The next door of engagement is to support young people’s inclusion in decision-making by empowering them to draw on their creativity and potential.  To benefit from quality youth input, we must work with young people as beneficiaries, partners and leaders, and see them as initiators of development themselves.  This might require capacity-building and professional training, but young people should not be excluded when things get technical.  Of course, a sure way to discourage youth participation and diminish trust in leaders is to resort to tokenism.  Youth contributions must be taken seriously and institutions need to create spaces for youth to assume participative and influential roles.

Through successful engagement and empowerment, young people will have the capacity and the confidence to contribute to decisions that will shape the world that they will inherit.  Talk with us, listen to us, and give us space to contribute.  Given that the future world will soon be our present, it seems only fair that we have an active role in determining the planet we will soon be responsible for.


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