In Nigeria, when you hear sayings such as“the young shall grow” or “children are the leaders of tomorrow” you definitely know that these words are being addressed by a guardian, teacher (or a good or corrupt leader!) to a group of young people.

In my country, the youth are not viewed favourably; often typecast as a demographic of drug addicts, flippant delinquents or a goofy subset of the populace who are only eager to spend, destroy, or exploit resources without ever producing.  There is a discord between the various characters most elders perceive young people to be, against the good notion adolescents may envisage of their own futures.  But why?

Globally, we say the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are for the particular benefit of those who will turn 25 years of age by the year 2030.  This is one of the most brilliant plans for youth that I have heard of in a very long time, but with it comes further questions of how these goals can be achieved if those who these visions are meant for are not represented or engaged.  This is particularly noteworthy in the context of the media, the perpetual scapegoat of all vices in interaction, communication and comprehension.

There is a role that the media is well-suited to play in securing the SDG’s by the year 2030, but that role greatly requires engagement with young people.

If you ask me, many media professionals are not inclined to agree with me.  When it comes to the battle of funding versus yield, the media tends to skew towards the more tested and battle-worn industry careerists.  It’s not out of contempt, but risk mitigation… although in my country, it probably is also strongly tied to the Nigerian pidgin proverb that says: “better soup na money kill am”, which means “to get a rich and palatable soup for a meal, you will have to spend good money.”  In the media world, many would prefer to pay more for high-quality production, crew and talent than risk a lower investment on an untested but ambitious young person.

But almost everyone has, at some stage or other, dreamt of being elevated by the power of media to make a difference: in their own lives, or their family’s, or on the lives of others who receive their message.  And not without good reason: the media is able to create everlasting impact on the lives of children and adults alike through compelling and digestible messaging.  In a development context, it can be a tool to advocate for the importance of hygiene, routine immunisation, education, or why we must respect the rights of girls and women – and better still, it can be done through local language to create change at a grassroots level.

The potential for a convergence between development and mainstream media is limited only by our imaginations (and the dreaded funding!): a small column in a newspaper with a large readership base can detail the significance of the seventeen SDGs to the future of Nigerian youth, thereby influencing their perceptions of the world as well as those of adults who may not recognize nor understand the value youth can bring to an economic or political space.

Such initiatives cost little, but can readily be managed, run or marketed to young people for the empowerment of Nigeria as a whole.  Partnership between young people and the media can see ongoing, unbridled impact at all levels; Just imagine if all the televised programmed being consumed by kids carried a holistic message about the importance of washing hands, avoiding food wastage, or the importance of quality education or ending violence against women in a way that was entertaining, rather than authoritative.  Programs like Sesame Street and Captain Planet have furthered these agendas in some countries and some contexts, but the same global message cannot apply in every individual country or community.  Personalized, context-appropriate and culturally-appropriate media to advocate for development is not just an option for the empowerment of Nigerian youth as agents of change, it is an opportunity to empower the entire nation.

I can confidently say that this is one generation of young people who place a concerted focus on cultivating worldviews based on the realities they encounter, and actively learn from what they see around them and the media used to communicate with them. Therefore, I feel that media advocates and industry professionals should feel obligated, in one way or another, to contribute to the attainment of the SDGs in their own work… if only, in these early days of a 15-year project, by acknowledging the porousness and malleability of young minds, and that whatever we feed them today will contribute to their growth.  So let’s feed them more knowledge about what a sustainable future will look like when crafted by their hands.

 

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