Boosting youth engagement in sustainable development, what will it take?

How can young people receive the support and knowledge they need to innovate and lead the sustainable future? How can youth engage in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? These are the questions that were on the discussion table at the SIANI Youth’s and SDSN Youth’s joint event Ung kraft för Agenda 2030(“Youth’s power for the 2030 Agenda”) at the Swedish political week of Almedalen 2017.

Photo from the Gobal Festival of Action for Sustainable Development. Photo by: photothek/Ina Fassbender via Flickr.

 There is an indifference and unawareness about concerns such as global hunger, poverty or overconsumption across all generations, but somehow a lot of responsibility and blame is often put on youth. Whether young people are more indifferent than people of other age groups is a matter of sociological research. However, even if everyone is willing to engage in the issues of global development, it can only take off in a favourable environment. There are many barriers for youth to engage in the implementation of the SDGs, such as access to finance, access to markets and to relevant networks. Mentorship opportunities and lack of exposure are also on the list of barriers, as mentioned in the recently published Youth Solutions Report written by SDSN Youth.

So, what should we focus on to create conditions that would not only bring youth on board, but also help to fully realize their potential for a sustainable future?

“Youth is 100% of the world population in the future”

“We are the first generation to that can end up worse than our parents. But we are also the first generation to be able to eradicate poverty and the last generation that must solve the climate change challenge. Youth represents 50% of the world's population today, but we are 100% of the world population and the society in the future,”said Björn Fondén, Swedish Youth Representative of the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2017. Thus, he was pointing out that there is an enormous concern about the future among young people today.

First and foremost, according to Linnéa Lundmark, a young woman who coordinates the SDSN Youth network in Northern Europe, youth should be acknowledged as an actor and partner in the fulfilment of the Global Goals.

She pointed out that young people often desire to be a part of something greater than themselves. “Many young entrepreneurs and young professionals want to be change-makers, they want to improve structures, services or products or come up with new better ones and they want to crack the codes to unsolved problems,” she said. So, mobilising around the Global Goals is an outstanding opportunity for youth worldwide!

Firstly, it was the international community that developed the Global Goals and, secondly, it was a very inclusive process, where young adults and professionals got to give input. “This kind of ‘world mobilisation’ is something that should work as a carrot for young people to engage with,”Linnéa said. It is hence very important that young people are taken seriously and are equally included in the implementation processes of the SDGs. “What’s the point of receiving plans and ideas in 10-15 years when we, the young, become leaders and decision-makers, if we haven’t had a say about them here and now?” she stressed.

Linnéa Lundmark, SDSN Youth. Photo: Anneli Sundin, SIANI. 

From global to personal

From a global perspective, there are many different things we can do to engage young people in the implementation of the Global Goals, but we must remember that the conditions for engagement are very different depending on where you live. A challenge lies in the fact that you need to be able to relate to the Global Goals personally and at the level of your local reality. If you live in an area exposed to, for example, violence and conflicts, it might be that forest conservation will not be a major concern.

Furthermore, Carin Jämtin, Sida’s Director General, said we need to factor for two different groups of youth in society: one that consists of highly motivated young people who believe they can make a change and will work hard for achieving the SDGs, and another group that consists of people who do not believe their actions can have an impact. Governments and civil society should not wait until the latter group reaches them, they need to make sure to reach these young people who are likely to be able to contribute significantly to the fulfilment of the SDGs. Rikard Lundgren, a food entrepreneur and the chair of the food waste organisation Food2Change, filled in: “It is very important to help promote and empower young people to inspire engagement. The existing social structures dictate what youth can and cannot do. We have to work to remove some of these structures”.

Despite the differences, some factors are common for everyone, Carin Jämtin explained further: “Many people believe that they will get a higher income if they move to a city. But this is not always the case. We have to show that it is possible to live well in the countryside.”

The Youth Solutions Report shows evidence of how one does not necessarily have to live in a city to find many networking opportunities or have a lifelong and advanced education to succeed. There are many inclusive activities to get involved with outside of urban areas.

People in the countryside need to be close to markets and have convinient access to infrastructure, as well as opportunities for education and training, without having to move. Adam Arnesson, a young farmer from Sweden, added that today, it is profitable for farmers to collaborate with cities, food tech industries and urban farming initiatives, because doing so will increase their chances to access the right markets and the right knowledge to successfully farm land in the countryside.

Carin Jämtin, Sida, Adam Arnesson, farmer and Björn Fondén, UN HLPF Sustainable Development. Photo: Anneli Sundin, SIANI. 

Adam further highlighted how important it is to start reflecting about the meaningfulness of one’s work. He himself, became a farmer when he understood how and why his family and previous generations had taken care of their farm and the reasons to why it is such a beautiful place today with high biodiversity and open landscapes. Meaningfulness for him is to provide a main product or service – a biosphere needed for humans to survive. “This is why I call myself a biosphere steward,” Adam explains.

“There are few industries or sectors where you can get evident sustainability results as quickly as in farming. And where you can easily contribute to open landscapes, pollination, biodiversity and other ecosystem services. And I think that it can give meaning to many. Everyone who works with farming and food directly or indirectly, start talking about the meaningfulness of what you do instead of talking about high environmental taxes, high animal welfare standards or milk crises!”

According to Adam the main pride of the farming industry used to be to produce as many pigs per sow as possible, harvest as high yields as possible from every hectare and drive large tractors. Instead, it should take pride in taking care of the earth. “A traditional approach to food production with low tolerance for innovation hampers the potential of young farmers,” he concluded.

Björn Fondén, added: “It is crucial that youth and young people in the civil society receive support now more than ever. We do reach out to these groups, but more needs to be done”.  Youth-led projects and ideas need to be acknowledged and be given space. They need to be a voice in the formulation of policies and in the implementation of the Global Goals. “The Swedish Government must show clearer objectives; Give targeted support and investments, and stipulate that it wishes to include young people in a meaningful way,” Björn concluded.   

This blog was written by SIANIs communication officer Anneli Sundin 

Watch the recording of the seminar here.

Check out the tweets from the seminar.

Did you find this topic interesting? Check out another SIANI Youth blog written by Stephen Vundi Mungula: Age Aside: Young leaders are still leaders 

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