This article is adapted from the preface of first edition of the Youth Solutions Report. It was also published in SDSN Youth’s blog. Dario Piselli is the Project Leader for Solutions Initiatives of SDSN Youth and the editor-in-chief of the Youth Solutions Report.
On 31 January 2017, SDSN Youth, the global youth division of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), will officially launch the first edition of the Youth Solutions Report at the annual United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum (taking place on 30-31 January in New York). The Youth Solutions Report bears the fruits of a year-long process in which SDSN Youth, in partnership with Ashoka, PANORAMA (managed by IUCN and GIZ), Sustainia, The Resolution Project, and many other supporters, sourced youth-led solutions across all countries and regions to showcase the innovative approach that young people are taking in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
With the help of a high-level Advisory Panel comprising world-leading experts in different disciplines, the Report identifies 50 youth-led projects, including entrepreneurial ventures, educational programs, research activities, and charity initiatives, and provides them with a platform that addresses the difficulties that young innovators face in securing funding, building capacity, communicating their experience and scaling their efforts. Covering an international spectrum, encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving and showcasing solutions from a broad range of fields and sectors, the Report closely aligns with the 17 SDGs and 169 targets that will shape the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The 2030 Agenda from Youth Needs to Youth Skills
When ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development‘ was agreed at the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, there was widespread agreement on the fact that the international community’s progress towards a sustainable future should be a matter of utmost importance for all inhabitants of this planet, but particularly for younger generations.
Across the Goals and targets included in the Agenda, a close look at the available data (which is, unfortunately, often missing or incomplete) reveals the unique toll that poverty, war, lack of opportunities, social exclusion, climate change and environmental degradation are taking on young people worldwide.
The primary issue that comes to mind is, of course, unemployment. In 2016, the International Labour Organization estimated that the global unemployment rate for youth has reached 13.1 percent, three times the adult unemployment rate and affecting young women more than men in almost all regions of the world. In addition, it is especially worrying that up to two thirds of youth in developing economies are currently without work, not studying, or engaged in irregular or informal employment, thereby fueling the risk of social unrest and further affecting the likelihood of conflict and migration.
Aside from the direct threat of unemployment, however, there are multiple, equally important dimensions to the challenges faced by young people in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Notwithstanding vast improvements in education and health since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, for example, the number of children and adolescents who are not in school is on the rise, whilst more than 2.6 young people aged 10-24 continue to die each year, mostly due to preventable causes. Today, more than 600 million youth live in fragile and conflict-affected territories, and the number of young people forcibly displaced by conflicts and disasters has skyrocketed since it was last measured in 2011, when it was already high at 14 million. Access to financial and social assets and business development services, which are crucial to helping youth make their own economic decisions and get out of poverty, remains an arduous tasks, and environmental change now threatens to directly erode youth livelihoods or aggravate the impact of other factors, such as health and work opportunities, in many countries.
On the one hand, the 2030 Agenda emphasized the need to address some of these daunting challenges, including unemployment, access to education and health care, and general lack of opportunities for the full realization of young people’s rights and capabilities. Moreover, it identified children and young women and men as critical agents for change, and lauded their ‘infinite capacities for activism in the creation of a better world’.
Why are youth-led solutions crucial to achieving the SDGs?
Yet, when describing the situation facing young people, who currently comprise one fourth of the global population, one aspect continues to be largely overlooked: the incredible potential of mobilizing and supporting their active contribution, rather than just discussing about their needs and problems. Young people not only have a stake because they will be the ones implementing the SDGs and because their well-being will depend on achieving them, but also (and especially) because they are part of the most educated generation in the history of the world, and through their skills, creativity, and enthusiasm they are uniquely positioned to deliver transformative change across multiple sectors of society. Globally, it has been estimated that young people are 1.6 times more likely than older adults to become entrepreneurs, have higher literacy rates, and are more networked than the global population as a whole. In fact, in the world’s least developed countries, young people are nearly three times more likely than the general population to be using the internet.
In other words, ranging from entrepreneurship to volunteering, scientific research, educational initiatives and all sorts of innovative endeavours, young people are already playing a major role in pushing our countries towards sustainable development. To name but a few, in this Report the founders of Liter of Light are shown bringing over 750,000 affordable solar lights to 15 countries; the talented team behind BenBen operates a Blockchain-based land registry that facilitates secure land transactions to encourage investments and transparent land resource management; FinFighters run a citizen shark science program to collect genetic data and information from Moroccan fishing ports and market; and the group running the SHAPE project uses mobile technology to promote citizens’ e-participation in their city’s public life.
This is why, now more than ever, the efforts of young people should be celebrated and showcased at all relevant levels. This is also why we believe it is crucial to bridge the gap that still exists between these youth-led solutions and those stakeholders, including businesses, governments, and fellow citizens, who could further empower, support and invest in them, once they know more about the incredible impact that youth are having across their communities and regions.
By launching the Youth Solutions Report, we aim to give further voice to young leaders and innovators, by allowing them to communicate their undertakings, forge new partnerships and ultimately be the driving force behind the 2030 Agenda. Whether you are a policymaker, an impact investor, a philanthropist or a young individual yourself, we strongly encourage you to be part of this exciting initiative, not only by learning more about the 50 Solutions and Ideas that are included in the Report, but most importantly through your active support to youth solutions.
In 2017, SDSN Youth will use the Youth Solutions Report as the first step of a comprehensive, long-term strategy that will allow young changemakers to have access to multiple opportunities for funding, technical assistance, mentoring, and networking. We look forward to engaging with existing and new partners on joint events, actions and programs that create these opportunities, and to do that we need the widest possible support at all relevant levels.
Let’s make sure that the untapped potential of youth is finally mobilized to meet the challenge of sustainable development.