Youth, Innovation and SDG Achievement

Published on 8th February 2017

At 1.8 billion, there are now more adolescents and young people (aged 10-24) in the world than at any other time in history.  Approximately 9 out of 10 people between the ages of 10 and 24 live in less developed countries.  In some of these countries, young people represent upwards of 80% of the population.

As their numbers continue to grow, proportionately and in absolute terms, young people will represent the largest new cohort of adults the world has seen. This generation is the first which could actually eradicate extreme poverty, and the last to be able to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Investments made now in young people and changes made to the way they are engaged will dramatically shape the future of societies.

Against this backdrop, the ECOSOC Youth Forum sent a clear message: we must actively partner with young people today and empower them to drive the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, particularly at national and local levels.  

And to promote youth empowerment we must foster an enabling environment for their participation in development — to address discrimination against youth, meet their multi-sectoral needs; promote and support youth-inclusive legislative and policy frameworks; enable the opening of new spaces for their engagement and leadership; mainstream them in all relevant aspects of development and peace; and work with them as advocates and equal partners for change.   

To this end, in July 2016 UNDP launched our first Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace (“Youth-GPS,”). The programme represents our systematic response to the challenges young people face by providing cutting-edge support to youth empowerment in all development contexts where we have a presence.

Through the Youth-GPS programme we are proud to contribute to a powerful global movement of young people’s organizations, civil society and UN partners ensuring that young people are involved at every stage of SDG implementation—from advocacy and localization to monitoring and accountability – and are connected to decision-makers.

We are also supporting new lines of research on key issues such as modalities of youth engagement, youth-focused SDG indicators and young people’s role in reaching the most marginalized--ensuring that “no one is left behind.”

One exciting UNDP youth programme is the Youth Leadership Programme (YLP), an initiative, now entering its third year, that supports young people in the Arab Region to become engaged citizens, innovative problem-solvers, effective leaders and successful agents of change.  
In 2016 UNDP, together with UN Women and the Office of the UN Secretary General's Envoy on Youth, supported over 1,000 young women and men to explore and pioneer new solutions for sustainable development in their communities. A regional workshop followed where 12 young people with the strongest initiatives were selected as YLP Change Makers. 

Why do programmes like this matter? It always bears repeating that young women and men represent a huge and influential demographic. In the Arab States, two-thirds of the population is below the age of thirty. This generation of young people is more educated, active and connected to the outside world, and have a greater awareness of their realities and higher aspirations for a better future.

Yet, in the region, increasing educational attainment has not been matched by employment prospects. The unemployment rate among young women in the Arab region is 47%, more than the double of the global average.

At the same time, young innovators are bursting old divisions by joining a keen social consciousness with art, technology, science and new mobilization techniques. It is our charge to invest in their creativity and skills, and to link them to decision-making arenas to help them help us meet our common challenges.

Empowerment will require expanding the opportunities available to young people – through economies which generate decent work and encourage entrepreneurship, political environments which encourage freedom of expression and active participation, and social systems which promote equality and act against all forms of discrimination. It also means supporting them in acquiring social innovation skills and establishing an enabling environment to lay the foundation for a peaceful and sustainable tomorrow.

By Magdy Martínez-Solimán

UNDP’s Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support. 

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