by Suraj Sehgal
Photo credit: stocksnap.io
The United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a commitment made by over 190 leaders around the world to change this planet as we know it. With 17 bold goals to tackle massive problems by 2030, including eradicate extreme poverty, fixing climate change, and fighting inequality, not only do the SDGs bring attention to issues that exist in our world today, they work as inspiration for people globally, showing what positive and meaningful feats we can accomplish when we put our hearts and minds together.
On February 17th and 18th, I had the enormous privilege to attend the 2016 Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations in New York. We had numerous panels, inspiring keynote speakers, and workshops with notable leaders in the fields of international development, human rights, and so much more. It was a remarkable opportunity to meet youth from all over the world engaged in life-changing work!
Here are three main lessons that I took away:
1. All of the issues are heavily intertwined.
It is impossible to take and solve any one of the SDGs without addressing the others. For example, I learned from Vanessa Cardenas and her work on the Climático Project at the World Wildlife Fund that we cannot address extreme poverty or having inclusive societies until we also address how climate change is disproportionately effecting minority populations.
In order to make a dent in any one problem, we need to keep in mind the influences that every other issue has on it. We cannot solve for quality education without also taking into account gender inequalities around the world that prevent girls from going to school. Inherently in the issue of gender equality also arises lack of access to proper health and sanitation. Such a cycle can be complex and is one that exists for each SDG. No matter what our focus, it is imperative that we develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which all the goals are interconnected so that we may better address the one(s) that we are passionate about.
2. Our approach needs to be as diverse and balanced as our goals.
In order to achieve these aspirations, we all have to get involved and play our part - regardless of our age, nationality, gender, etc. Setting these goals is not what will lead to a more prosperous, equitable, and sustainable world - we will, through our actions.
Sustainability necessitates having a balanced approach to the way we develop and the way we consume. As I have written before, while technology is an essential tool, true sustainability is a lifestyle we must learn how to adopt, and this ultimately requires attitudinal changes, short term sacrifices, and alternate solutions. For example, I was so inspired to see the work of Lauren Singer in living a Zero Waste lifestyle and proving that it is possible for all of us to change the world by making small adjustments in the way we live day-to-day.
On the other hand, leaders need to create care and empathy in themselves as they develop solutions for peace. When youth delegates from around the world were asked what it meant to be a global citizen, one resounding theme was inclusion of others, an understanding of difference, and respecting our common humanity. It is thus essential for each and every one of us to cultivate within ourselves a mutual understanding and love for each other.
It is only when we ourselves are balanced that we will be able to make the tough decisions that need to be made regarding equity, environment, and the economy. Only then will peace and justice become the true cornerstones of our policies, companies, and individuals working towards a sustainable future.
3. The movement is already here.
More young people live on this planet than ever before, making it apparent that we are the torchbearers of the future that the SDGs promise - this future is ours to create. And this change is already happening. So many nonprofits, organizations, and NGOs are catalyzing the infinite power of the youth, and at many levels and sectors. Just taking one as an example, self-development programs like U-Connect programs offered by the Heartfulness Institute have started in universities worldwide, helping students learn how to better connect with themselves, develop inner peace, and a balanced mindset. Equipping youth with tools on how to relax, how to focus, and how to meditate, these programs push our long-term potential and impact as world leaders.
It was truly empowering to hear the stern, encouraging words from Meicen Sun on how it is up to us, the youth, to change the often archaic methods of diplomacy and to leverage technology to become "unofficial diplomats". Her thoughts on how we can all be positive change makers are inspiring. Ultimately, I believe her words. I believe we are dropping our preconceived misconceptions, becoming global citizens, and choosing peace and inclusion. It is inspiring to see the sheer power that we hold, not as decision-makers of tomorrow, but as change-makers of today!
Suraj Sehgal is a student activist at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying Industrial and Systems Engineering, International Affairs, and Psychology. Check out more of his work.
This post is a part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Friendship Ambassadors Foundation following the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations held on February 17-18, 2016. The winter session tackled the role of youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To see all posts in the series, click here.