Every voice counts: Youth and SDGs

by Nidhi Singh

The United Nations released the final text of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year in 2015. The post 2015 outcome recognizes that 'Children and young men and women are critical agents of change'. This was the result of the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, which mandated the creation of an open working group to come up with a draft agenda. The transition from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to SDGs offers the youth both a bigger opportunity and challenge to bring about a change in the world we live in. In my view, the starting point for any youth should be to think himself or herself as a global citizen.

SDGs and Youth
As a youth, I am particularly passionate about SDG#1 and SDG#4 i.e. Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong and learning opportunities for all.

I believe education is an effective instrument in eradicating poverty and youth and civil societies have a huge role to play in achieving this goal. For example: I have had the opportunity to contribute towards the training of young diplomats of India. This section of youth goes on to implement some of the major key governmental schemes and policies and they have a pertinent role to play in the implementation of SDGs. Young people are leaders of today and play an important role in decision making process at all levels of society. This demographic dividend can be a huge asset if they are involved and engaged more with the government. One form of youth participation at the United Nations can be through youth delegations sent officially by respective member countries. Many countries still do not have a Youth delegate programme at the national level. If the youth is involved at this stage, it will be interesting to witness the skills that they bring along and provide key inputs towards negotiations. If their voice is made to count in intergovernmental meetings at the United Nations, they are bound to provide a creative perspective to the challenges and solutions in the implementation of the SDGs.

SDGs, Government and Civil Societies
The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog recently called for consultation on the implementation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals wherein the members raised Health and Education as big concerns for India's development, and called for a focused action on Education. Apart from the government, civil societies and NGOs play an instrumental role in addressing the cause of education, health and poverty.

For example: An NGO named Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) in Odisha educates 25,000 tribal/indigenous children free of cost from primary to the secondary level. While this NGO was granted a special consultative status by UN last year, it is has tried to address the issues relating to poverty, hunger, sanitation, gender equality, education, employment, vocational training and providing other basic amenities of life completely free of cost. This model of education is quite unique in itself as it addresses the various social issues that plague our society through the powerful tool of education.

Interestingly, this model has also helped in fighting Naxalism in the state of Odisha in India wherein young children who are supposed to hold pens and books in their hands become a victim of Naxal training. This NGO has been able to tap into the deepest forests of Odisha and bring the indigenous children to their institute and provide free education. This has also helped in fighting Naxalism which is the greatest threat to the advancement of tribal community in the State. Therefore, if the government, civil societies, NGOs, youth and civil servants come together, achievement of SDGs is not a distant dream.

SDGs and their implementation
The real success of a goal lies in its implementation. SDGs cover a wide range of issues and youth monitoring of these goals is a critical part of ensuring their success. The need of the hour is to train the youth with information, tools and methodologies to monitor progress in achieving the SDG on Education and Poverty eradication.

Youth organisations and councils play a major role in developing a sense of belongingness and responsibility towards the challenges that we are facing today. It is not necessary to be a part of United Nations to bring a change. Many youth start-ups today are exhibiting creative entrepreneurial skills in addressing various issues enlisted under the SDGs. As they form a huge part of the population, they can leverage collective action and thus enhance the effectiveness of any programs or policies being implemented.

In my opinion, youth are critical thinkers. They bring fresh perspective to any problem and creative solutions based on their vivid experiences. They ask questions which is one of the qualities of a leader and thus also enhances their ability to identify challenges and barriers to change. Given the high level of competition today, youth bring along with them the ability to solve complex problems in a time bound manner and under extreme circumstances which makes them highly mental resilient and pupil with high emotional quotient. All these qualities go on to make them an effective leader and developing strong managerial qualities, which I believe, are key components in channelizing the energy of youth as a resource in the attainment of the SDGs. Sometimes it may require greater efforts to have youth delegates become part of the government policy-making process, but their role is definitely important in the implementation of SDGs.

Nidhi Singh is a law graduate. She is currently reading for MSc in Law and Finance at University of Oxford, Faculty of Law and Saïd Business School as a Weidenfeld Scholar.

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.