The New UN's Sustainable Development Goals: My Experience at the Youth Assembly

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As I was reviewing my notes, I realized the extent to which I was personally impacted by my experience at the Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Mainly because it enhanced my awareness of challenges the world is facing and in turn, my understanding of the various UN programs and initiatives being implemented to respond to these challenges.

Last week, the UN adopted new goals dedicated to empower the international community to take actions called Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) should be achieved before 2030. Since this is a key moment for our current and future society, I would like to take this opportunity to share my experience at the UN with you.

The first day of the Youth Assembly at the UN General Assembly Hall, ambassadors and dignitaries came to shine light on us to the necessity to get involved to face world challenges. These challenges are huge but if it is not us who solve them, who will? And if not now, when? Amina J. Mohammed, the UN Secretary General Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning said:

"Yours is the first generation that can end poverty. The sustainable development goals are your legacy."

I realized how fortunate I was to be able to take part of this historic occasion as it is also a personal challenge. I hope that the following words will encourage and guide other young citizens to also take part in this challenge.

What is Youth Assembly at the UN?

The Youth Assembly (YA) 2015 took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City from August 5 to August 7. It is dedicated to empowering youth to become active participants in the success of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the transition to the Post 2015 Development Agenda. 'The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - which range from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 - form a blueprint agreed to by all the world's countries and all the world's leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest. The internationally agreed framework of 8 goals and 18 targets was complemented by 48 technical indicators to measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. These indicators have since been adopted by a consensus of experts from the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (FMI), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank.'

Here is a visualization of the 8 MDG :

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Some of these goals have been partially achieved. Here are an extract of key facts :

- Globally, the number of deaths of children under 5 years of age fell from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013.

- In developing countries, the percentage of underweight children under 5 years old dropped from 28% in 1990 to 17% in 2013.

- Globally, new HIV infections declined by 38% between 2001 and 2013.

But there is still work in progress. And that is the aim of the "Post 2015 Development Agenda".

To help achieve these goals and empower us to take actions, the Youth Assembly presented plenary sessions, workshops, round table discussions, networking sessions, social venture competitions, MDG related skills building and campaign introductions.

On September 27, the 193 States Members of the United Nations adopted a new set of global goals for sustainable development intended to empower and guide the world's efforts to eradicate poverty, end hunger and address climate change by 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are broken down into 169 specific targets. Each country, depending on its priorities, has committed to achieve these goals over the next 15 years. The SDG which will replace the MDG, are much wider in scope, and emphasize the integration of environmental targets into the social and economic dimensions of development.

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2. UN's initiatives

The Youth Assembly provided a great opportunity to better know some important United Nations programs and instances, thereby bringing the youth closer to the UN by breaking the idea of a supranational organization detached from the global community that it serves. Here are some of them:

2.1 The Office of the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth

Created for the first time in 2013 by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth is guided by the following 4 prioritary points:

1. Increase youth accessibility to the UN
2. Promote stronger youth participation and increase awareness and youth issues
3. Engage different stakeholders in the UN programs on youth
4. Enhance the coordination and harmonization of youth programming among UN agencies

The Jordanian Ahmad Alhendawi is the first UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.

2.2 The "World We Want" initiative

The "Word We want" is an initiative dedicated to "gather the priorities of people from all other the world and help build a collective vision that was directly used by the United Nations and World Leaders."The initiative [aimed] to ensure that the discussions are open and inclusive, providing a space for people's voices, with a particular view to reaching out to poor and marginalized people". This was making possible by a "series of public meetings and on-line discussions where policy planners, civil society representatives, academics, community and private sector leaders". These consultations resulted in elaborating the new sustainable development goals.

2.3 UN Global Pulse

In order to influence decision makers to take specific decisions to current world problems, the UN created "UN Global Pulse". By analyzing and summarizing masses of data in real time this initiative provides, an overview of the existing situation and reveals specific challenges the world need to face. "Its mission is to accelerate discovery, development and scaled adoption of big data innovation for sustainable development and humanitarian action." The initiative was established on the premise that digital data offers the opportunity to gain a better understanding of changes in human well-being, and to get real-time feedback on how well policy responses are working. Anoush Rina Tatevossian, strategic communications and partnerships office at UN Global Pulse explained that "big data represents a new, renewable natural resource with the potential to revolutionize sustainable development and humanitarian practice."

3. Awareness

3.1 "Clouds over Sidra": a refugee camp reality experience

One of the activities that most strongly resonated with me was the augmented reality experience. This experience is part of the "My World Reality Series" powered by the oculus technology. Fitted with special glasses, this technology allowed us to immerse in the reality of the Za'atouni Syrian refugee camp in Jordan.
You are experimenting the life of Sidra, a twelve-year-old Syrian girl who is struggling to come to terms with her environment. Sidra invites you to understand her routine and share her hopes and fears. You can literally feel the pain of this little Syrian girl by the honesty of her testimony.

At the beginning, I was standing in a desert. Then Sidra starts speaking to me about her struggles and guided me into the camp. I stood there, or hovered, a ghost in the film. I looked all around me. I looked at the door, and wondered what was beyond. It became a real eye-opener experience and it definitely inclines the individual to support the protection of elementary human rights for everyone.

Personally, I was made to realize how blessed I was to have the comfort and security that I sometimes take for granted.

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3.2 "HeForShe": a gender equality initiative:

"HeForShe" is a solidarity campaign for gender equality initiated by UN Women. Its goal is to engage men and boys as agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women's rights, by encouraging them to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls. Grounded in the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people -- socially, economically and politically -- it seeks to actively involve men and boys in a movement that was originally conceived as "a struggle for women by women".

"I want men to take up this mantle so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice" - Emma Watson, British actress and Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women

I invite you to watch or read the relevant speech of the Goodwill UN Ambassador Emma Watson in the launching of "HeForShe" campaign.

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There are many ways to mobilize words into actions. Here are some organizations presented at the Youth Assembly at the UN that can help you successfully taking actions.

4. Get Involved

4.1 The International Youth Council IYC:

The mission of the IYC is to provide educational resources, leadership opportunities, and a global network to the next generation of world leaders. The IYC assists young leaders in developing entrepreneurial projects and campaigns to support sustainable development projects on a local, regional, and international level.

4.2 The Resolution Project:

The mission of the "Resolution Project" is to develop socially responsible young leaders and empower them to make a positive impact today through collaborative social entrepreneurship.

'Their vision is a generation of socially-responsible young leaders with a lifelong commitment to social responsibility. The Resolution Project inspires young leaders through their proven model of Resolution Social Venture Challenges (SVCs) and Resolution Fellowships:

- Resolution partners with existing youth summits like the Clinton Global Initiative University.

- Resolution invites undergraduate students attending these conferences to propose social ventures through the SVC. This is a multi-stage competition, combining web-based submissions, live rounds of presentations, and due diligence.

Resolution then awards Resolution Fellowships to the most compelling leaders with the most promising proposals from the SVC. The Resolution Social Venture Challenge allows undergraduate students to build teams and submit their plans for actual social ventures. Resolution provides a grant of up to US $3,000 and dynamic, hands-on mentorship for the winning Resolution Fellows and their ventures. There are currently over 150 Resolution Fellows working on 6 continents in diverse, high-impact fields such as human rights, energy, environment, education, technology, and community development."

4.3 The Accountability Lab:

The " Accountability Lab" partners with civil society organizations in the developing world to build sustainable tools for new and innovative approaches to bolster accountability. The organization works to generate cost-effective relationships based on trust and cooperation rather than co-optation and dependency.

5. How the Youth Assembly has changed my thinking about the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

At first sight, the 8 Millennium Goals looked general. It was hard to imagine how such broad goals could materialize into substantive results.

However, during the Youth Assembly I realized how I could become a relevant agent of change.

I became aware of the different actions taken by the UN, how to create and manage an non-governmental organization or be part of an existing one.

One does not necessarily need to work for the UN to actually get involved towards the realization of the new SDG. Every action in our community, work and neighborhood can help shape a better world, even if it appears insignificant at the beginning.

I also realized that it exists a dynamic and strong community of young leaders and organizations looking to help you to develop your ideas and give you the structure to implement it. These organizations can provide tips, mentoring and enrich you with their experiences. In fact, a topic of one panel at the conference was focused in the construction of partnerships with people who work towards similar goals, but are further down the road in achieving their aims. Strategic partnerships are the key to success.

We have our part of responsibility in the achievement of the new UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Our success will depend on how we will empower society to take actions and be a source of influence for our governments.

6. My "Individual Development Goals " IDG

To make a difference in the world, we must first change ourselves. In the framework of my own constitution and agenda, I defined 4 "Individual Development Goals IDG". I would like to carry the following actions within my community:

IDG 1: Work more closely with the UN using their enriching structures and networks to have a good impact in my community and act efficiently.

IDG 2: Empower young Montreal locals around me, prompting them to take actions.

IDG 3: Create projects in which local resources are used and accountability developed in particular through workshops.

ID 4: Create a chapter of Youth Council in Montreal to increase awareness among young Montrealers to the Sustainable Development Goals. This initiative could bring them closer to the missions of the UN. Montreal is a creative and young city with an important potential. Thus, I believe Montrealers can develop amazing initiatives.