Why Millennials Can and Will Revolutionize International Development

by Matthew Keating

Last week in New York City, the United Nations was filled with hundreds of young people, not with the intention of institutional revolution but for the purpose of revitalization. The 2015 Winter Youth Assembly brought together delegates from all around the world who are working on ways to address the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. Commonly known as the MDGs, these are a wide range of political, economic, and social objectives that the United Nations set in 1990 and will achieve by this year's end in 2015. As the MDGs' completion approaches, the UN is hoping to build upon the success of the MDGs by implementing new goals as part of the Post 2015 agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, seek to address an even wider range of problems facing our world today. Although the SDGs have not been finalized, 17 goals have been officially put into consideration, ranging from mitigating climate change, promoting gender equality, to eliminating extreme poverty.

As the UN slowly begins to transition into the SDGs, young people worldwide are rightfully providing their input on the kind of world they wish to live in. After all, these SDGs are long term goals; they reflect the world and the priorities of this generation as millennials begin to become powerful agents of change in the both business and politics spheres. The 2015 Winter Youth Assembly fostered dialogue to create partnerships between exceptional youth, UN high officials and staff, the private sector, and civil society.

As a delegate, I met countless young changemakers working on improving their communities. Many as young as 16 years old, these delegates had projects and initiatives that have made lasting and tangible impacts on addressing the MDGs. Young people all over the world are working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by acting locally while thinking globally. Youth led projects ranged from promoting literacy through charitable initiatives in Mumbai, creating a documentary on what extreme poverty is like while living on just a few US dollars a day, to running simple small scale mentor organizations in New Jersey high schools. My experience in working on the International Youth Council has led me to believe that you don't need to be a high-level UN diplomat or a director of a well funded non-profit to create effectual change in your community: Our generation is uniquely positioned to address these global issues, and the time for young people to do so is now.

I distinctly remember a quote from Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Secretary General's Envoy on Youth, who said "You don't need to carry UN badge to work for the UN, you just need to carry its values in your heart."

The importance of young people engaging with the MDGs, SDGs, and the international development community more broadly stems from the fact that these initiatives will impact our generation and the world that future generations will inherit. Youth voices must always be at the table when developing policies for both the present and the future; it is the duty of our generation to be out in our communities fighting for the change we wish to see in our world. Millennials face a daunting future, one in which both our planet and societies must confront long term and pressing challenges that affect all of humanity. I'm optimistic that with the rise of globalization and a unique generational focus on social entrepreneurship, we can come together to solve these global issues.

Matthew Keating
Programs Director | International Youth Council-USA