Last year, more than 190 world leaders committed to end extreme poverty, reduce social and economic inequalities, and address the horrors of climate change, all by 2030. These Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are very ambitious—some would argue too ambitious. But last week, the participants in the Global Youth Forum at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., made me more optimistic about our chances for success.
Youth activists from dozens of countries participated, leading panel discussions, taking questions from the audience, and making sure their voices and their stories were heard. Also in attendance were high-level government, business and civil society leaders with an authentic and purposeful focus on engaging the world’s young people, with all of their passion, innovative thinking, and creativity, as full partners in the work to meet the SDGs.
In my opening remarks at the Global Youth Forum, I underscored the importance of building this new multi-generational alliance. Many of today’s young people are already leading change and making real progress in their communities. Empowered and globally connected through technology and social media, these young social entrepreneurs know we don’t need more of the same. By melding diverse perspectives and experiences across generations, we can be poised to develop different and more effective strategies to address the world’s toughest problems.
Several of those young leaders at the forum were fellows from our YouthActionNet® initiative, a global and growing network of the more than 1,350 young social entrepreneurs whom the International Youth Foundation supports on their leadership journeys. They are founders and CEOs of their own social enterprises who are already working in their communities to reach many of the social and economic development goals embedded in the SDGs—often with remarkable success.
- Panelist Gustavo Reis founded a language learning enterprise in Brazil that has already connected 3,500 young people in favelas with affordable, high-quality English classes.
- Nick Martin, CEO of TechChange, spoke to the power of technology and blended learning methods in training executives across the world who are working in the development arena.
- Ayaz Shalal Hassan led an afternoon discussion drawing upon his work helping educate women living in Iraq’s Kurd and Syrian refugee communities about their rights and mobilizing the community to end gender-based violence.
- Cherrie Atilano, who has worked to change agribusiness in the Philippines for the benefit of people and the planet, also led an afternoon ‘global café’ conversation.
- Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary General’s first-ever Global Envoy on Youth and another outstanding YouthActionNet alumnus, was a keynote speaker at the forum.
As a key player in a multi-generational alliance, the World Bank has long been a catalyst for bringing the public, private, and NGO sectors together to address critical youth issues, including unemployment. Their Development and the Next Generation report, published in 2007, remains the most comprehensive discussion around the transitional phases that young men and women go through and the many barriers youth encounter on their journey to adulthood. Last week, the World Bank moved the agenda forward again by launching a new multi-sector alliance called the Global Partnership for Youth In Development. It is comprised of entrepreneurs, business and civil society leaders, policymakers, and youth activists who understand that young people must be central players in the development process. We at IYF intend to support this new initiative.
None of this work is easy, and all of it takes time. We need to apply what we’ve learned about investing in young social innovators and must drive and sustain the political will and funding to support a multi-generational coalition focused on youth development outcomes. Despite the challenges, I remain fully optimistic, and I know we must succeed. When we expand economic and civic engagement opportunities for the world’s young people, society as a whole receives a remarkable return on investment that offers the best hope for our collective future.