Youth Perspectives on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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Sonia I. Preisser
Sonia I. Preisser

 

Sonia I. Preisser is a 27-year-old originally from Mexico City. She has a master’s of arts in Development Studies from the University of Sydney, and is the cofounder and director of MomoEffect Ltd. She is also a member of the CliMates Advisory Committee and serves as a member of the Advisory Board for the Gender Progress Consortium & Foundation. Recently, she was selected to be part of the Antarctica Youth Ambassador Programme, and as a candidate delegate for the 2013 One Young World Summit in Johannesburg.

 

"Young people should be at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, however, they are left on society's margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies."

-Kofi Annan

 

My name is Sonia Preisser,and by the time this article is published I will be 27 years old. I am a development professional who has been working with youth organizations and youth issues for the past three years. When asked to write this article, I thought that as part of the youth and due to my background it would be easy. It is safe to say that as I debated what exactly to say, I felt a great responsibility had been thrust upon me to try to convey the voice of my generation. 

I, however, cannot attempt to write for the youth of the world, but rather contribute my personal perspective to the conversation in something as important, and crucial for my generation’s future, as the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and their imperative achievement. Nonetheless, even when expressing my personal view, I never thought it’d be so difficult to get the right ideas into writing. Mostly due to the constant debate on what exactly it means to be part of the “youth” and its exact definition or lack thereof.

There seems to be a need for a universal definition[1] of the age range to consider someone a youth. This may not be of particular importance to some, but details tend to be key especially in the generation of 20 and 30 year olds, when determining whether we qualify for certain opportunities for “youth.”[2] It is also important so we know to feel included when a politician says something along the lines of “the youth are tomorrow’s leaders” or “we must ensure to create opportunities for youth.” This particularly holds true as my generation is presently suffering greatly from unemployment[3] and lack of opportunities across the globe. So, as one can imagine, this simple definition is of extreme importance to us and our future.

We can all agree that the “youth” will inherit the world that is built today. We will inherit the good and the bad, the lack of opportunities, the debts, the crises, the wars, the band-aid solutions, the missteps, the unreached targets, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are not achieved; we will inherit that. With the SDGs, whether immediate effective steps are taken or not, we will inherit the consequences of them as well. In any case, we must absolutely keep in mind that when talking about the SDGs, we are not only talking about human socioeconomic development, but we are also talking about the environment, the very Earth we depend on for our very survival and without which we will be at peril. If this time they are not met, if politics and money take center stage instead of our future, if they are not properly and timely developed, we are not only talking about my generation inheriting a future we did not choose or want, but rather we are talking about the possibility of our generation not even having the opportunity to inherit a future at all. We, at the very least, deserve to be part of the conversation and the decision-making process, to have a fighting chance for our future and that of generations to come, don't we?

Nevertheless, to properly involve young people in the conversation we must know who exactly we are targeting when we refer to youth, whether 15 to 24 or up to 35. Whatever the case, the way information and campaigns are delivered must be adapted accordingly, and that is why an age definition that is universally recognized is key so that key state holders, leaders, organizations, and businesses may know exactly who it is they are referring to, or targeting, when talking about youth. Otherwise, it gives way for misuse, such as cultural beliefs[4] that may shorten the expectancy and possibilities for youth. As a result, and as we talk about the evolving SDGs, does this definition not matter? How exactly can we begin to develop a youth strategy across all United Nations (UN) bodies on the post-2015 agenda without knowing exactly who composes the group that the strategy is meant for?

There is, however, no need to come up with something completely new to engage young people,[5] but we can instead tweak and improve what already is out there that has worked, particularly the initiatives led by youth all around the globe.

Young people have managed to use creativity to create amazing projects online and off, towards becoming more involved and informed about the topics that matter to us. Our generation has the capacity to mobilize more people than ever before through social media channels, thus involving more youth than previous generations. Nevertheless, its reach is still not wide enough to truly involve enough youth to proportionately have a youth voice in what future it is we want to inherit. 

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “At the beginning of 2012, the world population surpassed 7 billion with people under the age of 30 accounting for more than half of this number (50.5%).”[6] Out of Facebook’s 845 million users in 2012,[7] only 29 percent were between the ages of 18 and 25.[8]  This accounts for an extremely small percentage of the total youth population, and I think that we have used this new found interconnectedness as a bit of a crutch when talking about youth involvement. 

In order to have a proper, unified, and truly representative youth voice, we must move past the idea that by creating a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or a social media campaign where we involve youth, we are truly tapping into youth’s view, when in fact, we are simply reaching out to those who know how to read and write, and those who have access to a computer, to dependable Internet, and enough electricity to allow them to express their opinion on a particular topic. Thus, it is easy to forget about the rest that simply do not have access, or the tools, to voice their opinion. To avoid alienating these young people, we should continue to expand the efforts already made to involve youth in social media, but we must also develop more offline ways to target those who are not part of the online media sphere. We should also simplify the vocabulary used, so young people are not deterred by complex lingo and thus end feeling as if they have no place to contribute their views of what they, as youth, want on the post-2015 agenda. We ought to do more to achieve a more representative voice of what youth want out of the SDGs, particularly in light of all youth being the heirs of the future that is built out of the goals, and the ones who will need to ensure that they are met. If we do not actively look for the most representation, we risk recycling youth and missing out on hearing a broader “youth” perspective.

In all Major Groups of Children and Youth within the UN system, UN bodies, and within governments worldwide, we must ensure to have active educated youth, but also ensure we have indigenous youth, youth who are parents, business owners, farmers, illiterate youth, and youth that are not necessarily involved. I believe it is intrinsic to have a diverse and truly comprehensive “youth voice” for everyone to ascribe to as youth policies are developed, and most importantly, as we develop a new set of goals that holds the key to our very own survival.  A vast representation of the majority of perspectives within the youth, along with an ombudsperson for future generations within that youth encompassing voice, is perhaps the most important aspect to consider when aiming to involve young people in the post-2015 agenda conversation.

Acknowledging that the youth voice is as varied as that of all other groups of society will benefit the development of the SDGs, provide a future worth fighting for, and ensure a tomorrow for generations to come. Youth must be part of every aspect of the decision-making process, and that role should extend beyond serving as youth advisors or consultants. As tomorrow’s leaders, we deserve as important a role in the decision-making process as those who are building the future we will inherit. We are ready to learn and present our views of the future we want. We cannot afford not to.

In any case, there already exist a number of youth initiatives which are addressing MDGs, SDGs, and that have been extremely successful at actively engaging youth. We should look at these initiatives around the world and learn as we move forward in involving young people in the SDGs conversation. Some examples include, but are not limited to, The Oaktree Foundation in Australia, One Heart Source in Tanzania, and CliMates in France.[9]

The Oaktree Foundation,[10] the campaign gurus.

During my master’s degree studies at the University of Sydney, I had the opportunity to work for The Oaktree Foundation as part of the Generate Team in the New South Wales office. During my time with them, I saw the amazing potential that we have, as youth, to connect other youth on topics that matter to us. My involvement with the organization pertained to the MDGs, and it began with the incredible journey that was the Make Poverty History Roadtrip 2010. This organization actively educates young people through its Generate program on the MDGs and international development, while providing them the necessary tools[11] to contribute. Besides that, through the Roadtrip to End Poverty and other campaigns, The Oaktree Foundation reaches out to thousands of young Australians to become involved and informs the Australian population about the MDGs, international aid, and just how they can contribute to eradicate poverty.

This is an entirely youth-led organization, the largest youth organization in Australia in fact, whose network continues to grow year to year, and which to my experience manages to have as diverse participation as the Australian population, thus achieving a truly universal Australian youth voice and action. What I like the most about it, is that their mobilization efforts go way beyond simply relying on social media and the Internet, but rather have a hands-on approach that makes it easy for other youth to become involved.

One Heart Source,[12] lives devoted to development.

I was fortunate enough to work with One Heart Source (OHS) based in Mateves, Tanzania (north of Arusha) in the spring of 2011. Little did I know when I was accepted to be part of their volunteer program, that besides the founder of the organization, I was the only other person over 24 years old. The organization is entirely run by young people who devote[13] their lives to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, to empower young people in Tanzania and South Africa through education and care. The town of Mateves, where we spent the duration of our volunteer program, was host to the home that OHS has built to house vulnerable children in the region. Besides being a home, it also serves as a community arena where children from the surrounding areas can play sports and be part of activities hosted by the organization.

The most interesting part for me while I was there, was the efforts that were being made in order to make the home 100 percent self-sustainable through the installment of solar panels, a rainwater collection system, and the development of a farm that ought to feed the children in the home. To me, this home exemplified the very future I would want to see all around the world. Not only as a representation of the amazing capacity that we as young people have to make a difference in communities, but as an example of how this generation can view the interconnectedness of it all, and develop systems to address it while aiming to have the best impact possible in the communities where our initiatives are implemented. As far as I experienced, we were all there to collaborate with the local community for a better future for all.

CliMates,[14] the all-inclusive minds.

CliMates, a Paris-based student think and do tank is unlike any other organization I have ever been part of, as it focused on policy development[15] related specifically to addressing climate change. Within the organization, they have managed to involve not only youth from all around the world, but with as diverse backgrounds as the countries represented, all with the common interest of tackling climate change. This organization has managed to do an amazing job keeping its members engaged and feeling part of the decision-making process, albeit all spread throughout the globe, that perhaps we ought to look more closely to expand in a larger scale for the post-2015 agenda, if we want to have youth actively be involved in the decision-making process of the future we want.

All we, “the youth” really want is to be included, to feel that we are part of the decision making for our future. We want to be able to contribute, and at the same time know that we are not only ensuring our future, but rather that by the actions we collectively take, we will ensure that there is a future to be had for generations to come. We do not pretend to have all the answers, but we know what we want and don’t want, and we are eager to learn by doing. We have energy, passion, and endless creativity, which we are anxious to put to good use, so we simply ask for guidance and an opportunity to unleash what we have to offer.

At MomoEffect Ltd.,[16] the social enterprise I cofounded and direct, we are aiming to do just that. We seek to create a space where young people's creativity, innovation, and energy can come together to find ways of addressing issues that matter. We strongly believe in the amazing potential of youth to protect the environment and bring real social and economic benefits to entire communities. We believe in our responsibility to take immediate action to ensure a sustainable future for all. We are inspired by the potential that lies beyond the conventional ways of making a difference, and in the possibilities that lie past doing business as usual. A change is needed in every sector, making it intrinsic to have effective collaboration between them all; that, ultimately, is my hope for the post-2015 conversation, collaboration.

Yet as I sit here, sharing my point of view, lyrics from the “Chasing Ice” soundtrack seem to be on auto-replay in my mind. They summarize the urgency we face in the post-2015 agenda in order to ensure a future for all. So please allow me to leave you with these last few words, hoping that my words may have, albeit minimally, contributed in this important debate.

 

Cold feet, don't fail me now

So much left to do

If I should run ten thousand miles home

Would you be there?

 

Just a taste of things to come

I still smile

But I don't wanna die alone

I don't wanna die alone

Way before my time

 

Keep calm and carry on

No worse for the wear

 

I don't wanna die alone

I don't wanna die alone

Way before my time

 

Is it any wonder

All this empty air

I'm drowning in the laughter

Way before my time has come[17]

 

 



[1]The United Nations defines youth as “those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years.” However, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognizes that “at the national level, ‘youth’ may be understood in a more flexible manner. It can be based for instance on the definition given in the African Youth Charter where ‘youth’ means ‘every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years.’” www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/youth/youth-definition/.

The Commonwealth however, defines youth as people between the ages of 15 and 29. www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/180392/ .

[2]Depending on the region, some opportunities advertised for youth are for those between the ages of 15 and 24, or 18 and 25, or 16 and 30, or 18 and 35, for example.

[3]The United Nations International Labour Organization estimates that close to 75 million 15- to 24-year-olds around the world are out of work. From the “Global Youth Unemployment: Making Sense of the Numbers” BBC article written by Hannah Barnes September 30, 2012. www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-19745115.

[4]For example, in some cultures, a young woman who has a child can no longer be seen by society, and even the state, as a youth, but rather she fits into the mother demographic, when she actually fits into both demographics.

[5]By young people, from here on out I refer to those 35 and younger.

[7]Facebook User Statistics 2012 [Infographic] February 20, 2012 ansonalex.com/infographics/facebook-user-statistics-2012-infographic/.

[8]Infographic: Spring 2012 Social Media User Statistics by Dave Larson May 15, 2012 blog.tweetsmarter.com/social-media/spring-2012-social-media-user-statistics/.

[9]I would like to point out here, that although I am aware of a variety of other initiatives by youth for youth that ought to serve as great examples, such as the efforts of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, which I highly admire, my knowledge is extremely limited in order to properly use them as critical examples for the message I am trying to convey in this article. Although I restrict my examples to personal experiences I, by no means, intend to say that they are the only initiatives worth mentioning, or that deserve merit. There are plenty more which equally deserve credit and we ought to combine all efforts if we are to truly achieve a universal youth voice for the future we want out of the SDGs.

[10]To find out more information, visit: http://theoaktree.org.

[11]How to create a campaign, fund-raise, engage the public, just to name a few.

[12]For more information, visit: www.oneheartsource.org.

[13]The staff in the home that were not locals all spoke the local language, or were in the process of learning it while I was there. They also actively seek to engage local youth within the home and in their education programs, thus having a perfect balance of perspectives.

[14]For more information visit: http://studentclimates.org.

[15]While in Australia, I was a Policy Officer of the New South Wales team at Left Right Think-Tank.

[16]Visit http://momoeffect.com to find out more about MomoEffect.

[17]“Before My Time” by J. Ralph performed by Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell from the documentary “Chasing Ice.”

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