“Young people don’t wait for an invitation. When we see an issue – we take action,” said UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, kicking off the SDG Media Zone at the sidelines of the recently concluded ECOSOC Youth Forum.
Running alongside the Forum on 30 and 31 January, the SDG Media Zone became a bustling space for young people to exchange ideas, experiences and opinions and to showcase their efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Streamed live and amplified across multiple social media channels, the Zone allowed young people in every corner of the world to engage and participate in the discussions at the Youth Forum.
The Youth Envoy’s bold opening statement set the tone for the following two days of lively debates at the Zone, which youth activist Salina Abraham summed up at the closing session: “Actions speak louder than words. And the past two days have all been about action. Real people, real successes, real barriers.”
Young people demand to be heard
This year’s Youth Forum emphasized the necessity of involving youth in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. As pointed out by Marie Chatardová, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Forum is the biggest gathering of young people that enables them to have direct contact with government representatives at the United Nations.
“The Forum attracts young people who have already made positive commitments and changes in their communities. They can set an example for others,” said Ms. Chatardová in the opening session of the SDG Media Zone.
The current population of young people – 1.8 billion – is the largest the world has ever known, but according to Ms. Wickramanayake, youth are largely excluded from decision making and reduced to an empty slogan. “By having a large amount of people coming into the UN, we give a visual impact that we are here. Our voices count and our voices should be heard,” she said.
Ms. Wickramanayake added that young people do not use their voices to air grievances or complain, but to propose their ideas and solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. She stressed the importance of giving young people more space to participate in implementing the SDGs.
“We talk about leaving no one behind, but if we don’t keep up with that phrase, young people will leave the UN behind,” she said.
Seventeen goals – millions of ideas
True to Ms. Wickramanayake’s word, over the next two days of the SDG Media Zone, young people showcased inspiring innovations and solutions to global problems that they are already implementing in their local communities.
For example, the Green Girls Robotics team, formed by high school girls from Minnesota, U.S., talked about how they help young people in their community improve their life opportunities by sparking their interest in the world of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
“We’ve had 27 camps to help out kids in fragile situations, who would not have exposure to STEM. We teach them how to code, how to cad robots,” said Olivia Crutchfield, one of the Green Girls.
“Women are usually not encouraged to engage in STEM, but it really gives you so many opportunities. We have been to so many places that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise, “ added her colleague Zoe Berg. “We are really thankful for that, and we want to do the same thing for girls all over the world.”
Not only in conversation with Green Girls Robotics, but throughout the discussions at the SDG Media Zone, gender inequalities and barriers for young women in every aspect of social life were a recurring theme.
“Gender equality is more than just Sustainable Development Goal 5,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed at a panel on Women Leaders of the United Nations. “Whatever you achieve for the targets of gender equality, you see it in every single one of the other goals. It really pulls them all together.”
Throughout the two days of the SDG Media Zone, the inspiring stories of young people taking action showed just how closely interwoven all the Global Goals are. Wang Yuan (Roy Wang), UNICEF’s Special Advocate for Education, stressed the link between quality education today and the innovation of the future. Jeremy Cyrus Akhavi from the Starlight Foundation cited his combat with cancer to demonstrate how access to health care helps achieve all the other goals.
Eglantina Zingg, Venezuelan movie star and head of Proyecto Paz Latinoamérica, which promotes peace and alternative education for young girls, said that SDGs can only be achieved through collaboration of each individual from both the young and older generations.
“We need to take action. Pick some of the 17 goals and make your commitment to them,” cheered on Ms. Zingg. “Go ahead, stand up, speak up, dare to dream. That’s the passion youth have.”
The dialogue continues
Broadcasting live to a global audience, the SDG Media Zone brought the messages of the Forum to all parts of the world, in the hope of inspiring young people to take action for the SDGs in their communities.
“We have to go back home, connect with those unable to participate, and bring their voices as well,” said Susana Puerto, Senior Youth Employment Specialist of the International Labour Organization.
Speaking at the closing session of the SDG Media Zone, President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák urged young people to use the interconnectivity that modern technology offers to continue the dialogue with the United Nations and its Member States.
“You should help the UN to stay the course,” said Mr. Lajčák. “One can be so busy with everything that is going on here, that one might run the risk of losing contact with what the young generation thinks and therefore we need this dialogue with you. Don’t be shy, speak out, tell us what you expect.”
Watch videos of all the panels here: http://www.un.org/sdgmediazone/videos.shtml