Empowering youth for sustainable islands

With less than two months until the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa on 1-4 September, Conference Secretary-General Wu Hongbo brought together youth representatives from small island nations for a Google+ Hangout on 24 July 2014. Under the topic, ‘Samoa 2014: Empowering Youth for Sustainable Islands’, young people from Mauritius, Barbados and Samoa were invited to discuss with Mr. Wu, issues of importance to achieve sustainable islands and a healthier planet.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have large youth populations. In 2014, about 27.4 per cent of the inhabitants of these nations were under the age of 15, with the exception of Singapore and Cuba. Like elsewhere in the world, many young people there face unemployment and other challenges related to economic development, such as a lack of access to quality education.

But despite challenges, this large youth population offers tremendous potential as a catalyst for positive change. Young people in these countries and their role to help promote and achieve sustainable development in their communities and beyond, were in focus at the Google+ Hangout hosted by Mr. Wu, who is also  the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

“The voices and input of youth are critical for the upcoming Conference in Samoa, as well as for the ongoing work to shape and drive forward progress towards the post-2015 development agenda”

Wu Hongbo
Conference Secretary-General
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

Gearing up for milestone conference
“The voices and input of youth are critical for the upcoming Conference in Samoa, as well as for the ongoing work to shape and drive forward progress towards the post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Wu said ahead of the hangout event. Young people representing all three SIDS regions – the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the AIMS (Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea) regions – took part.

Mr. Wu began the online discussion by highlighting the importance of the upcoming conference, for Small Island Developing States and for the whole world. “It will seek a renewed political commitment and it will identify new and emerging challenges and opportunities for the sustainable development of SIDS,” Mr. Wu explained, adding that it will also aim to identify priorities to be considered in the post-2015 development agenda.  In addition to highlighting some of the vulnerabilities that SIDS face, Mr. Wu also underscored the resourcefulness shown by this group of nations and how the global community needs to listen to and learn from them.

Moderator Matthias Klettermayer of UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development then opened the floor to the youth panel encouraging them to share their views on how youth can effectively contribute to the Conference and to the sustainable development agenda more broadly.

“Come prepared: Do your homework – know your topic and the policy issues,” said Karuna Raana, Deputy Organising Partner for SIDS, UN Major Group of Children and Youth (UNMGCY). She advised interested participants to get to know the actors involved, to form strategic partnerships both with civil society organizations and with governments, and to make use of the UN Major Group of Children and Youth, which is the official constituency for young people to participate in sustainable development negotiations at the UN.

Issues that matters to youth
The need for capacity building, quality education and employment opportunities were some of the issues brought forward by Molly Homasi, UNMGCY focal point for Samoa/National Youth Council Representative. Involvement of youth in disaster risk management and promoting social inclusion were other topics of importance for youth in the Pacific region.

“Education is one of our top priorities,” said Alex Cumberbatch, SIDS Youth Representative in Barbados, describing the views of youth in the Caribbean. “We see a need to improve our core training,” he added, pointing to the need of efforts to stimulate entrepreneurship and to promote business development among young people. Among other issues of concern for youth in the Caribbean, he mentioned good governance, climate change, unemployment, healthcare and social protection.

Krishnee Appadoo, UNMGCY SIDS Focal Point for the AIMS region and SIDS Youth Representative for UNESCO, discussed a number of priority issues for young people. “We have identified some pressing concerns,” she explained, pointing to such key issues as good and effective governance at all levels of government, the private sector and civil society engagement. Access to food and water, energy security and climate change were other concerns that youth in the AIMS region had expressed.

Ms. Appaddo also underscored the need for quality education, economic and employment opportunities as well as access to technology and IT connectivity. “We also really need to educate youth on environmental issues and sustainable development and provide youth with tools, strategies, grass root action plans, as well as technical know-how and financial means to start their own NGOs,” she said.

Sharing questions with the Conference Secretary-General
During the hangout, the youth panel also shared their questions for the Conference Secretary-General. Among these included what steps are needed to ensure that the priorities of youth are included in the SIDS agenda and in the post-2015 development framework.

“The discussions we are having at the United Nations of the 193 Member States, is about people, about present and future generations,” said Mr. Wu, underscoring the importance of the role of young people in the post-2015 era. Mr. Wu emphasized the need for quality education and productive employment, saying that without it “the international community, including SIDS, cannot achieve sustainable development”.

Mr. Wu also highlighted strengthening active citizenships, respect for cultural diversity, preventing diseases and raising environmental consciousness, as well as entrepreneurship and innovation to create jobs. “I can ensure you that you, young people in SIDS, you have a great role to play in the future. Many of your concerns are covered in the outcome document, hence in the post-2015 development agenda,” Mr. Wu added.

“We are all families on this great canoe of the world, journeying together towards a better future; it sails under your guidance as we [youth] paddle with our passion”

Molly Homasi
UNMGCY focal point for Samoa
National Youth Council Representative

Towards Samoa and beyond
The hangout, which lasted more than an hour, touched upon many issues of importance for youth in SIDS, including capacity building and partnerships. Mr. Wu expressed his appreciation for this exchange. “I think many of the areas which they covered are very important,” he said. “I heard several times that partnerships were mentioned,” Mr. Wu added, referring to the fact that genuine and durable partnerships will be the main theme of the conference.

Molly Homasi, who joined the hangout from Apia, Samoa, also highlighted the launch of the SIDSTERS Youth Forum Campaign, happening online and via social media to highlight youth issues in the lead up to the conference’s Youth Forum, which will be arranged on 28 August under the theme SIDS T.A.L.A.V.O.U. for Sustainable Development. The acronym stands for Towards A Legacy of Achievement, Versatility, Opportunity through partnership and Unity. About 200 young people from small island nations are anticipated to participate in this pre-conference forum.

Ms. Homasi also made an analogy describing how families in a community in the Pacific use the canoe –  how it is the wise and older person who leads and steers, but that it is the energy of the young people who power the canoe. “The story of the canoe reminds us about sustainable development,” she said. “We are all families on this great canoe of the world, journeying together towards a better future; it sails under your guidance as we [youth] paddle with our passion,” Ms. Homasi concluded.

At the conclusion of the hangout, Mr. Wu noted his appreciation for the involvement of youth representatives from the three regions. “Your energy and your knowledge about the subject matter is very impressive,” he said thanking the panellists. As the Conference Secretary-General, Mr. Wu also shared his belief in the outcome of the conference.

“The Third International Conference on SIDS will be a great success,” he said, pointing to the progress already made ahead of the event, and the fact that Member States have already reached consensus on the outcome document. As the live broadcast ended, Mr. Wu also expressed his belief in young people. “I was encouraged,” he said. “With young people like this, we have a great future”.

For more information:

Samoa 2014: Empowering Youth for Sustainable Islands
UN Conference on Small Island Developing States
SIDS T.A.L.A.V.O.U. Pre-Conference Forum – Youth Forum
VIDEO: Partnering with islands for a sustainable world