“Don’t be afraid to speak up” – Interview with UN Youth Envoy
All eyes were on the ECOSOC Youth Forum this January, as the world’s young activists, leaders and innovators met with representatives of governments at UN Headquarters in New York. As the Forum wrapped up, UN DESA Voice talked to the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, on how history’s largest youth generation is already building a better future.
What has inspired you to take action for Sustainable Development Goals?
“Youth is our present and our future. If you look around, we are facing many challenges, which affect young people in particular. There are 1.2 billion young people today – the largest generation of youth the world has ever seen. Just imagine, more than half of them live in conflict zones – affected by violence, struggling to access food, water and medicine. More than a quarter of all youth still lack basic literacy skills and 71 million young people are unemployed. This is definitely not the present young people deserve and not the future we want. This is what inspires me to take action and advocate for youth.
Young people also played a role in shaping the 2030 Agenda. Through platforms like the MyWorld survey and the meetings of the open working groups and High-Level Political Forum, young people told the leaders what our vision was for the 2030 Agenda. Now it’s our turn to show that we are also capable of taking action and that we need to be recognized as partners, not just beneficiaries.”
What is your advice for youth who want to get involved in the SDGs but do not know where to begin?
“The best advice is to act now and not wait, to believe in yourself and your power to change the world for the better! And do not be afraid to speak up and express your ideas – you are the best asset that the world has to achieve the SDGs.
You can start by looking at examples of initiatives that already exist in your community, or think about what could be improved. In fact, I believe that the best way for youth to get involved in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is to start locally. Every young person and every little action can make a major difference. For instance, you can set up a workshop to teach your peers useful skills, raise awareness and advocate for gender equality, or promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle at your school and workplace. The possibilities are endless.”
How can youth make their voices and ideas on the Global Goals heard?
“There are many ways to make your voices heard when it comes to advocating for the Sustainable Development Goals, but I would like to focus on three. First, speaking up and talking to your friends and peers about issues and inequalities that you see around you. Many positive changes can start with raising awareness. Talk to your community via social media, for instance.
Second, engaging with your peers. Young people today are the most connected generation in history. They are uniquely placed to build partnerships across countries and sectors, and mobilize their collective strength to achieve sustainable development and create lasting peace. You can create or join youth groups, organizations, and networks advocating for a particular goal – such as zero hunger, quality education, access to clean water or sanitation, decent work and economic growth.
And third, get your government on board and participate in the decision-making process. Discuss issues that affect youth, demand actions on SDGs and keep an eye on their implementation.
To speak up and make sure your voice is heard is essential, but what is most important is to take action. I truly admire the work that young people are doing worldwide to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, whether taking climate action or building sustainable cities. Every little action is important!”
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