More than 900 young leaders and Government representatives gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York this week for the annual ECOSOC Youth Forum. The meetings this year focused on the instrumental role that young people play in the implementation and realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At the opening of the event, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson reminded youth delegates about the large responsibility that falls upon their generation:

“I ask you to take an active role in your societies. Engage your friends and colleagues. Commit your leaders and societies to action,” Eliasson said. “The UN needs your talent and energy to mobilize all in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030.”

Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs also echoed the instrumental role of youth in the success of the agenda.

“From employment to peace building, from volunteerism to electoral participation, from digital activism to sport, youth engagement in every aspect of life is critical to sustainable development,” he said.

ECOSOC Youth Forum 2In line with Sustainable Development Goal 8, and addressing the continuous alarming level of youth unemployment globally, the International Labour Organization used the youth forum as a platform to launch the new UN Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, aiming to generate quality employment for young people and assist in the transition from school to work.

The initiative will establish a partnership between UN agencies, governments, the public and private sector, academic institutions and youth groups, finding a productive and lasting place for youth in the global economy.

“Your voices reflect the aspirations of young people everywhere,” Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization said, addressing the youth delegates in the room. “And your voices must be heard, and they must be acted upon.”

Worldwide, young people under the age of 24 are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, and those who do have work are often not paid enough to escape poverty. This “working poverty” affects as many as 169 million young people.

As the generation that will play a large role in advocating an implementing the 2030 development agenda, youth representatives showed up to the forum with a strong sense of commitment to the goals.

“Youth today represent half of the world population,” UN Secretary-General''s Special Envoy on Youth Ahmad Alhendawi pointed out. “They bring innovation, they bring a sense of imagination. They bring also the determination and the energy of young people, and they bring fresh ideas on how we can tackle some of these problems.”

The youth forum, in its fifth session this year, turned out to be a powerful platform for brainstorming, passionate debate and informed discussion between youth representatives and policy makers. The discussions showed a strong willingness on the part of the youth to be recognized as actors of societal change, capable of moving the 2030 Agenda forward, provided that they are given space and some means for such involvement. Ministers and senior officials were also forthcoming in presenting national initiatives to give a voice to the youth.

After two days, the delegates returned to their home countries and their communities, bringing with them invaluable knowledge on how to be influential advocates for the development agenda that will aim to change the world over the next 15 years.

“Now comes the real test: making it happen, making it a reality,” Eliasson reminded the young leaders. “Our work begins with you now, with us together at the start of the first year of implementation.”