By Forest Whitaker, Actor and SDG Advocate

Create new paths to achieve the welfare of humankind

Across the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda lies an ambition to create sustainable and resilient societies that is unprecedented in history. The scope of the Goals is in itself exceptional. While some of them, like the eradication of poverty may seem out of reach, the main point, in my view, is that we can achieve them on condition that we innovate and create paths that do not exist yet. Some may say that this is not a realistic way of setting goals, but I would argue, to the contrary, that to achieve the welfare of humankind, you have to trust people. You have to believe that people can transform their environment into more just, inclusive and prosperous places. This is, in a way, the first step towards sustainability and resilience. Otherwise, the notion of creating sustainable and resilient societies would mean that this process happens without the empowerment and the participation of people, individuals and communities. People or communities cannot be resilient if they have no right to autonomy and creativity.

In this light, the SDGs are not just a number of targets, they are also a way to aim at targets. They imply that the traditional players of peacebuilding and development are not just responsible for achieving this or this subset of goals. They are responsible for mobilizing, engaging and tapping the energy of everyday citizens and local communities.

The importance of youth

Providing communities with the means to achieve sustainability and resilience is the essence of the work I conduct as CEO/Founder of my foundation, the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative (WPDI).

The strategy I have adopted is to work with youth – with an emphasis on with. In line with UNESCO’s approach, I do consider young women and men as partners rather than mere beneficiaries. Young people should be fully recognized as doers, as partners in the creation of positive change, be it local, national, regional or global. The important point is that we need to provide young people with tools and opportunities so that they can – and they will – come up with their own solutions to address problems that arise in their environment.

One very good example of impact I can think of is that of a youth group we have trained and now support in Tijuana, Mexico. They call themselves CULTIVARTE.

Two years ago, they decided to set up a workshop to teach other youth and children simple ways in which they could help take care of the environment, even from their own home or school.

They introduced children and other youths to such issues as reusable energy and recycling. They even designed pedagogical games that have attracted the attention of a private corporation who now supports their work.

Translating SDG-related issues into messages that other young people and children is fundamental if we want to have a global movement that is true to the spirit of the “Think globally, act locally” motto.

This initiative by WPDI young leaders is a good example of combining learning and empowerment in the sense that it is action-oriented. As citizens, we need to have knowledge on peace, on the human rights as well as on the environment, but we also need to know that we can do something. Based on this approach, I believe that young people should be mobilized to do their part at the local level, including through income-generating schemes and market based solutions. They can help collect recyclable materials, depollute rivers, plant trees, all of which should be seen as services that governments and businesses would support as investments in the bottom line of the future.

Interlinkages with other SDGs

With reference to individual SDGs, we have, in effect, a program that begins under SDG 4 on peace education and global citizenship education with concrete results in line with the principles behind SDG 12 calling to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns”.

Doing more to achieve the Goals

Furthering this strategic approach, we could also think of “youth banks” or earmarked funds that governments and businesses would establish to finance projects designed and implemented by young people to serve the community and to generate income, including through mechanisms that offset the carbon footprint of large emitters. These projects would contribute to the SDGs. Such programs could be systematically integrated to humanitarian initiatives or to projects addressing water issues, environmental degradations or climate change. This would be especially important for climate change because climate change is probably the defining challenge of the decades to come, which means that if we are to work at solutions, we have to realize that young people are part of this solution both today and tomorrow.