On 18 September 2018, United Nations’ (UN) Member States, Civil Society, Private Sector, and other stakeholders, got together at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) – the highest level and largest International gathering where all 193 Member States convene to discuss global issues.

As part of her mandate to realize the UN Secretary General’s vision to fulfil the potential of young people, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, had a particularly busy UNGA. Her engagements included the launch of the Second Class of UN Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the High-Level Launch Event for the UN Youth Strategy; many high-level meetings with stakeholders and partners from all over the world; and to top it off, an appearance at the Global Citizen Festival at Central Park.

Below are some of the key highlights.


On Sunday 23 September 2018, Jayathma launched the Second Class of Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the Social Good Summit held in New York.

The Young Leaders initiative aims to recognize exceptional young people who are leaders in the effort to end poverty, combat climate change and reduce inequalities. Spearheaded by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the Young Leaders Initiative recognizes on a bi-annual basis 17 Young Leaders who are driving change to help realize the SDGs.

UN Foundation / Diane Bondareff

UN Foundation / Diane Bondareff

“These young leaders represent some of the best human ingenuity and leadership we need in this world,” said the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth as she revealed the next generation of leaders. As scientists, innovators, storytellers, activists, and so much more, these Young Leaders represent five continents, and their constituencies of millions of young people around the world. To learn more about the individual Young Leaders and what they have accomplished, click here.

At the Social Good Summit, the Youth Envoy also took the stage with YouTube Influencer Lilly Singh to talk about the intersection of technology and human progress, the power of social media to create social change, the importance of quality education, and equality for girls and young women. You can watch the full discussion here.

UN Foundation / Stuart Ramson

UN Foundation / Stuart Ramson

To conclude the evening, Jayathma and the SDG Young Leaders were received at the SDGs Leaders Reception and Partner event held at the UN Headquarters. This event – which had the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and Deputy-Secretary-General, Ms. Amina Mohammed in attendance – brought young leaders and advocates together to discuss how to scale-up action to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

Jayathma was delighted to see the SDG Young Leaders recognized for their great work towards achieving the SDGs and called for immediate action to drive positive change for young people across the world.


On Monday 24 September 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General (SG), Mr. Antonio Guterres, kicked-off the UN General Assembly with the launch of the first ever UN Youth Strategy at the High-Level Event ‘Youth 2030’. The event, which was co-hosted by Jayathma, the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, and Ms. Henrietta Fore. Executive Director of UNICEF, marked the beginning of a new and improved way of working with and for young people to ensure that the United Nations’ work delivers for those we serve. A UN fit for purpose, is a UN fit for youth!

The UN Youth Strategy is particularly special because it represents an unprecedented effort that aims to guide the entire UN System as it works to empower young people to realize their full potential and ensure their engagement and meaningful participation. You can download the strategy in English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, or Spanish here.

UN Photo/ Mark Garten

UN Photo/ Mark Garten

While it is often the case at High-Level events that young people speak last – if they even get a chance to speak at all – at the launch of Youth 2030 Batool Alwahdani, the youth speaker, spoke at the very beginning of the event, even preceding the United Nations Secretary-General. She kicked-off the event noting that “The new UN Youth Strategy is an investment in a better future for my generation. It establishes all possible means to support, enable and strengthen meaningful youth participation all over the world.”

In attendance of the event were 30 Heads of State and Government, over 130 Youth Representatives, over 40 CEOs from the Private Sector, among many others. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Social Media Influencer Lily Singh was also in attendance, along with Korean boy band BTS.

Commitments to the UN Youth Strategy were voiced throughout the event, with Denmark being the first partner to make a direct financial contribution towards its implementation. “If we want real change for the better, we need to ensure development not just for young people – but with and by young people,” said H.E. Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark, as he spoke alongside Denmark’s Youth Delegate.

The event also featured key high-level speakers including, H.E. Ms. Maria Fernanda Espinosa, President of General Assembly; H.E Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda; H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana; and H.E. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya. The event concluded with a powerful performance by poet, activist, and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Emtithal Mahmoud.

Watch the full launch event here.

Prior to the launch, Jayathma participated in a panel discussion on “Working with and for Young People,” at the SDG Media Zone. Also, in attendance were OSGEY partners: Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark; Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund; Maher Nasser, Director of Outreach Division for UN Department of Public Information; as well as two young leaders: Burak Doluay, Young Leader for the SDGs; and Miao Wang, Young Champion of the Earth for UN Environment. You can watch the panel discussion here.




On Tuesday, 25 September, Jayathma began her morning by participating in a live discussion on the United Nations’ Facebook page to talk about the launch of the UN Youth Strategy – which is aimed at putting young people at the heart of everything the UN does. Catch-up on the FB live here.

Following the FB Live, Jayathma traded in her traditional Sari for workout clothes to attend the Global Goals World Cup, where she played soccer for youth empowerment, gender equality, and climate change. The Global Goals World Cup aims to inspire young amateur athletes to become champions of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and drive progress and change in their communities. The SDG Young Leaders were also in attendance, along with Norwegian Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, and other officials.



During these exciting events, Jayathma held several bilateral meetings to discuss the implementation of the UN Youth Strategy, and how to progress the global youth agenda.

One of Jayathma’s first meetings was with Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, the Secretary General’s Special Advisor for the Sahel, to discuss opportunities and challenges faced by young people in the Sahel region. She also had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Jutta Urpilainen, Foreign Minister’s Special Representative on Mediation of Finland, to discuss how to implement two United Nations Resolutions which are crucial for

the empowerment of young people – n. 2250 on youth representation in decision-making and n. 2419 for increasing the role of youth in negotiating and implementing peace agreements.

Further, the Envoy on Youth held a productive meeting with Mr. Nikolai Astrup – Minister of International Development in Norway – to discuss how to maximize digital cooperation, young people’s access to technology, and the participation of young people in the implementation, monitoring and review of the SDGs.

Youth Envoy with Ibrahim Thiaw

Youth Envoy with Ibrahim Thiaw

Other meetings included Mr. Erik Solheim (Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme), Ms. Epsy Campbell Barr (First Vice President of Costa Rica), Mr. Mohamed Bangura (Minister of Youth Affairs of Sierra Leone), Ms. Mary Robinson (Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate), Daisry Ndeshihala Mathias (Advisor to the President of Nambia on Youth Matters), and Mr. Maithripala Sirisena (President of Sri Lanka), among many others.

Jayathma also took the opportunity to meet with young people and youth groups, including young Palestinians advocating for the continuation of funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Save the Children’s Girl Champions advocating to end child marriage and increased access to education, World Organization of Scouts Movement, and had an interview with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. You can watch the interview here.

UN OSGEY / Loulwa Murtada

UN OSGEY / Loulwa Murtada

The annual Goalkeepers event hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was held on 26 September. During this event, Jayathma announced an initiative called ‘Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator’ which will support young people and youth organizations in collecting, curating & generating data on the SDG’s progress. Learn more about the initiative here.

On 28 September, Jayathma was the moderator for the launch event of the Youth, Peace, and Security 2250 Progress Study titled, “The Missing Peace: Independent Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security.” This report represents a monumental step as it looks at and highlights the vital role young people play in building lasting peaceful societies through preventing violence, providing humanitarian support in conflict areas and contributing to post-conflict truth and reconciliation processes.

During the launch event, which was co-organized by OSGEY, Jayathma praised the fearless young people who are risking their lives to advance peace in their communities. At the same time, she called on governments to invest in young people’s natural talent for mediation, as they are so largely underrepresented in peace processes. The Youth Envoy also spoke at the High-Level event on Mediation, hosted by the Foreign Ministers of Finland and Turkey, where she further promoted the importance of youth participation in mediation.


To wrap-up a productive and successful UNGA, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth participated as a speaker at the Global Citizen Festival in New York. Here 60,000 people gathered at Central Park to take actions to help end world poverty by 2030.

Jayathma shared the stage with Mr. Jamal Edwards – Microsoft’s Global Advocate for Digital Peace – to talk about Microsoft’s #DigitalPeaceNow campaign. In today’s day and age, we are at more risk than ever before from cyberwarfare. Therefore, we share a responsibility to protect our interconnected, digital spaces and the #DigitalPeaceNow campaign is bringing Digital Citizens together to call upon our world leaders to create rules to protect our digital society. You can join the campaign here.

Global Citizen Festival Photo

Global Citizen Festival Photo