The banner reads: 'Reflecting on 2 years of Youth2030 — the first-ever UN Youth Strategy.'

Adapted from the statements delivered by the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake and Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed during the briefing to UN Member States, co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Slovakia and Sri Lanka, on 16 September 2020 to mark the occasion of the second anniversary of the launch of the Youth2030 Strategy.

By: Jayathma Wickramanayake
UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth

Two years ago at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres launched the UN system-wide youth strategy — “Youth 2030” — in a room filled to the brim with the energy and enthusiasm of young activists and advocates from around the world, joined by Heads of State and representatives from Government, private sector, civil society and other stakeholder groups.

Earlier this month, representatives from youth networks and organizations, together with Agencies, Funds and Programmes from across the UN system — including UN Country Teams — all gathered to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the launch of Youth2030, the UN’s first-ever strategy on youth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly thrown us into a profound human, health and economic crisis — the effects of which will severely and disproportionately affect young people for years to come.

Yet, as they have done time and again in the face of adversity, young people have risen to the challenge — as volunteers, essential workers, innovators and communicators.

This year has shown us that more than ever before, we need a UN that is able and ready to fully support, empower and engage young people to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

There are over 1.8 billion young people in the world today — history’s largest-ever generation of youth. Close to 90 per cent of these young people live in developing countries, where they make up large parts of the population.

Even before the pandemic overturned our lives and aspirations earlier this year, more than one in five young people were not in employment, education or training. Millions of girls become mothers every year, often while still children themselves. Mental health issues among young people continue to see an unprecedented rise. And it is estimated that 408 million young people today live in contexts affected by armed conflict.

The pandemic has exacerbated these existing systemic challenges and it is becoming increasingly clear that its socio-economic impacts will disproportionately affect young people for years to come.

Empowering youth by investing in their human capital and in the innovative solutions they create is our only hope to truly build a more sustainable, just and peaceful world. Simply put, we will not be able to end poverty, ensure gender equality, reverse climate change and achieve the SDGs by 2030 if we fail to empower all young people in all their diversity.

The UN system has long worked with Member States on this issue. The adoption of the World Programme of Action for Youth by the General Assembly in 1995 provided a milestone policy framework for national action and international support to improve the situation of young people around the world.

Building on this history, Youth2030, the first-ever UN Youth Strategy launched in 2018, serves as a common framework for the UN System to come together to work with and for youth.

Young leaders from around the world join the UN Secretary-General and the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in the UN General Assembly Hall. They are holding a sign that says #Youth2030.

Young leaders from around the world join the UN Secretary-General and the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth for the launch of the Youth2030 Strategy in September 2018. (Photo Credit: UN Photo / Mark Garten)

The implementation of Youth2030 benefits from the strategic guidance of a High-Level Steering Committee, which I have the privilege to chair in my capacity as the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. It is composed of representatives of UN Agencies at the Assistant Secretary-General level, together with representatives from youth networks and organizations, as well as young UN staff members.

The Youth2030 Secretariat, established by my office, supports the High-Level Steering Committee and coordinates the overall implementation of the Youth2030 Strategy.

The global roll-out of the strategy is gaining momentum every day. The technical leadership of the Youth2030 Joint Working Group and several dedicated Task Teams are advancing the development of tools and resources for effective implementation and performance measurement, guidance and support.

Ten fast-track countries — including: Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jordan, Morocco, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Uzbekistan — are at the forefront of the strategy’s roll out. The fast-track countries are a pioneering ground for development and fine-tuning of the strategy’s implementation package. They will harness innovative and strategic partnerships across the UN system, as well as with Governments, youth networks, the private sector and civil society, for accelerated achievement of SDGs.

To ensure rigorous and transparent tracking of the strategy’s implementation, a set of two Youth2030 scorecards are in development: one for UN Country Teams and one for the UN entities.

The UN Country Team Scorecard, which consists of 20 indicators, is currently being finalized based on successful pilot testing in three fast-track countries — Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.

The UN Country Team scorecard’s indicators look at:

  • Youth focus in the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks;
  • The UN’s culture, systems and capacities for youth engagement;
  • UN Country Team support to Governments in the areas of policy alignment to SDGs, policy coherence and public financing across sectors relevant to youth; and
  • UN partnerships with youth networks on youth-led innovations and solutions, advocacy and communications.

The scorecard also includes a COVID-19 marker, to capture the rich work of UN Country Teams in COVID-19 response and recovery, with a focus on the engagement of young people in response efforts.

Taking a systems-approach to scale, the UN Country Team scorecard is being fully integrated in the UN Sustainable Development Group information management systems and routine UN Country Team reporting.

We have already established a baseline, which tells us how UN Country Teams are performing on youth today. We learned, for instance, that 71 per cent of the Common Country Analysis conducted by these teams included a youth situational analysis. At the same time, 82 per cent of all Cooperation Frameworks included youth-specific indicators, while only 43 per cent of UN Country Teams had joint or Agency-specific youth advisory boards.

A full baseline for Youth2030 implementation across 131 UN Country Teams will be finalized by December 2020, based on the first set of UN Country Teams reporting on the scorecard. This data will provide a public-facing dashboard in early 2021.

A comprehensive scorecard for UN entities is also currently in development. 31 UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes, including the Regional Commissions, have submitted action plans which they will use to report back on this scorecard.

In addition to the monitoring and evaluation, a comprehensive implementation package — including: guidance, an online programming toolkit, a mapping of multi-stakeholder initiatives and an online training curriculum — is currently in development to support UN Country Teams in the implementation of Youth2030.

To further support the UN’s work at the country-level, dedicated Youth Focal Points, or Youth Advisors, are also being integrated in the Resident Coordinator offices in five of the fast-track countries.

Over the past two years, including throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, my office has continued to successfully put the Youth2030 Strategy into action across its priority areas to support young people in these difficult times.

To support young people during periods of closures of schools and places of work, physical distancing and lockdown, we organized a mental health webinar series in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF titled “#CopingWithCOVID”. Over the course of eleven episodes, it provided a platform for genuine connection amid uncertainty, expert advice and space to voice youth demands for integrated mental health and psychosocial interventions targeting specific vulnerable groups, such a youth living with disabilities, indigenous young people and young LGBTIQ+ people.

At the same time, to showcase and promote young people’s extraordinary work and their leadership despite the challenges of the crisis, and to recognize the role of young people in the COVID-19 response, my office commissioned a blog series highlighting 130 youth organizations and activists from across the world.

In parallel, and in support of the UN75 dialogues this year, the #LeadTheNewNormal campaign served as a platform for young people to come forward, express their COVID-19 reality, redefine their “new normal” and provide their ideas, solutions and suggestions, to build a better future. We received over 800 entries around the world, and the winner had the opportunity to share her ideas as part of the UN75 Virtual Youth Plenary earlier this month.

The launch of a new working paper earlier this year — titled “Believe in Better” — was an important step forward in putting youth-led accountability front and center. Developed in partnership with ActionAid Denmark, and supported by youth organizations, it provides a snapshot of some of the lived experiences of young people around the world, based on their stories and feedback. It also provides concrete recommendations for Governments, civil society and international organizations on how to make accountability processes more inclusive of young people in all their diversity.

Building on the success of last year’s first-ever Youth Climate Summit, my office has also continued to amplify the voices of young climate activists throughout the pandemic.

The photo shows a full council chamber at the UN Headquarters, with youth in the audience and the UN Secretary-General speaking at the front of the room, projected up on a screen.

More than 700 young people gathered at the UN on 21 September 2019 in New York City for the first-ever U.N. Youth Climate Summit. (Photo Credit: UN Photo / Kim Haughton)

Last year through interagency collaboration with UN Office of Information and Communications Technology and UNDP, and in collaboration with private sector partners, my office launched a set of initiatives ahead of the Youth Climate Summit designed to highlight the innovations and solutions that young people are leveraging to tackle the climate crisis, while also providing opportunities for them to work together with Member States, international institutions and private sector partners.

The Summer of Solutions initiative searched for climate action solutions made by young people and for young people in the areas of climate information, circular economy and ethical fashion.

The Reboot the Earth initiative aimed to support young technologists — such as coders, engineers and programmers — in solving regional climate action challenges through a global hackathon series. The hackathon was launched in six different countries and addressed real climate challenges shared by local governments, academia, UN offices and private sector partners.

All of the winning solutions from both initiatives rely on the use of digital technology to address global and local climate challenges.

In this same spirit, the Reach Not Preach platform and the #Youth4Climate Live Series — hosted by the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, in collaboration with the World Bank Group and my office — are bringing together climate activists and policy makers from across generations and sectors to build momentum ahead of the 2021 Pre-COP 26 in Milan and COP 26 in Glasgow.

The appointment of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change is a further example of how my office has supported in institutionalizing the role of youth voices in the implementation of the UN’s climate action strategy, while also substantively contributing to the roll out of the Secretary-General’s Call-to-Action for Human Rights.

The advancement of the youth, peace and security agenda through the leadership of UNFPA and DPPA/PBSO is another core priority of Youth2030. This year, the UN Secretary-General presented his Report on Youth, Peace and Security to the Security Council. Following the report, the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2535 recognizes the role of youth in preventing and resolving conflict, as well as in building and maintaining peace. In this area, my office co-hosted in 2019 the first “Global Symposium on Youth Participation in Peace Processes” in Finland and published a policy paper on youth participation in peace negotiations and peace processes titled “WE ARE HERE: An Integrated Approach to Youth-Inclusive Peace Processes”.

We will continue this work over the next year with Finland, Colombia and Qatar, culminating in an international conference on youth participation in peace processes in 2021. My office has also begun preliminary work to develop guidance on the protection of young human rights activists and peacebuilders, which has become increasingly crucial given the shrinking space for civil society around the world.

Working with and for young people in humanitarian action is another priority highlighted in Youth2030. Coordinated by UNFPA and IFRC the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action has a played a key role, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, in bringing various stakeholders together from the UN, Governments, the private sector and civil society to deliver concrete outcomes that benefit some of the most marginalized and vulnerable young people in the world.

In this way, the Compact serves as a good model for inter-agency and stakeholder collaboration. The operational guidance on “Working with and for young people during COVID-19” and the “Guidelines on working with and for young people in humanitarian and protracted crises” currently under review by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee are two strong examples of collaboration we have supported in this space.

Through partnerships such as Decent Jobs for Youth, led by ILO and Generation Unlimited, led by UNICEF and partners, my office has also supported the UN in its efforts to work with national governments to tackle youth unemployment and promote youth skills and entrepreneurship.

Recognizing the importance of youth leadership when it comes to achieving the SDGs, we established an initiative called Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals. A cohort of 17 Young Leaders is selected every two years. These change-makers have shown exceptional leadership in catalyzing the achievement of the SDGs in sectors ranging from the sciences to fashion to food to finance, amongst many other areas. This month, I was honoured to announce the 2020 class of Young Leaders who exemplify many of the best contributions of youth today when it comes to finding the best solutions needed to deliver on the 2030 Agenda.

In the past two years, my office has worked tirelessly to meaningfully engage youth in key intergovernmental processes. As part of the UN75 global dialogues, my office worked together with the Office of the President of the General Assembly and youth organizations to facilitate inputs from more than 4,000 young people States — including through a virtual town hall, UN75 Virtual Youth Plenary and ongoing online surveys — on their vision for the future of multilateralism, which ultimately informed the UN75 Declaration by Member States. While the annual ECOSOC Youth Forum was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic, young people still contributed to the High-Level Political Forum deliberations. In the ICPD+25 and Beijing+25 processes, young people continue to engage and hold leaders to account through various channels.

I am committed to continue to work with young people, UNFPA, UN Women and other partners for the advancement of these two important agendas. My office’s support for meaningful youth participation in the Generation Equality process and its Action Coalitions, including the role of the Youth Task Force, as well as my engagement as a member of the High-Level Commission on the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 Follow-up, are among these efforts.

In line with the principle of fair internships, I am delighted to share that my office has partnered with UN Volunteers to establish a youth fellowship programme to serve as a model for equal opportunities for young people to intern at the UN. Additionally, efforts are being made to strengthen the position and situation of young people within the UN system itself, and systems are being developed to incentivize all UN entities to continuously improve the position of young people in the organization as a key tenet of the implementation of the Youth2030 Strategy.

One of the things that the UN must continue to learn from young people is the resilience reflected in young people’s leadership. Youth activism often begins online with advocacy and demands for accountability, but it never ends there. Young people’s leadership is characterized by the strong connection between online action to offline impact. To celebrate this — and in the spirit of marking the two-year anniversary of the Youth2030 Strategy — we have collaborated with Twitter to create the first ever #YouthLead emoji designed by young people, for young people.

Through this emoji, we are inviting young people from all around the world to share their perspectives on what youth leadership looks like to them — highlighting the many innovations, challenges and successes that youth continue to experience every day. Our vision for this hashtag and emoji is to provide a channel through which young people everywhere can continue to share their views so that institutions like the UN can listen and amplify their voices and leadership on these important issues.

This GIF shows the #YouthLead hashtag in the six main UN languages — English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Arabic.

Today, as we look to recover better together from the pandemic, I echo the UN Secretary-General’s call, issued on the occasion of this year’s International Youth Day, for leaders and adults everywhere to do everything possible to enable the world’s youth to enjoy lives of safety, dignity and opportunity, and contribute to the fullest of their great potential.

I call on all UN Member States to:

  • Invest in youth empowerment and development in their national development plans;
  • Ensure youth representation in regional and global intergovernmental processes;
  • Continue leveraging their seats in key decision-making bodies such as the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and governing bodies of UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes to advocate for youth concerns and for their engagement as equal partners in the design, implementation, review and accountability for the policies and programmes of the UN; and
  • Consider increasing funding for the implementation of the Youth2030 Strategy across the UN system.

At the same time, I call on all UN entities and UN Country Teams to accelerate the implementation of Youth2030 across the foundational and programmatic priority areas.

I call on youth organizations and movements to:

  • Keep advocating for their rights;
  • Engage in design, monitoring and review of national youth development programmes and initiatives;
  • Design and deliver youth-led initiatives and solutions; and
  • Continue to hold all stakeholders, including myself, my office and the UN, accountable to the realization of their rights and the implementation of the Youth2030 Strategy.

More than ever before, young people around the world have shown extraordinary courage, leadership, solidarity and innovation in their desire to build a more sustainable, peaceful and just world for current and future generations — even in the midst of a global pandemic. The changes young people are demanding for on the streets must be reflected in the work of the United Nations.

I look forward to continuing working hand-in-hand with you to make sure the UN is ready and able to deliver together with and for history’s largest generation of young people.