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Youth Empowerment and the SDGs: Raising Voices

20 Apr 2016



UNRISD Director Paul Ladd lent his voice to a debate on youth empowerment through the Sustainable Development Goals, following on from his engagement with February’s ECOSOC Youth Forum 2016 where he spoke at a High-Level Dialogue on the Role of Youth in the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda. At this week’s Geneva event, organized by the Interns With A Mission initiative, speakers debated the motion “The current SDG framework provides enough opportunities for youth involvement and empowerment”.

After opening remarks by Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), four panelists representing two UN agencies, the Swiss government and Swiss youth debated the motion. They were expertly guided by moderator Charlotte Warakaulle, formerly senior official at UNOG and now Director of International Relations at CERN. The panel’s interventions were followed by a lively open debate, with insightful and informed questions from a full house of about 150 interns from across International Geneva.

Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre and Lyne Calder of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, speaking in favour of the motion, argued that the strength of the new Agenda lies in the way that youth is mainstreamed across the SDGs, because it is a cross-cutting issue. They highlighted how monitoring of the Goals will produce more age-disaggregated data, helping to make the circumstances of youth more visible. And they emphasized how the consultative, bottom-up process of producing the SDGs, which included young people, has helped to make them more inclusive.

Paul Ladd and Malika Dreyfuss, speaking against the motion, first underlined their support for Agenda 2030, then expressed doubts as to whether sufficient opportunities for youth to participate in SDG implementation existed, particularly at the national and local levels. Paul Ladd described what he called “political biases”, such as non-democratic political systems, which severely curtail the possibilities for young people to raise their voices. Malika Dreyfuss, from the youth-driven social entreprise Euforia, spoke for the many young people with visions who are not empowered enough to live their dreams.

The debate was concluded with a vote on the motion, which the “no” side won with 192 votes and just 62 in favour of the motion.

While the votes were counted, a video message from David Nabarro, UN Special Adviser on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and for Climate Change was shown, who encouraged young people to act as agents of change. The final word before the reception was from the Ambassadors of Belgium and Switzerland, who congratulated interns at the UN for their initiative and closed the meeting with this final thought, redolent of the discussion: the question should not only be what the SDGs can do for young people, but what young people can do to implement the SDGs.

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