How can young people lead action on the Sustainable Development Goals?

#iwill Ambassadors Mhairi and Emily share their experiences of the Global Changemakers Virtual Youth Summit, focused on the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Summit

The five day Virtual Youth Summit was more than just a youth conference, it was the creation of a community of 1400 like minded individuals passionate about creating positive change from 125 countries around the world. 

Before the event, we weren’t sure what to expect – we were looking forward to it, but didn’t think we would connect with so many people from around the world who were all equally passionate about the issues they care about!

Each panel was full of inspiration, impact and social innovation. There were five key themes for the panels; people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships.

People

2020 marked a decade of action for the SDGs. Engaging with these goals can help us to build a better future post-pandemic and achieve the 2030 agenda. The first panel of the summit discussed ‘People and the SDGs’ with a particular focus on SDGs 1-6. What stood out was that over half of children around the world are illiterate in English and Maths, global hunger has been on the rise since 2014 and millions of people are without access to clean drinking water.  

Planet

Focussing on SDGs 11-15, this panel provided us with yet further examples of how young people are taking action to protect our planet, from grassroots activism, to educating and empowering others, to starting a sustainable business and leading policy change.  One of the key take-aways came from panel moderator Andrew Brennen: “Young people fundamentally see the world differently.  And, unlike most adults, they can imagine a world that is different”.  The issues here are big, but we can all do something, and as young people, we can most certainly make a difference.

Prosperity

This panel helped to bring a strong sense of community, where we are not intimidated by social problems or environmental issues. The coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly a global crisis, but it is also an opportunity to reach out and support everyone we can no matter their background. We must try to understand others, as well as ourselves, and we cannot underestimate the power of partnerships if we are to be resilient in the face of challenges. Finally, as Chaeli from the Chaeli Campaign said “We must continue to be brave.” and therefore we have to be willing to be vulnerable to enrich our stories and those of others around us.

Peace

What is “peace”?  This was one of the key questions that this panel provided insight into, effectively reframining what we mean by peace. In the UK, we are fortunate that there is not war in our country – but as the panel moderator Pascal Holliger summarised, “the absence of war does not necessarily mean there is peace”. There is conflict between communities and within communities.  Discrimination, violence and poverty are still prevalent, and human rights are not being upheld.  While these issues exist, can we ever be truly living together at peace?

There is hope however, and young people like panel member Jaiksana Soro are taking action: “Peace is not a piece of paper – it is a culture that we should adopt.  We are all one people”.

Partnerships

Partnerships are crucial for creating the systematic change we need in today’s society. This may require shifts in organisations, especially with note to both our patterns of production and consumption of the world’s resources, and we will only achieve this by working together towards our shared goals. We need more businesses to be socially responsible for what is happening to our planet and to act accordingly. We can all help by encouraging other young people to take part in or set up their own projects on topics they are passionate about.

Following the summit, we have both enrolled into the Project Management for Global Changemakers course to learn more about how we can respond to the world’s most pressing challenges. 

Overall, the Virtual Youth Summit showed us the importance of connection and made us realise our own abilities to create positive change around the globe.  Young people should be given a seat at the table to voice our opinions and other organisations can create these opportunities by organising virtual events e.g. webinars on topics young people care about, or create their own young people’s panels.

The Virtual Youth Summit highlighted that there are so many young people doing amazing work to make the world a better place!  We are the leaders of today, and we must start small and start now if we are to see a more sustainable world in our lifetime.

Mhairi is a 21 year old #iwill Ambassador who is based in Inverclyde, Scotland.  She has recently founded Youth STEM 2030, which aims to put young people at the forefront of progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, through science, technology, engineering and maths.

Emily is a 20 year old #iwill ambassador who studies International Relations and Politics at De Montfort University, Leicester. She has recently completed a placement year in marketing communications and has returned home to Norfolk. 

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