Today, almost half of the world’s population is 21 years old or younger, a number that is expected to grow. Between 2015 and 2030 alone, around 1.9 billion young people are expected to turn 15 years old. This means that 3 to 4 billion young people are in need of being developed. Ready or not, they will lead our world into the future. The involvement of today’s generation of youth in development decision-making, engaging them and providing a space to exchange and think together about their contribution to sustainable development in local communities, is critical to sustainability and long-term success.This decade has witnessed important improvements in terms of human development, yet deep challenges persist. With uneven progress, many young people are still facing interlocked practices of discrimination, restricted political inclusion, high levels of poverty and limited access to health systems, educational opportunities and decent jobs.
On Aug. 12, the world celebrated International Youth Day, and this year’s focus is on the leading role of young people in ensuring poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable consumption and production. This day is designated to highlight the global impact of youth, engage them in conversations with their local, national and international leaders, and cultivate their increased contributions to their communities.
Kicking off the week of the International Youth Day 2016 in Lebanon, UNESCO, in collaboration with the U.N. Youth Task Force on Youth, organized a meeting on “Youth Leadership and Sustainable Development Goals in Lebanon” on Aug. 5. The meeting aimed at raising awareness of the SDG process in Lebanon among youth stakeholders, including youth organizations, networks and activists, stressing the role of youth in achieving SDGs and the positive impact of youth engagement on sustainability.
Earlier, on June 15, 2016, the U.N. launched a new initiative searching for “exceptional young leaders to help achieve” SDGs, help “end poverty, combat climate change and reduce inequality.” Each year the Young Leaders Initiative will identify 17 young people who are driving change to help achieve the SDGs. The initiative “will showcase the outstanding leadership of young people putting the world on a more sustainable path.” Over 18,000 submissions from 186 countries were received during a month-long call for nominations, the U.N. announced in a press release. “The selected ‘Class of 2016’ will be announced ahead of the U.N. General Assembly high-level week in September,” it added.
As indicated by the United Nations Development Program in terms of fast facts, “65 out of the 169 SDG targets reference young people explicitly or implicitly, with a focus on empowerment, participation and/or well-being.” In addition, “there are 20 youth-specific targets spread over six key SDGs: hunger, education, gender equality, decent work, inequality and climate change.” In order to achieve “participation, inclusion, accountability and revitalized global engagement embedded in Goals 16 (peaceful, just and inclusive societies) and 17 (partnerships and implementation),” “young people’s involvement is key.”
The youth are change makers if we look more thoroughly into their issues, challenges and aspirations. According to the latest World Bank report, Lebanon’s population is estimated at around 4.5 million and projected to increase to 5.2 million by 2030, 41 percent of which are youth up to the age of 24 mostly living in urban areas. The number of students enrolled in major universities in Lebanon has grown from 75,000 in 1993 to 192,000 in 2013, a 255 percent increase. Investing in the young generation can lead Lebanon to a better future.
Today’s youth are taking on the burden of the world. How can we assist them in leading today and in becoming effective leaders in the future? How can we reinforce their identities as leaders and help them garner the capacities they require today and as they look toward an ambivalent future?
Young people today play a key role in tackling the world’s crises and in creating an environment we want and deserve to inhabit. Young leaders across the world are rising to safeguard our future and help heal our ailing planet.
According to the U.N., “the threat of terrorism has expanded and become increasingly decentralized and diffuse throughout the past 10 years. Investing in young people is key to future prosperity.” Countering violent extremism and radicalization is possible through positive youth development. A participatory approach is required that engages young people within their communities, academic institutions, organizations, peer groups and families in a manner that is productive and constructive.
Our young people are best positioned to take on the challenge of sustainability and offer a real opportunity. By recognizing the capabilities of the younger generation, and furthering and making use of those strengths, identifying opportunities, nurturing positive ties and providing the backing necessary to build on their leadership strengths, we will create a climate of resilience and bring so much hope to a world in despair.
The world is not in need of another program but a shift toward a new direction. Empowering young leaders is vital in building stronger communities. Youth-adult partnerships not only ensure that young people retain the right to play a role in developing programs that will serve them but also the right to have a say in the shaping of policies that will impact their lives. They have a unique perspective of the world as it is and as it can be.
Young people need good role models; yet when we invest in youth, they become role models for us as well. Robert F. Kennedy said, “The world demands the qualities of youth. Not a time of life, but a state of mind.”
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine