Many recent initiatives show that the Sustainable Development Goals won’t be met without the participation of the youth. But how could they participate, when so many young people across the world don’t have access to health, education or employment?

Photo: Drew / Flickr CC
Photo: Drew / Flickr CC

The have-nots of development

Education, health, employment, not all young people in the world have access to these basic services. Unesco estimates that 263 million children and teenagers do not go to school, 3,000 teenagers die every day of preventable causes according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and, in 2016, according to the World Bank, 13.5 % of young people aged 15-24 are unemployed. Yet, it is on this endangered youth that the world’s hope to address tomorrow’s challenges lies. “Children and young women and men are critical agents of change and will find in the new Goals a platform to channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world.” Here is what can be read in the United Nations resolution for the 2030 Agenda, adopted on September 25th, 2015.

This analysis is shared by the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016, as summed up by the two coordinators of the document, Rafiullah Kakar and Abhik Sen, in The Guardian: “Be it ending poverty or pushing back climate change, getting close to [the Sustainable Development Goals] will depend largely on the ability of today’s youth to rise to the challenge.” But, taking a realistic look at the statistics featured in the report, they wonder: if the world’s future lies in the hands of the young, why leave 75% of them by the wayside, thereby ruining their chances to face the changes ahead?


Potential leaders of a more sustainable world

Today’s youth, when given the means to act, are innovative, proactive, solution finders. It is what advocates and demonstrates, amongst other things, the youth initiative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Youth). Created under UN aegis in 2012, this network encourages the youth to take their place in the fight to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.

Its first Youth Solutions Report, published in January 2017, presents fifty initiatives led by young people in about sixty countries. In its pages, we discover SHAPE, an application created in 2015 that enables the inhabitants of Harare, capital of Zimbabwe, to monitor municipal expenditures. Or the Young Forest Entrepreneur contest, created in 2013, that rewards every year an innovative project to improve the management of forests in Latin America.

The potential contribution of youth to sustainable development does not need to be proven anymore. But all the same, the 1.8 billion young people across the world must be given sufficient means for them to become drivers of change.


Discover each month on ID4D the “Development News”, with a brief overview of a topical issue, and the “Press review”, with a selection of web articles, reflections and analyses. 

I subscribe to the ID4D newsletter

Once a week, I receive the latest blog posts!