There is nothing more vibrant than a group of youth discussing the present and planning the future. Inventiveness, passion, diversity, hope and vision powered the spirit of the 2017 ECOSOC Youth Forum at the United Nations Headquarters. We, hundreds of young and “young at heart” people, participated in an open conversation to voice our priorities and stand up for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in our own realities. Most importantly, we witnessed the actions that other youth like us are leading out there, rain or shine.
Even though time will never be enough for such a passionate conversation, I wanted to reflect on the takeaways of the forum, and those that particularly resonated with Latin American youth like me.
We are disproportionately affected by poverty and inequality because more than 500 million youth aged 15–24 live on less than $2 a day, and specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean this is the reality of 39% of the young population.
The SDGs were adopted with the solid global commitment to leave no one behind. While there is not a specific goal focused on youth, there are approximately 60 indicators within the SDGs measuring youth development. It is clear that the power of the young generation cannot be underestimated.
We have the energy and we are ready for the opportunities!
Equality is one of the most defying challenges of our generation. While a few move forward, many others cannot overcome poverty, even when working. Having a decent job as well as taking part of economic growth is a key goal for youth and an essential piece to ensure sustainability in the long run.
During the forum, I was very fortunate sit on a panel at the SDG Media Zone along with Matteo Landi from UNIDO and Rozemarijn ter Horst from the Water Youth Network. We shared ideas on how Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure is a key vehicle for youth to achieve equality and a source of rightful employability, an ecosystem of stakeholders that have the power to tackle climate change in the larger scale, and among many other things to build sustainable cities and communities for the present and the future.
I am convinced that the “I” Goal (Goal 9) — as some like to call it for its triple “I” — needs a lot of “I’s” and particularly a lot of “we’s”. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure are collective concepts, they imply a conglomerate of companies, governments and other stakeholders, and above all people. This is why their advancement should be a shared responsibility as well.
Who am I and what do I do? I am a UN Young Leader for the SDGs and social entrepreneur. I cofounded Liter of Light Mexico and we are nonprofit that recycles plastic bottles and transforms them into solar lamps. Our world is in urgent need of equitable infrastructure and Mexico and Latin America are not an exception. Liter of Light developed a solution to make solar power easily accessible to communities around the world. By using locally available materials, developing local partnerships and empowering local leaders, this open-source model enables people to create their own house bulbs and streetlights and improve their life quality.
In developing countries, an estimated 2/3 of the youth are not fulfilling their economic potential. In my life I managed to find a professional path through social entrepreneurship and I know many other young people are succeeding in similar ways. While talking to other youth at the forum, many of us agreed that encouraging entrepreneurship — to try, fail, learn and succeed — from an early age should always be part of the inclusion efforts and poverty alleviation strategies around the world.
With the right set of skills, starting a business or social venture can represent not only a solid path to employment generation but also a seedbed for innovation at all levels; agriculture, health, sanitation, energy or industry, you name it.
We have a voice and you are never too experienced to listen to it!
Did you know that 2 out of 3 countries do not consult young people as a part of the process of preparing poverty reduction strategies or national development plans?
Youth are constantly denied spaces as a result of stereotypes, such as the immaturity and incapability to deal with pressing topics, while in fact some countries have never had a more prepared young generation in their history. Don’t forget that we want not only a seat at the table, but we are also looking forward to having an impact once we get there.
Throughout the ECOSOC Youth Forum, young delegates from around the world expressed they are open and eager to partner with adults and even proposed new avenues to bring children on board. It was loudly heard that solidarity across generations is a key element for social development.
The recently launched Not Too Young to Run campaign was a popular highlight at the forum; due to the alarming fact that less than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are under 30 years old.
We definitely need to do more! There is a lot of talk and not enough action.
This was a common concern from youth activists and organizations. While the forum is a step to dialogue and set the ground, everyday actions are very much needed to achieve the global agenda we all are pursuing. I contribute to the SDGs through my work at Liter of Light Mexico and the Young Americas Business Trust, but there are so many things we all can do. For us, innovation came through a plastic bottle, but for others it may come through a pencil, a computer or an apple. Possibilities are truly infinite.
Clearly all seventeen goals need determined “I’s” and strong “we’s”. That is the only way to fulfill our 2030 mission. Whether it is gender equality, infrastructure, peace or climate there is an urgent need for working solutions responding to a wide array of needs. Young people own an undeniable potential to lead now; let’s not wait until tomorrow. We already are trailblazers and drivers of sustainable growth. It is time to build bridges; to pave the way for all generations to see us as partners, experts, creators, and above all, as human beings working to build more inclusive societies and a healthier planet for us all.
 World Economic Forum, 2014