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    Friday, November 16, 2018

    We Aren’t Waiting for Our Inheritance - Youth Leaders Are Already at the Center of Sustainable Development

    President Julia Blocher during her speech at Vatican Youth Symposium in Vatican City, 2018
    President Julia Blocher during her speech at Vatican Youth Symposium in Vatican City, 2018 

    We Aren’t Waiting for Our Inheritance - Youth Leaders Are Already at the Center of Sustainable Development

    By: Julia Blocher, IYF President

    Youth leaders are often told that they will “inherit the earth”. These innovators, change makers, and social entrepreneurs around the world are encouraged to contribute to local, national, and regional actions. A number of international sustainable development initiatives seek to channel the infinite capacities of youth for innovation, activism and humanity towards a better future. These include the International Youth Federation, SDSN Youth, European Young Leaders, Ashoka Changemakers, and the World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Shapers’, to name just a few. All of these initiatives have one thing in common: they work to champion and elevate the projects and ideas young leaders are already driving forward. 

    And it’s working. Youth leaders have earned their places at the highest tables. We have reached a pivotal moment in ensuring young people around the world realize their potential, and it starts by giving them that seat – by more genuinely engaging them in global decision-making processes.

    Four key learnings guide my engagement in – and confidence in - the global youth movement.

    Youth believe that every individual can and should contribute to building peaceful, inclusive, and just societies, as a necessary prerequisite to meaningfully pursuing the other goals of sustainable development. 

    Youth activists understand that the full engagement of citizens and governments is needed to build and sustain an enabling environment for economic stability, human rights, and effective governance; equal opportunities for human development across and within present and future generations; gender equality; social and cultural cohesion; reduction of poverty and inequality; and the elimination of racial and ethnic discrimination in all its forms and manifestations. Of particular note are efforts to end modern-day slavery, which is among the most grotesque symptoms of injustice and violence. Through collaborative action, many young people believe ours can be the generation to end slavery.

    Youth practice mindfulness and action. They speak out against social injustices, corruption, and all forms of violence and exploitation. They are conscious of the sources and conditions that produced the goods the services they invest in. They protect, assisting, connect with and lift up the most vulnerable and marginalized. I am continuously inspired by many youth-led initiatives making concrete contributions to building dialogue, amplifying underrepresented voices, making safe spaces, and ensuring no one is left behind, including IYF members in Kuwait, Morocco and the U.S.

    Youth believe in the potential of formal, non-formal, and non-traditional education and training to contribute to human development, and recognize the benefits of diversity and inclusion through migration.  

    Informal and non-traditional forms of education and skills training are critical for our future, as the current trajectory of formal higher education institutions around the world will be unable to keep up with the demographic youth bulge. The good news is that there is a growing consensus that the future of work will be defined by youth-led STEM innovations, recognition of non-traditional skills and non-formal learning, closing the gender gap, and fair business practices. These issues are particularly acute in developing countries, where the working-age population is projected to increase by over 2 billion by 2050, but employment levels are likely to fall short of this number by over 800 million. 

    The shortfall in employment in developing countries may increase demand for international migration pathways, and providing such options has been shown to lead to positive economic growth and entrepreneurship in receiving areas, resilience-building and financial support in home communities, and sociocultural exchange and integration. Most of the world’s governments – including many that serve aging populations - have acknowledged the win-win-win benefits of safe and dignified migration for education and employment opportunities. Youth represent an increasing proportion of migrants, and are also typically on the frontlines of migrant integration and inclusion in urban areas.

    Youth should also have a greater role in ensuring that migration frameworks - including the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration to be adopted next month - are implemented nationally and locally in ways that maximize benefits for migrants and their communities while minimizing the potential challenges. These include questions related to evolving national and local identities, perceived (and actual) job competition in some sectors, and the difficulties faced by family members of migrants who remain in the area of origin. 

    Youth believe in responsible environmental custodianship.
    The global destabilization of our planetary system through anthropogenic climate change is the single biggest threat the achievement of the other key objectives of sustainable development. It is an undeniable global injustice that those who contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions are those who suffer the most from the impacts of climate change. Among the most visible and negative consequences of climate change for human and social systems are the notable increases in the severity of natural hazards and livelihoods insecurity, which disproportionately affect poor and vulnerable communities. Yet the negative effects of climate change, as well as many of its causes, are integrated into nearly every major sector of our society: health, infrastructure, transportation, energy, food, and water.

    The impetus for youth leadership in climate change action is painfully clear: we will not solve this problem with the same system and leadership that caused the crisis in the first place. We must adopt a holistic approach, informed by the key tenets of sustainable development, to foster transformative change in our global society. Thankfully, young people everywhere are stepping up to the challenge – pressuring their leaders, developing innovative technologies, and organizing campaigns and initiatives in their local communities.

    Youth are sustainable development natives. 
    Our generation is unprecedented for far more reasons than just its size. We embody - and indeed, are native to – a unique set of values and insights that place us in a position to confront the greatest challenges facing the world today. 

    The points above represent a set of complex issues, and are not the only ones youth are working dedicatedly to address. They may not be all be solved quickly, or all at once. But they are not insurmountable. With concerted, collaborative, global-minded, community-oriented, and people-centered actions, we can make significant advances towards building the future we want. 

    The International Youth Federation works in line with the values of the global youth movement to foster effective knowledge sharing, convening, collaborating, peer-to-peer support systems, and leadership training. IYF wants to unleash the potential by galvanizing and empowering youth leaders in efforts towards sustainable, inclusive human development. 

    Fortunately, many are already well on the way.

    Julia Blocher, IYF President
    Julia Blocher became the President of the International Youth Federation on 15 November 2018. You can follow her on Twitter.

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