(Convener - African Youth SDGs Summit & participant in UNDP’s 16 x 16 Initiative)
In September 2015, the nations of the world through the United Nations agreed to follow a chosen path in building a sustainable world over the next fifteen years; a world that would not just survive, but would thrive through environmental sustainability, social inclusion and economic development. Thus, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed and adopted unanimously by the UN Member States. The buildup to the formulation and adoption of the SDGs was a notably inclusive global development process and an improvement from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with millions of people including children, youth, governments, civil society, academia, the private sector and the media consulted through grassroots consultations. This brought local voices, interests and perspectives on how to make the world a better place by 2030 to the fore. Five years later, I, as a young development practitioner, am certain that it is just as important to involve these parties in the implementation and evaluation of the SDGs.
Therefore, in response to the need to consolidate the efforts and contributions of young people and to offer space for youth participation in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs, we at Youth Advocates Ghana (YAG) established the African Youth SDGs Summit of which I am the convener. Launched in 2017, the African Youth SDGs Summit was the first continental SDG event led by young people and held in sub-Saharan Africa as the largest gathering space for dialogue, networking, learning, celebration of successes and participation of young people in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the AU Agenda 2063.
According to a 2015 UNDP Report, Africa’s youth population is expected to more than double its current size of 226 million within the next forty years. At the heart of the SDGs is social inclusion. Who better to be involved in the sustainable development of the continent than the ones who would live in it? Given the fast-increasing levels of ability and know-how among African Youth, courtesy of, among other factors, access to extensive and thorough education, abundant information sources in the media, internet access, and the diminishing of geographical borders through globalization and improved ICTs, the African Youth is poised to play a crucial role in building a more sustainable future for the continent.
The Contributions of the African Youth SDGs Summit to the Achievement of the SDGs.
Unlike many global platforms, the African Youth SDGs Summit prides itself as a platform fully led by young people in collaboration with Ghana`s Ministry of Planning, the SDGs Advisory Unit at Ghana’s Office of the President, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) among several local and international development agencies. The Summit thrives on the creativity, energy and tenacity of a team of young people who coordinate, plan and deliver what many have described as a world class event.
As an advocacy platform, the Summit offered opportunity to share expertise and best practices to inform policy making. For instance, Ghana`s Voluntary National Review (VNR), reported at the 2019 High Level Political Forum, cited the Summit as a critical platform for youth engagement. Additionally, summit participants have themselves become champions of the SDGs with new youth networks established in countries such as Liberia, Zimbabwe, Mali, Uganda, Nigeria, Togo among others that are important channels for influencing policies and monitoring the SDG-delivery at national level through their respective national development planning commissions.
The Summit has also witnessed consistent growth of interest and importance since its inception in 2017, evolving to become an important multi-stakeholder platform with focus on young people and their roles in achieving the SDGs. In the first summit in 2017, we had 500 young people in attendance representing youth agencies, national governments, civil society organizations and the UN agencies. The number tripled to 1,500 at the 2018 summit, with patrons from 45 countries in attendance to deliberate on critical issues affecting the achievement of SDGs in Africa. Key stakeholders include Africa’s youth-led and youth-focused organizations, civil society, state actors, policy makers, local government, and the private sector in Africa. Through the platform the Summit provides, these parties have introduced and promoted their flagship programmes targeted at youth for SDGs.
Despite these successes, organizing the African Youth SDGs Summit has come with its own challenges. Critical to this is breaking through the socio-cultural and institutional barriers which undermines the power, leadership and contribution of young people to Africa`s development efforts. Instances such as non-reply to several emails, phones calls, loss of documents and failure of institutions to commit and entrust youth with resources were some of the challenges.
The way forward:
African youth as agents of change
One of the most important observations through the previous African Youth SDGs Summits was the notable depth of energy, innovation and creativity among the youth. Their resourcefulness and dynamism to drive Africa forward was undeniable, even overwhelming during the summit. The growing interest among all stakeholders to invest in youth development should be sustained and matched with practical steps and commitments, while entrusting the youth with responsibilities to demonstrate our preparedness to support national development efforts.
Promote anti-corruption and meaningful participation
The African Youth SDGs Summit also brought to the fore the fact that, despite the above situation, there remains a concerning gap between expectations and opportunities available to Africa’s youth. Many participants expressed great distaste for the systemic and growing culture of corruption on the African continent, and shared how this has consistently frustrated their hopes and aspirations.
Education and localization of the Global Goals
We found that there are a lot of youth in Africa who are not adequately informed in issues concerning the 2030 Agenda and the AU Agenda 2063 national processes, particularly how they can contribute to these issues in their respective nations. This will require more education on the subject and localization of SDGs for individuals to know exactly how they can participate. Young people ought to take advantage of self-learning opportunities to build their capacities; not hesitating to partner with peers with like-minded ideas and interests so they can combine resources and develop their ideas for business and innovation.
Having expressed the desire to set up their own businesses, the youth expressed frustrations with obstructive structures, inadequate funding opportunities and inadequate dedication to building entrepreneurial capacity. Spaces for mentorship and capacity building should be created for African youth to further build and develop post-academic competencies in order to prepare them for the job market. To promote youth innovation, it is important for development partners, the donor community and the private sector to create grants portfolios with soft criteria targeting social entrepreneurs and youth organizations in Africa.
Platforms and networks
It was further observed that interaction and exchanges between young people across countries in Africa is unstructured. This lack of coordinated interactions and exchanges is due in part to inadequate governance and limited opportunities for exchange programmes, bilateral youth events, or programmes within African countries, as government agreements often omit components of youth inter-cultural exchanges. In order to bridge this gap, there is the need for national governments, the African Union, the UN System and Civil Society Organizations to create opportunities for youth exchanges across African continent among the youth to facilitate cross-cultural and cross–country education, training, learning and employment to improve knowledge.
Access to information
Additionally, the cost of Internet access and prohibiting Internet regulations in some countries restrict access to information, as well as curtailing innovation and dialogue among young people, which have the potential to otherwise accelerate delivery of SDGs and development in African communities. In order to harness the full potential in this demographic and empower the youth to play active roles in development, it is integral to consciously and systematically reduce the cost of internet access, eliminate all barriers to communications and increase the connection of communities to internet access.
With about 10 years to 2030, it is important for all stakeholders working within the SDG framework to accelerate their efforts, including strengthening the capacity of the youth to ensuring that no one is left behind.