Now, in every and any way possible, I am ready to engage

    ECOSOC Youth Forum, January 2018, by Emily Lavallee 

    On the first morning of ECOSOC’s Youth Forum, I arrived early to receive my grounds pass. There were people in various lines in front of the United Nations and across the street. Rush hour, in conjunction with the rush of UN visitors, and Youth Forum attendees, mirrored my own frenzied excitement. However, once we passed through UN security, I felt calm and driven. Some people around me ambled through the UN’s art installations while others walked quickly past, with a clear destination in mind.

    The keynote address by Ms. Salina Abraham, President of International Forestry Students’ Association, set the tone for the day. She eloquently defined sustainable development as being conducive for all types of immigration and resilient to disasters, with a low ecological footprint. Although her organization focuses on raising awareness of how forests are an integral element of sustainable development and of achieving the SDGs, she stressed the importance of involving young people in all the SDGs is the only way to achieve them. Ms. Salina Abraham stressed three things in order for institutions to effectively involve young people in the 2030 agenda: support, listen, engage.

    Throughout the forum, speakers continuously stressed these three points.

    Many representatives detailed the support that they are providing to their young people. The Minister of Youth and Civic Education from Cameroon detailed the country’s support of youth through universal free primary school education, agricultural colleges, promoting STEM for girls, and working under the idea that every student should have a computer.

    During their conversation, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, and Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, discussed how the UN is working to connect with all young people. In order for the UN to listen to young people, they must first have a means of communication. Last year, My World surveys were very successful in giving the UN the ability to connect with and hear from youth all over the world. When youth are in groups that are supported by their local, regional, or national governments, their voices are more easily heard by the UN.

    Finally, engagement was stressed by several speakers. As beneficial as discussion can be, action must always follow in order to make any noted impact. The United Arab Emirates is putting youth at the decision-making table through their youth councils, which serve to advise every level of its government; they have a youth in a federal council in addition to giving youth a seat in the climate change council. A youth delegate from Belgium explained that young people will organize and work to make change regardless of whether the government supports or listens to them. However, if the government does not engage young people, they will bring their talents, and skills elsewhere, or fight to stay involved.

    Youth engagement is not a fight, it’s a right. A representative from Denmark discussed the fact that the youth agenda is a human rights agenda. Therefore, supporting, listening, and engaging youth in decision-making processes and in the government is a benefit to all marginalized groups of people.

    The second day began with breakout sessions. I attended the breakout session where representatives from Asia and the Pacific Islands discussed their efforts in engaging youth in the SDGs. I attended this session because I have an interest in clean air and assumed that it would be a topic of conversation for delegates in areas which have been experiencing very low air quality. Although none of the delegates mentioned air quality, a representative from Nepal shared a story of farmers in his region. He explained that many farmers live hours from each other or a city, making it difficult to communicate with each other, purchasers, or political institutions which have a bearing on their business. In order to remedy this situation, Nepal has developed an app which allows farmers to post their comments and concerns regarding agricultural best practices, or policy concerns.

    I was surprised at the parallels in challenges and strategies to overcome these strategies when compared to my experiences in Newark. In regards to Urban Agriculture in Newark, many farmers struggle to connect with other growers or to voice their needs and concerns to policy officials. In addition to other mechanisms, one suggestion to mediate the challenge of connection is to develop an app. The proposal for this app mirrors the function of the app which the Nepal representative shared.

    During the Youth Forum I felt supported; the UN was creating a space for young people to come and participate in discussions that intend to shape the UN. I also felt like the voices in the room were being met with an open ear; policy makers and representatives from all over the world were listening to the discussions and ideas being shared. Now, in every and any way possible, I am ready to engage.

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