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The sixth Economic and Social Council Youth Forum concluded today with participants calling for young people to champion their own interests, rather than merely handing over power to their elders, as they took their place at the forefront of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.

Panel discussions focused on youth engagement in eradicating poverty, and on ways to finance youth development, with an accent on youth entrepreneurship, partnership with the private sector, job creation for young people and enhancing their voice in decision-making.

Young people today are not the generation to sit around and wait for other people to help them out, said Ivana Ilic, General Secretary of YMCA Europe, at the conclusion of the Forum. She, among other participants, called for the creation of a permanent United Nations entity that would enable young people to have an ongoing voice in implementing the 2030 Agenda.

Children and youth are experts in their own lives, added Solveig Horne, Minister for Children and Equality of Norway, during the session on poverty eradication that also heard how an annual Francophonie forum on youth and green jobs brought young people together with partners to bring innovation to life.

A delegate from Syria took the floor to describe how nearly six years of conflict in her country had severely affected its economy and social fabric. No words can describe my feelings when I see the destruction of my hometown, Aleppo, she said, expressing disappointment at a lack of international action and affirming the need to look at refugees as human beings full of potential.

Opening the discussion on financing youth employment, Werner Faymann, noting that 40 per cent of young people globally were unemployed or ranked among the working poor, emphasized how closely the topic was connected to sustainable growth and equity. It's your future we're discussing, he told young delegates in the room, encouraging them to think outside the box.

Karol Arambula, a youth delegate from Mexico, shared her perspective on the role of young people in eradiating poverty and combating climate change, noting that Mexico had been active in defining the Goals' environmental priorities. Participants from Africa and the Middle East highlighted how their countries were addressing quality health care and the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to young people, while a delegate from China stressed that youth were being encouraged to participate in e-commerce as a means to build wealth.

At the close of the Forum, Ahmad Alhendawi, who was completing his tenure as Envoy of the Secretary-General on Youth, described a recent paradigm shift in how the world understood and addressed youth issues. The 22-year-old World Programme of Action for Youth, which no longer spoke to current realities, should be revisited, he said, pressing States to work harder to report on the invisible Sustainable Development Goal on youth. He too advocated for an upgraded Youth Forum and the establishment of a Global Fund for Youth Development and Peace.

Also delivering closing remarks were Lenni Montiel, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the United Nations Development Group; and Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council.

Interactive Round Table: Youth Engagement in Eradicating Poverty

This morning, the Forum held an interactive session on Youth engagement in eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity: Voices from the field initiatives taken by youth often drive social change and inspire all members of society. Moderated by Noella Richard, Youth Global Programme Manager, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it featured the following panellists: Solveig Horne, Minister for Children and Equality of Norway; Christopher Eigeland, United Nations Youth Delegate from Australia; Ma-umba Mabiala, Director of Education and Youth, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie; Juan Carlos Reyes, Director of Colombia Joven; Amira Khallouf, Founder of Syrian Social Innovators � United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth; and Sadhani Rajapakse, Mental Health in Emergencies Officer, World Health Organization (WHO).

Ms. RICHARD, opening the segment, reiterated that youth participation was critical to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The purpose of the session would be to examine ways that young people could be involved in the process, explore the different hats that young people could wear, and outline guiding practices for States to support them in that process.

Ms. HORNE said national priorities must be linked to the 2030 Agenda. Noting that Norway was planning to submit a white paper on that matter to its Parliament later this year, she stressed that children and youth are experts in their own lives. Leaving no one behind meant that States had a responsibility to facilitate the empowerment and participation of vulnerable groups, including youth. In that regard, Norway was assisting youth around the world � including in families struggling with alcohol abuse and other issues � and enabling societies to meet their own challenges. The 2030 Agenda went hand-in-hand with the Norwegian rights-based approach. Domestically, she said the Government does not work alone, but engaged closely with children and youth in all areas of decision-making and made good use of their advice.

Mr. EIGELAND, addressing the topic of youth entrepreneurship, described his own work in building five companies, including an education platform. In his current work as a youth delegate, he had engaged extensively with young Australians, many of whom had stressed the need to address both unemployment and underemployment. Some of them had launched their own businesses, including an artificial intelligence platform to facilitate the provision of legal assistance and a new supply chain process. Imagine what would happen if we supported all those young people to take such risks, he said, noting that 600 million more jobs would need to be created by 2030 to employ the world's young people. The game has changed around skills with digital literacy in high demand, he said, adding that we have the vision, and young people have the drive to bring this Agenda to life.

Mr. MABIALA, responding to a question about how best to engage young people in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, said the Francophone space cannot exist without young people. For that reason, the Heads of State of Francophone nations had recently adopted a francophone youth strategy, which spotlighted the vision of young people as fully engaged, well-resourced, responsible citizens. Describing the region's capacity-building efforts, he said the Francophonie had launched a major programme to facilitate entrepreneurship among women and young people, which was being incubated in ten countries. Among other relevant programmes, an annual francophone forum on youth and green jobs brought young people together with partners to bring their innovative ideas to life. Meanwhile, efforts were under way to encourage youth to resist radicalization.

When the floor was opened for discussion, a singer and actor from China described a campaign in his country aimed at promoting the Goals among young people, who comprised 278 million of its population. It sought to engage a large number of youth, including those left behind or marginalized. He said his wish for 2030 was for all young people to have access to good quality education, with girls enjoying the same potential as boys. Since the campaign's launch in October 2016, its website had recorded more than 500 million views, he said, reassuring the Forum of the Chinese people's motivation to advance and realize the Goals.

The panel then took questions and comments from participants from the Republic of Korea, Kosovo and Albania on such topics as information-gathering among youth and opportunities for youth involvement in eradicating poverty.

Mr. EIGELAND replied that technology was a double-edged sword and not a panacea that would solve all problems. He quoted a Google executive as once saying that there was no magic in the tools, only magic in the way in which they were used. He went on to cite examples from his country of technology-based platforms for collecting views on policy.

Ms. HORNE, emphasizing youth participation at all levels of decision-making, noted how each municipality in Norway had youth councils in place. Young people were interested in such topics as the elderly and where to build roads, and not simply what was happening in schools. As a minister, she had met every year with youth organizations and young people were always involved in the drafting of white papers.

Mr. MABIALA said it was time for youth to begin for themselves and champion their interests, and not to hand over their power.

Mr. REYES, in the second round of the panel, described youth participation in the Colombia peace process, recalling how the President had met with young delegates representing the country's cultural diversity. Indigenous young people, women, the disabled and youth from rural areas all had shared their views on the peace process and given their input on solutions. Universities also had been involved, with an Internet page set up for people to express themselves. For its part, Colombia Joven had identified ways young people could change the discussion by becoming pioneers of peace. One initiative, for example, focused on rejecting violence and tapping into young people's human potential � particularly their social and cultural capital � to promote community reconciliation. Another initiative looked into how sport could be used to bridge differences. Young people in jail had also been involved in discussions. Participants then presented their message to Congress. Those initiatives aimed to give young people the autonomy to further the peace process. If institutions viewed young people simply as children with nothing important to say then everyone would lose out, he warned.

Ms. KHALLOUF said poverty was multi-dimensional, manifesting differently in various cultures and countries. Syria, her country, had been in conflict for almost six years, and the violence had severely affected its economy and social fabric. No words can describe my feelings when I see the destruction of my hometown, Aleppo, she said. Death, misery, extreme poverty and vulnerability were the main features of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, she added, expressing disappointment at the lack of international action in tackling the many challenges and curbing the suffering. Youth must stand eager, ready and willing to find solutions to the problems and make that agenda a reality. Innovation for the sake of innovation was a dangerous fashionable trend, she said, warning against business-as-usual tactics. Her organization aimed to work with the international community to study the Syrian crisis from a deeper perspective and help rebuild the country. It was vital to see refugees as human beings full of potential. Creating an environment that allowed young people a safe space to participate in decision-making required capacity-building, engagement in policy and advocacy, knowledge-building, and action.

Ms. RAJAPAKSE, recalling how Sri Lanka had lost much of its youth in the civil war, said the United Nations had a role to play in boosting youth engagement. In Sri Lanka, United Nations-backed youth mechanisms supported youth engagement in sustainable development � and it was not just about people sitting in a room and engaging in dialogue. Youth mechanisms had made it possible for young people to be engaged on the ground. I have seen personally over the years how youth participation went from being a requirement to it now being a norm, she said, adding that remaining challenges included capacity and maturity. The solution was to engage more young people in different ways, and at the very least, at the implementation level. Young people had a responsibility to show up, especially when the platform was provided. They needed direction, meaningfulness and value. The United Nations system had the right mechanisms in place in Sri Lanka, making it possible to engage youth and ensure that they delivered. She urged young people to seek within to examine what made them exceptional to ensure that nobody is left behind.

In the ensuing discussion, one participant wondered how the progress of a generation could be set back if there were 1.8 billion young people demanding that their voices be counted. She also inquired about the role of local governments in preparing young people for the workforce.

A youth delegate from Sri Lanka said that in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, it was obvious that a significant mismatch existed between labour policy and the real needs of the market. The Government had recognized skills development as vital to poverty eradication and it must be made a priority.

Interactive Round Table: Financing for Youth Development

This afternoon, the Forum held an interactive round-table session on the theme Means of implementation and financing for youth development, during which Government ministers and other high-level speakers responded to questions from youth delegates and the moderator, Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth Affairs of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

WERNER FAYMANN, United Nations Special Envoy for Youth Employment, delivered opening remarks, stressing that youth employment was one of the most important issues in the world. Noting that 40 per cent of young people globally were unemployed or ranked among the working poor, he emphasized that the topic was closely linked to sustainable growth and equity. Addressing the young delegates in the room, he underscored the need for their participation and stressed that it's your future we're discussing. Among other topics to be covered today were the frameworks needed to support young entrepreneurs and ways to improve access to skills training and markets. Let us think outside the box, he stressed, noting that while best practices and opportunities existed to engage youth in those areas, they were still not enough.

Ms. ELLIS said the Commonwealth Secretariat was an intergovernmental organization of 52 countries, and her role was to empower young people in its work. We are trying our very best to make sure that young people have a voice and took part in the 2030 Agenda's implementation, she said. Over the next 14 years, countries must mobilize efforts to fight inequality, eradicate poverty, combat climate change and ensure that no one was left behind. She hoped that participants would share experiences in those areas while highlighting the particular challenge of ensuring adequate funding for youth development. She opened the interactive session by raising a number of questions outstanding from yesterday's session.

The Vice-Minister of Culture and Youth of Costa Rica, responding to a question about his country's experience in engaging young people in the shift towards clean energy, said 90 per cent of Costa Rica's production was fuelled by renewable energy. However, climate change was a reality that no one could deny. Noting that the country's tropical climate made it possible to produce much clean energy, he added that thousands of young people, along with indigenous peoples and others, had participated in those efforts.

KAROL ARAMBULA, a youth delegate from Mexico, shared her perspective on the role of young people in eradiating poverty and combating climate change, noting that her country had been active in defining the environmental priorities of the Sustainable Development Goals. Young people across Mexico had contributed to that process and now stood ready to contribute their talents to the fight against climate change.

The Chief of Staff of the Ministry for the Promotion of Youth, Youth Employment and Civic Engagement of CAte d'Ivoire then responded to a question about ensuring the access of young people to quality health care, posed by a representative of the Major Group for Children and Youth. Noting that young people comprised about 70 per cent of her country's population, she said the Government had put in place a National Health Policy for Children (2016-2020) and provided health screenings, antiretroviral drugs, free malaria treatment and diagnostic services. It also ran an annual awareness-raising campaign on how to avoid risky behaviours and was putting in place a broad policy to promote youth participation in the country's social life.

OMENA MAHMOUD, IFMSA Egypt, responding to a question about the provision of sexual and reproductive health services to youth, said her organization prepared medical students to provide the non-judgmental medical services required by young people in conservative societies. Access to such services was a right for all people, including youth. IFMSA was also working to combat the medicalization of female genital mutilation, which was increasingly being carried out by medical professionals.

YANG SONG, Deputy Secretary-General of the All-China Youth Federation, in response to a question about China's strategies to promote both rural and industrial development, recalled that the country had lifted millions out of poverty in both types of environments. The All-China Youth Federation was focused on youth participation in rural development, having provided microloans to rural young people since 2009. More recently, it had begun to encourage youth participation in e-commerce, which would help them to build wealth.

YASSER JORDAN, Vice Minister of Youth of the Dominican Republic, responding to a question about resource mobilization for that country's national youth policy, said the ministry was implementing inclusive programmes which ensured sustainability. It intended to set up youth institutions in each province that would offer such services as technical training, art workshops, computer labs and programmes focused on sports, culture, entrepreneurship and the environment. Resources for those institutions would come from the central Government and neighbouring countries.

PEDRO ROBLEDO, Under-Secretary for Youth, Ministry of Social Development of Argentina, who was asked about his country's progress in engaging young people, reiterated the Government's strong commitment to the 2030 Agenda. He discussed how Argentina was focused on empowering organizations at the grassroots level, and implementing mentoring programmes for school drop-outs. He added that the Forum was not about making presentations or exchanging business cards, but rather ensuring equal opportunities and making those not visible, visible.

DARRYL SMITH, Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, responding to a question about the challenges faced by youth in small-island developing States, noted the impact of falling global oil prices on his country's economy, as well as transnational organized crime and other obstacles to peace and security. Recently, the Government had passed legislation to ban child marriages. It had also undertaken efforts to incorporate youth perspectives in its national development strategies. There was no doubt that young people were critical agents of change, he said, and Member States must seek out substantive engagement with them.

MARCO SCURIATTI, Adviser to the Senior Vice-President for the 2030 Development Agenda at the World Bank, was asked how the Bank supported youth development, particularly in highly indebted States. He replied that the Bank's country programmes were about pushing the envelope on accelerating growth. In terms of promoting the private sector, the Bank emphasized appropriate training for youth. Investment in the human capital of young people was key. He added that, during its spring meetings, the Bank � with a $75 billion annual lending portfolio � engaged with many youth groups. It also published a book every year showcasing entrepreneurial and development ideas from young people.

VANJA UDOVICIC, Minister for Youth and Sports of Serbia, discussed his country's efforts to increase opportunities for youth participation in programmes, projects and initiatives. Last year, the Government had extended financial support to four youth-led environmental organizations, he said, expressing his pride in the city of Novi Sad as the European Youth Capital for 2019.

MARJAN SPASESKI, Director of the Agency for Youth and Sports of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, responded to a question by a representative of the Major Group for Children and Youth about mobilizing resources for the implementation of a new National Youth Strategy. Noting that the plan's drafting had involved more than 250 youth representatives, as well as a number of international donors, he outlined the programme's nine strategic areas and said its work would be implemented and resourced by various Government agencies and supported by donors, intergovernmental and non-governmental agencies.

A representative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), asked to assess the role that development agencies could play in youth development, stressed that where you start does not define you. The new USAID strategy on youth development, carried out by its 80 missions around the world, focused on harnessing youth innovation and partnering with young people to create solutions. Such efforts were crucial, he said, stressing that young people needed vehicles for the practical application of their skills and that more data were needed on what is working in those areas.

FRANCESCO MAURELLI of the Tutmonda Esperantista Junulara Organizo (TEJO), asked about resourcing and youth investment, pointed out that the European Union currently invested ten times more money in raising a single cow than in raising a young person. However, data revealed a large return on investments in young people. More resources were needed, he stressed, warning against relegating youth issues to left-over scraps of funding.

The representative of Kuwait asked how his country was investing in young people, described the establishment of the Ministry for Youth as well as the drafting of its road map on youth issues. Noting that his country was known as the youth capital of the Arab world, he underscored its commitment to furthering the development of young people and support for such initiatives as the Youth Forum.

EITVYDAS BINGELIS, Vice-Minister for Social Security and Labour of Lithuania, asked to identify barriers to the labour market for his country's young people, stressed that priority for the youth is priority for the future. States must consider the long-term benefits of investing in youth, which could create significant value, and not simply the short-term costs, he said.

VINICIUS PINHEIRO, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the United Nations, was then asked to brief the Forum on progress made in implementing his organization's Decent Jobs for Youth initiative, launched last year. Investment in youth pays off, he stressed, both in terms of development and in bringing about social cohesion, stability and peace. At least 65 countries around the world had drafted youth employment strategies, but means of implementation and funding were still lacking. In that regard, he called for better harmonized investments, innovative funding mechanisms and coordinated actions across various sectors.

STEPHEN LASHLEY, Minister for Culture, Sports and Youth of Barbados, responding to a question about the role that development banks and international financial institutions could play in boosting youth employment in his country, described various initiatives, including a new human resources strategy funded by the European Union. Among other things, Barbados was engaged in a broad public and private-sector dialogue on youth employment, and it had put in place programmes � including job expos and mentorships � to strengthen the link between education and work. Other relevant activities included interventions to promote entrepreneurship and other emerging sectors. For their part, development agencies and financial institutions should help to create leapfrogging opportunities for youth businesses.

SASKIA SCHELLEKENS, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, asked about means of implementation, said capacity-building and knowledge transfer in the youth sector could benefit from an exchange of best practices and lessons learned. The Youth Forum contributed to that end, but over two days it was only possible to scratch the surface. She emphasized the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships to mobilize resources, adding that means of implementation also related to conducive policy environments and institutional coherence.

SHANTHA BANDARA, State Secretary, Ministry for National Policies and Economic Affairs of Sri Lanka, responding to a question about quality data collection, said his country was the first in the Asia-Pacific region with a ministry dedicated to sustainable development. He discussed the work of Sri Lanka's statistical department, as well as the introduction in Parliament of legislation setting out a legal framework for a national policy on sustainable development. Inaccurate data, he added, led to wasted time, money and manpower.

JOSA� MANUEL ROMERO COELLO, Director-General, Mexican Institute of Youth, Mexico, asked to share progress on his country's efforts to secure quality data on young people, said Mexico was a regional leader in that regard. He emphasized the importance of indicators that measured progress in youth-related areas, and noted Mexico's work on migration-related indicators.

JACK MCQUIBBAN, Advocacy and Networks Coordinator, Restless Development, asked what youth could do to support data collection, said it was necessary to increase accessibility to data sources, as well as young people's ability to generate data themselves. He also emphasized a transfer of power from the global to the local level. That the number of young people in the world was greater than ever was an historic opportunity, he said, and not just a statistic.

NASIR SAIDU ADHAMA, Senior Special Adviser to the President of Nigeria on Youth and Student Affairs, responded to a question about the challenges his country faced in tracking progress on the Goals. They included inadequate data planning, a lack of awareness of the Goals among most of the population, and the problems of insurgency and displacement, particularly in areas where Boko Haram was active. He went on to recall the President's proposal for a United Nations agency dedicated to youth development.

A representative of Zambia, speaking on behalf of her country's Minister for Youth, Sport and Child Development, emphasized the need for stepped-up global partnerships. The Government was committed to ensuring implementation of the Goals through a Smart Zambia initiative in which no-one was left behind. Zambia's planning process involved such key stakeholders as the private sector, faith-based organizations and traditional leaders.

SEAN BORATH, Secretary of State, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of Cambodia and member of the National Youth Development Council, emphasized the work of the educational sector in response to a question about marginalized groups, such as women and girls. Cambodia assigned high priority to access to high-quality educational services, as well as increased participation of youth and volunteerism.

REVAZ JAVELIDZE, Deputy Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs of Georgia, asked about engaging young people in national policies, said the Government was moving forward with a youth advocacy platform, as well as a youth NGO forum with more than 180 members that offered a strong voice in national decision-making. From his travels within Georgia and abroad, he believed that what mattered most was acknowledging the value of young people.

SAHAR AFZAL, youth delegate from the Netherlands, drew attention to youth unemployment, notably in Africa. Young people were not a problem but rather part of the solution, and youth initiatives were needed to make change. Young people should not only be recipients of youth development financing, but partners as well, she said, adding that Member States required youth-sensitive economic frameworks at both the macro and micro level.

Closing Remarks

LENNI MONTIEL, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the session's energy and enthusiasm would continue to motivate the United Nations for a long time to come. The [2030] Agenda is intensely personal to you and the young people who will come after you, he said, addressing the youth delegates. The world was facing turbulent times, with major challenges ranging from climate change to violence against women to a widespread lack of adequate health care, and young people were often on the frontlines. In that context, Governments must pursue robust youth policies in order to support the Agenda's implementation. Youth are the key to unlocking the great potential of the 2030 Agenda, he concluded.

HELEN CLARK, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Chair of the United Nations Development Group, said the 2030 Agenda's targets could not be met without the full support and participation of youth. Around the world, young people already promoted poverty eradication, advocated for peace and justice and launched many grassroots campaigns. However, the challenge was always to do better, and all young people must be engaged and empowered. Reiterating UNDP's commitment to such efforts, she said her meetings with youth leaders around the world had convinced her that countries are in very good hands. She also outlined a number of her agency's efforts in the field of youth development, including its support for the Not Too Young to Run campaign and its convening of regional consultations on youth, peace and security, which would feed into a study mandated by the Security Council.

IVANA ILIC, General Secretary of YMCA Europe and a representative of the International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organisations, said the Youth Forum united young people in helping to shape the 2030 Agenda's implementation. Expressing concern that many young people did not feel valued, needed or supported in their communities, she nevertheless stressed that young people today are not the generation to sit around and wait for other people to help them out. Capable youth leaders wasted no time to address the challenges they faced. Calling on Governments to support such efforts, she also advocated for the establishment of a permanent youth forum at the United Nations that would allow young people to have a continuous and formal say in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

AHMAD ALHENDAWI, the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, described a recent paradigm shift in how the world understood and addressed youth issues. Proposing several areas through which Member States could help to solidify that progress, he said the 22-year-old World Programme of Action for Youth � which no longer spoke to current realities � should be revisited, while States should work harder to report on the invisible Sustainable Development Goal on youth. He also advocated for an upgraded Youth Forum and the establishment of a global fund for youth development and peace. The United Nations is a mirror that reflects all of us, he said, calling on participants to ensure that it reflected their best efforts.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Forum's prominence and popularity was growing every year. Discussions over the last two days had once again proven that young people had the creative ideas needed to push the 2030 Agenda forward, he said, highlighting debates on such issues as the needs of young refugees, the importance of high-quality training and support for entrepreneurship, the empowerment of women and girls and the need to protect natural resources. We will do our best to improve the diversity of voices of the Forum, he said, pledging to transmit the meeting's outcomes to both the Council's high-level segment and the High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development in July.

Source: United Nations