By Nicole R Goldin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Nicole R Goldin is director of the Youth, Prosperity and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in partnership with the International Youth Foundation. You can follow her @nicolegoldin. The views expressed are her own.
Late last month, the world’s diplomats, CEOs, NGOs, foundations, press and social media magnates gathered in New York City for the “Super Bowl” of global talks (official and unofficial) about the world’s future in the form of the U.N. General Assembly, Clinton Global Initiative, Social Good Summit, and other newer entrants like the Concordia Summit.
Among the hottest topics this year was the future road map of development. There were seemingly countless events and side discussions on the future of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after their looming 2015 expiration. But also topping the discussions on both the east and west sides of Manhattan – youth.
With this in mind, this open letter is first for the attention of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the ultimate arbiter of the next global development framework. However, this is also a clarion call to donors, member states and government officials, investors and implementers of development activities – and importantly, youth themselves. Now is the time to get beyond the rhetoric and ensure that young people are explicitly part of the “Leave No One Behind” inclusive development agenda that the United Nations sets, but thousands of individuals and organizations act upon. And billions, young and old, are affected by.
Indeed, as the High Level Panel argued in its report: “after 2015 we should move from reducing to ending extreme poverty, in all its forms. We should ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities.”
“Other status” must include age. Half the world’s population is under the age of 25, with roughly 1 in every 4 people today being a “youth” (if defined as 10 to 25). In the developing world, where more than 85 percent of the world’s youth live, economic growth, social progress and sustainability are undoubtedly contingent upon young people thriving and becoming healthy, productive, financially secure and positively engaged adults. The opportunity cost of failing to align development goals and resulting policies, programs, and monitored progress with youth needs and aspirations is great. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right in saying “the world ignores youth at its peril.”
Yet in global and national arenas, youth development has all too easily been sidelined by its complexity; youth interests and the voices of young people are all too easily overrun by those louder, more powerful, and easy to hear.
And as important as it is, a youth-inclusive process is not the same as a youth-inclusive product. The former recognizes young people as a stakeholder and important participant in setting the agenda for themselves and their communities and countries. The latter prioritizes development outcomes among youth in the agenda; and recognizes the unique needs and shared characteristics of this cohort transitioning to adulthood –including significant physiological, psychological, social and economic changes young people experience. Both are needed.
Here are a couple ideas:
Youth Goal, sub-goals, and targets: A single youth empowerment goal, akin to MDG goal 3 for gender equality and women’s empowerment, would not be unwelcome, but is not necessarily the only route to a youth-inclusive product. A youth inclusive MDG framework should be integral to all goals set, with specific, evidence-driven sub-goals and targets that will not only drive policy and programs to better serve and respond to youth needs, but also encourage and require data collection with age in mind to aid monitoring and to track progress. Youth development is a discipline with an emerging set of lessons learned and principles. Yet, as noted above, we need to know and learn more.
Like our forthcoming Global Youth Wellbeing Index, the next MDG framework should consider and include indicators across the many interconnected domains of youth lives: education, health, citizenship, safety, peace and security, economic growth, and the extent that they are equipped with tools and infrastructure to grow, participate and prosper. The proposed HLP framework took some notable steps in this direction in education and employment, but didn't go far enough in other areas.
Ensure Meaningful Youth Participation: Appointing a U.N. Special Youth Envoy and consulting with young people on “#TheFutureWeWant” and “@MyWorld2015” are worthy and valuable efforts, because young people are stakeholders and can offer unique and fresh expertise on the myriad of global challenges the MDGs seek to address.
Yet a genuinely youth-inclusive process will take more than a traveling envoy and consultation for consultation’s sake. It is also critical that final decisions reflect meaningful and informed youth participation. While U.N. Youth gatherings and the proposed Youth High Level Panel are fine, they are not enough. Steps must be taken to ensure that such ‘structures’ have a real role in defining the agenda. Young people of the world should demand more than a token structure and platform for consultation with each other. As decisions about the final framework are being made, youth need a seat at the “adults’ table.”
The High Level Panel is on the right track stating when it says young people “must be subjects, not objects, of the post-2015 development agenda,” and should be “treated as the vital asset for society that they are.” Mr. Secretary General, and readers – please do not forgo this profound opportunity to make all of the rhetoric about youth empowerment into something concrete and effecting for all of us, #Beyond2015.