February 2, 2017  |  

Shared prosperity – Reflection on Day 2 ECOSOC Youth Forum

The overarching theme of ‘shared prosperity’ continued to dominate the second day of discussions at the ECOSOC Youth Forum.

While day one focused on thematic discussions, day two began with a series of regional breakout sessions, which saw participants united by common geography come together to discuss the specific issues young people in their area faced.

As a representative from YMCA England naturally I attended the session on Europe, North America and Other States.

The discussion focused on two areas – the role of young people within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and young people’s risk of poverty and social exclusion.

Given the size our delegation I proud to see individuals from YMCA dominate the discussions, and advocating for the young people we work with – many of whom were seemingly forgotten by others.

From our extensive experience working closely and meaningfully with young people across the world, YMCA delegates were able to give a voice to those from often marginalised communities whose needs were not initially considered by many in the room.

In doing so YMCA was able to achieve the formal recognition that youth organisations across the world deserve for their work in supporting young people and helping countries move towards the SDGs.

As the recommendations from the regional breakout group were presented to the Forum, it struck me how similar the issues facing young people around the world are.

Accordingly, while all operate within different contexts, it seems young people are striving for the same basic things in their lives – good quality education, stable and meaningful work, and a stake in society.

Giving young people that stake in society was given as the critical pre-requisite to achieving the others. Thus, the need was recognised by all regions for young people to be seen as stakeholders, not merely clients or worse, passive observers.

The President of ECOSOC echoed this, calling on all member states to take advantage of the youth dividend and to utilise the power of young people as the bonus that so many governments have, but fail to realise and utilise.

The day moved on to focus on ‘voices from the field’ as countries relayed the work that they had been doing to empower young people and involve as they seek to achieve the SDGs.

Again, the pivotal role of young people play in the success of the SDGs was recognised by all speakers. However, as speaker after speaker listed off their list of achievements in this area, I couldn’t help but think that it was the voices of young people themselves that were missing.

Despite this, the session proved informative as we heard from a wide variety of speakers which conveyed perspectives from all over the world, including Norway, Australia, Colombia.

The reflections from Syria served as a reminder that even in the midst of war, we must never give up on our attempts to empower young people and create a platform on which they can affect change.

This was particularly pertinent given the reflections on the role that young people played in the peace process in Colombia.

A recognition of the need for funding if development policies in support and driven by youth are to be successful dominated the afternoon, in the form of an interactive roundtable on the means of implementation and financing youth development.

Again, interventions tended to focus on the measures countries had put in place to support young people. While it was disappointing not to hear more young people involved in discussions it was reassuring to hear the repeated recognition of young people as critical agents of change, and calls for action, rather than merely words from member states.

As the Forum drew to an end, the closing session echoed these calls for action as it was recognised that even within a world that contains challenges and problems that sometimes seem insurmountable, governments must continue to turn the SDGs into tangible, actionable and measurable policies as a means by which to overcome some of these.

The progress that has been made in getting the voices of marginalised communities, including women, ‘to the table’ was celebrated. However this was matched with a call for young people to be given the same status.

It was a particularly proud moment to hear the voice of Ivana Ilic, General Secretary of YMCA Serbia, during the closing speeches – a recognition of just how pivotal YMCA is to the lives of young people around the world.

In closing the session, H.E. Mr. Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava, President of ECOSOC stated his commitment to making sure the recommends of the Forum were heard and called on young people to continue engaging in the SDGs and holding governments to account.

It seems fitting to end this piece with the words of Ivana – “together we shape the new agenda”. With the work that YMCAs across the world do strengthening and young people to affect change within their communities, this seems truer now than ever before.

 By Phillippa Lewis, UK



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