Why we need to engage young people in moving towards the SDGs

As the world observed the UN Day on October 24, talking about Sustainable Development Goals, I think the question to ask is whether young people are being mobilised for the attainment of SDGs or not.

I believe that economic migration, which primarily affects and manifests in young people, is Nepal’s wicked social problem. So this is the main challenge, as I see it, in Nepal when it comes to the attainment of SDGs, and for everything.

The country is experiencing a significant drain–of both brain and brawn. And that’s going to make it so much more difficult to actually realise any of the goals or any progress towards the SDGs in Nepal. It’s really important how we mobilise young people and the focus has to be on the creation of opportunities and about facilitation of platforms.

If we don’t provide platforms and mobilise young people, there is no such thing as a sustainable development agenda. So let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that this generation of current development affects some kind of social change. If we don’t engage with young people, that’s not going to be sustainable past this generation. I’m already 35 and I represent a younger person in the development sector. So anything I accomplish is not sustainable if we don’t engage with young people, and we don’t provide them platforms and opportunities.

So it’s really critical that we understand and engage with young people. The reason I bring up young people leaving is that I think this we need to understand that in the context of the global change. So we need to understand that young people are feeling pulled towards other parts of the world rather than becoming engaged in the social development agenda.

Let’s now go into the opportunity creation part. I think that young people globally, not just in Nepal, but maybe more so in Nepal, seek opportunities. I also think it’s not just about seeking opportunities, it’s also about creating opportunities.

I think Nepali young people already have a lot of solutions and they’re inherently very entrepreneurial. I hold the view that Nepal could be home to the next emerging technology boom. There is a real generation of innovators and creative professionals. Nepal is really well-positioned to be a post-work example. Globally,  we see a change in what economics looks like and what the jobs of the future will be. I think the young people in Nepal already understand and they are already able to articulate a lot of that.

The question is where the opportunities for them to explore those things are. So I’m not talking about manufacturing or these kinds of industries as they are collapsing. Things like creativity and digital entrepreneurship are really emerging as places where the growth opportunities are global.

The next step is to create that environment for people who want to do something. I actually see that’s the role of the development sector. Our role is to create an enabling environment where people can gain those skills, knowledge and networks. That’s Raleigh’s central mission as well.

File: Officials of Raleigh International with youth activists during a function.

Then we need to give power, authority, decision-making to a generation that can do something with those things. So it’s about enabling. It’s about power, investment and also mutual capacity enhancement. So I was just talking to the president of Raleigh’s national society and I was saying how important it was that it’s not just us building the capacity of young people. It’s about young people building our capacity. It’s that all we’re all in it together. And I think globally we need to understand that it’s not just about what we can give to young people.

I think, globally, we’re at a really interesting moment with young people. I think young people want to say something. But it’s so difficult for them to say it without being attacked just for being young. Young people start speaking out and then the first thing you’ll hear is what does this 16-year-old know? What could they possibly know? And so I think culturally, globally, we have an issue with young people. We have an issue with age.

We think just because somebody is young automatically means they have nothing of value. And so I think it’s really, really difficult globally and maybe in Nepal in different ways for young people to have a platform where they can both say stuff. And for that stuff that they’re saying to be taken seriously.

Listening to the voices of young people is a part of it, but also taking it seriously and then doing something about it. It’s like a three-step process. First, they’ve got to be there. Second, we’ve got to really hear them. And third, we’ve got to understand what they’re asking.

That’s what we do at Raleigh. Young people are our beneficiaries or targets; they are our partners; then they are also in charge. Talking about how we deal with young people, there’s the work that they do in the community in livelihoods and WASH. We do have global young people that we bring into Nepal. But we also pair them with a young Nepali.

The ultimate purpose of that is for young people to gain experience in a very tangible, practical way. But it’s actually really mostly about this idea of young people learning through experience and learning alongside communities about the realities of poverty, of unsecured food, unsafe water, and other disadvantages. And then they can come up with different solutions. And it’s this real growth and learning and changing experience across all domains for the communities we work in, but also for the young people and also for us. It’s around this sort of developmental journey that we’re in.

Downes is the Nepal Country Director for Raleigh International.

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