Youth and the Sustainable Development Goals

By Fiona Agnew

Sitting at the Irish Aid event, launching the UN Youth Delegate programme for Ireland in May 2015, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke to us ‘youth’. He urged us to become global citizens, to have compassion for people across the world, to be agents of change starting now, not just in the future. His advice was heavily reminiscent of my experience in South Africa with SERVE, where, in collaboration with a dynamic South African youth group (together named the Born Frees) we too agreed to be Global Citizens.

These two opportunities had been presented to me over the course of the last year or so, beginning with an assembly in school offering the chance to spend 10 days on an immersion project around Cape Town and ending many months later, with an invitation to hear Ban Ki-Moon speak on the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

My experience with SERVE began in earnest, after all the fundraising and excitement, during the whirlwind residential with our Lagan College team and the young South Africans where we talked, danced, ate and began conversations about identity, history, the future and conflict across the globe. One valuable thing that we all shared was a perspective from a new generation as we, the Northern Irish, and the South Africans were the first born free of conflict in our countries. While it’s difficult to know what this means for us, with the responsibility and expectations that comes with being the “future generation”, it was outlined perfectly in Ban Ki-Moon’s talks on sustainable development goals and the contribution that young people can have towards these goals on the 26th May 2015.

He began, with much appreciation, by welcoming us in Irish and went on to remark on the energy and warmth he felt from the audience. If there was one thing he wanted his legacy to be, he expressed, it would be to “walk for and walk with young people” to continue on the progress already made in the work regarding sustainable development and climate change agreements made at the UN. A number of major events in 2015, including the United Nations conference in New York this September, need to see the voice of the younger generations heard. As the Secretary General remarked “You can’t spell young without UN”.

Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon addressing the youth at the launch of the UN Youth Delegate Programme for Ireland

Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon addressing the youth at the launch of the UN Youth Delegate Programme for Ireland

Evanna Lynch and Donncha O’Callaghan were also at the event as UNICEF ambassadors and they answered questions about their experiences travelling across the world and seeing UNICEF’s work in action. A question was posed to Evanna, asking how she thought the issues surrounding the SDG’s could be made known and important to the public. Her answer was simple; “Don’t discount how effective passion is” and she explained that you inspire through stories and emotions. You can’t force people to care but you can show them what it means. This was certainly true from my time in both Goedgedacht Path out of Poverty and the Amy Biehl foundation, visiting after school centres and seeing how important their work was in harnessing children’s spirit and talent, especially in more rural communities.

Experiences like my time in South Africa with SERVE make the 17 SDGs for 2030 seem more real, more relevant, more essential to achieve, which is exactly the kind of impact Evanna spoke about.  In particular, Goal 10, to reduce inequality within and among countries, stands out for me as it is so prominent in many countries, especially South Africa, and Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all is hugely important to tackle endless issues. Ban Ki-Moon was confident, as am I, that inequality and injustice are tackled in each of the sustainable development goals. Although it’s a topic that I’ve only recently discovered and I’m far away from fully comprehending the ins and outs, through the immersion project with SERVE and attending the Irish Aid event with Ban Ki-Moon, I have been able to begin to understand what sustainable development means for the future and develop ideas as to what my generation can bring.