Every voice counts: Youth and Sustainable Development Goals

The President of the United Nations General Assembly released the final text of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) last year in 2015. The post 2015 outcome recognizes that ‘Children and young men and women are critical agents of change’. This was the result of the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, which mandated the creation of an open working group to come up with a draft agenda. The transition from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to SDGs offers the youth both a bigger opportunity and challenge to bring about a change in the world we live in. In my view, the starting point for any youth should be to think of himself or herself as a global citizen. I was privileged to be a part of the cohort selected to attend the Youth Assembly at the United Nations at UN Headquarters in the New York City in February 2016. I had the opportunity to meet delegates from more than 70 countries and to learn about their perspectives on their role in implementation of SDGs. In the note below, I have highlighted my experience of attending this conference in one of the most powerful organizations of the world and on being shortlisted as a finalist for the outstanding delegate at United Nations.

SDGs and Youth

As a youth, I am particularly passionate about SD#1 and SDG#4 i.e. Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong and learning opportunities for all. I believe education is an effective instrument in eradicating poverty and youth and civil societies have a huge role to play in achieving this goal. For example: I have had the opportunity to contribute towards the training of young diplomats from India. This section of youth goes on to implement major governmental schemes and policies and they have a pertinent role to play in the implementation of SDGs. Young people are the leaders of today and play an important role in the decision making process at all levels of society. This demographic dividend can be a huge asset if they are involved and engaged more with the government. One form of youth participation at the United Nations can be through youth delegations sent officially by respective member countries. Many countries still do not have a youth delegate programme at the national level. If young people are involved at this stage, it will be interesting to witness the skills that they bring along and the input they give towards negotiations. If their voice is made to count in inter-governmental meetings at the United Nations, they are bound to provide a creative perspective to the challenges and solutions in the implementation of SDGs.


SDGs and Government & civil societies

The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog recently called for consultation on the implementation of 17 Sustainable Development Goals wherein the members raised Health and Education as big concerns for India’s development and called for focused action on Education. Apart from the government, civil society and NGOs play an instrumental role in addressing the cause of education, health and poverty. For example, an NGO named Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) in Odisha educates 25,000 tribal/indigenous children free of cost to a secondary-school level. This NGO was granted a special consultative status by UN last year. It is has tried to address the issues relating to poverty, hunger, sanitation, gender equality, education, employment, vocational training and the provision of other basic amenities of life completely free of cost. This model of education is quite unique in itself as it addresses the various social issues that plague our society through the powerful tool of education. Interestingly, this model has also helped in fighting Naxalist insurgency in the state of Odisha in India, which is the greatest threat to the advancement of tribal community in the State. Young children, who are supposed to hold pens and books in their hands, have become victims of Naxal training. This NGO has been able to tap into the deepest forests of Odisha and bring the indigenous children to their institute and provide free educatio. As a Weidenfeld scholar we are required to carry out pro-bono projects. Given my area of interests and the kind of work done by this institution, I envisioned my role as a youth in implementation of SDGs by working for this NGO as a part of my pro-bono component. My experience so far has been that if the government, civil societies, NGOs, youth and civil servants come together, achievement of SDGs is not a distant dream.


Children at KISS Odisha

Photo: Children at Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (K.I.S.S.), Odisha


SDGs and their implementation

The real success of a goal lies in its implementation. SDGs cover a wide range of issues and youth monitoring of these goals is a critical part of ensuring their success. The need of the hour is to train the youth with information, tools and methodologies to monitor progress in achieving the SDGs of Education and Poverty eradication.


Youth organisations and Councils play a major role in developing a sense of belonging and responsibility towards the challenges that we are facing today. It is not necessary to be a part of United Nations to bring a change. Many youth start-ups today are exhibiting creative entrepreneurial skills in addressing various issues enlisted under SDGs. As they form a huge part of the population, they can leverage collective action and thus enhance the effectiveness of any programs or policies being implemented.


I feel that my expectations and my individual development goals post-MDG are to absorb ideas and to structure to implement the new SDGs have been adequately addressed after listening to various speakers at the conference and by contributing my ideas to the discussions. I now want to build a constructive partnership with people who work towards similar goals and overall empower the society to take action and be a source of influence for my home government. I have the following goals in my mind:


  • Establish a Youth Chapter in my country that can mobilize support from public servants and senior government officials to send youth delegations to the United Nations each year;
  • Empowering the local people of Delhi towards the realization of SDGs;
  • Create projects in which local resources are used and accountability developed in particular through workshops that aim towards inclusive education and poverty eradication;
  • I want to document my Youth Assembly experiences and make my national government aware of how to increase access of youth to the UN, promote stronger youth participation, increase awareness around young people’s issues, engage different stakeholders in the UN programs on youth, and enhance the coordination and harmonization of youth programming among UN agencies.


In my opinion, young people are critical thinkers. They bring a fresh perspective to any problem and creative solutions based on their experiences. They ask questions which is one of the qualities of a leader and thus also enhances their ability to identify challenges and barriers to change. Given the high level of competition today, youth bring along with them the ability to solve complex problems in a timely manner and under extreme circumstances which makes them highly mentally resilient. All these qualities go on to make them effective leaders, developing strong managerial qualities which I believe are key components in channelling the energy of youth as a resource in the attainment of SDGs. Sometimes it may require greater efforts to have youth delegates become part of the government policy-making process, but their role is definitely important in the implementation of SDGs.


About the author:



Photo: United Nations Headquarters, New York City, USA


Nidhi Singh is a law graduate. She is currently reading for MSc in Law and Finance at University of Oxford, Faculty of Law and Saïd Business School as a Louis Dreyfus Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar.