Youth and the 2030 Agenda

International Youth Day

Youth involvement is a pre-condition for sustainable development

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development seeks to eradicate poverty by the year 2030.  The Agenda is comprised of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that call for a transformative, integrated and inclusive approach to social, economic, and environmental development within and amongst States.

Most importantly, the Agenda pledges to “leave no one behind,” especially youth.  The inclusion of youth is essential because traditionally, young people have been excluded from decision making processes and mainstream dialogue at the local, national, and international level.  Moreover, youth are commonly stereotyped as passive, disengaged, and incapable of making their own decisions or having their own ideas. These stereotypical practices and assumptions must be challenged in order to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


Today’s youth comprise the largest youth generation in history.  In numerous countries, youths are beginning to outnumber non-youths; for instance, in Ethiopia, over 40% of the population is under 15 years of age.  The record-breaking youth population, in conjunction with the ambitious goals set forth by the 2030 Agenda, demands a radical shift in thinking — a shift in which youth are no longer seen as the leaders of tomorrow, but seen as the leaders of today.

Young people are not just inheriting the 2030 Agenda, they have a critical role in its implementation, today and in the future.  Youth inclusion and mobilization was discussed at the United Nation’s 2017 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).  The following are recommendations that were put forth by State Representatives, Youth Delegates, and relevant stakeholders at the 2017 HLPF.

Recommendations for Youth Inclusion in the 2030 Agenda

  1. Empower young people to participate meaningfully by fostering empathy and innovation in youth and increasing access to education, healthcare, and technology.
  2. Include the Sustainable Development Goals in educational curriculums, as well as the skills and methods that are needed to take action.
  3. Increase access to training and vocational programs.
  4. Member States with particularly high levels of youth engagement, should advise and share best practices with States that are struggling with lower levels of youth engagement.
  1. Fully include youth in every stage of the policy making process.  Simply mentioning youth in plans and documents is not a true indicator of progress.
  2. Make data more inclusive and disaggregated, in order to better inform all stages of the policy making process.  Create a national youth index to track the ways in which human capital is being developed in youth.
  3. Create national action plans for youth development and engagement (i.e. the Kenyan Youth Manifesto).
  4. Create platforms for youth participation (i.e., a youth envoy, youth delegate programs, youth councils) in order to foster equal and sustainable partnerships.
  5. Challenge the United Nations to not continue with the “business as usual” approach.
  6. Provide clear expectations to young people — mentor them, inform them, and build their capacity and confidence.


In conclusion, youth involvement is a pre-condition for sustainable development.  Young people should no longer be discounted as passive, disengaged consumers; they should be accepted as active, innovative and critical agents of change; furthermore, this shift in mind-set must be accompanied by a shift in practice.  It is not enough for young people to be invited to the table on occasion, they must have permanent seats at the table, as well as platforms of their own to share best practices, advocate, and collaborate.