Youths spearheading new models for putting the SDGs into practice

Participants with Liter of Light bring their innovation to Sibaltan, in the Philippine province of Palawan, July 2016. The NGO has been highlighted as a notable youth-led solution for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. (Liter of Light)

For hundreds of millions of children and young adults who wake each day to poverty, the future can look daunting. There are few avenues to escape life in slums, where dreams often are dampened by a reality of limited access to essentials — such as education and health care — that others take for granted.

Those hardships are magnified by dangerous air pollution in many developing cities, as well as new threats from a changing climate that pose their greatest risks to already vulnerable populations. Further, these and other challenges are projected to worsen unless municipal and national governments undertake a sharp course correction.

The first edition of an annual report, “Youth Solutions”, aims to tap the energy and creativity of the world’s up-and-coming generations to find innovative solutions to these seemingly intractable problems.

The study was compiled by a team of SDSN Youth, an initiative created in 2015 by the U. N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). It highlights ways that younger generations can assist with — and even drive — implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years.

Indeed, the study rounds up examples of how young people already are doing so. The report features 50 transformative, youth-led “ideas” and “solutions” — here, broken out as two different categories — that dovetail with one or more of the goals. Those projects, impacting more than 57 countries, range from start-ups and educational initiatives to research efforts and charities.

[See: How do we involve the public in implementing the SDGs?]

To qualify, yet-untested “ideas” must meet nine criteria, including scalability and financial independence. With limited access to capital, many young entrepreneurs have embraced non-profit funding models.

Concepts considered “solutions”, on the other hand, face extra requirements. For example, they must have been operational for at least 18 months. They also “have often overcome initial barriers to become self-sustainable and financially viable, and are positively contributing to the achievement of one or more of the SDGs.”

Among the notable solutions:

  • Smarter Harare through Participatory E-inclusion (SHAPE): Budget-tracking mobile application aims to strengthen trust between the municipality and residents over city expenditures. Residents of Zimbabwe’s capital provide real-time feedback.
  • Liter of Light: Grass-roots effort launched in the Philippines produces solar lights made of locally available parts. Communities gain energy-efficient lighting and a new income stream.
  • Young Forest Entrepreneur: Contest for youngsters solicits ideas for improving forests, with winners receiving a year of support to implement their ideas. Started in Mexico, the competition has spread throughout Central and South America.

[See: Lighting up homes and streets, one 2-liter bottle at a time]

And here’s a sampling of the ideas:

  • Child to School: A foundation in Ghana enrols the most deprived children in local schools and teaches their parents a trade.
  • New Life to Plastic: Established in Milan and operational in Kenya, the initiative raises awareness about waste management. A women’s group manages collection points for refuse and recycling.
  • Mobile Science Classroom: This plan would introduce science curricula in under-resourced grade schools in Thane, a city next to Mumbai.

The authors repeatedly emphasize that the future of today’s youth is inextricably tethered to how well the world is able to deliver on the SDGs, whose framework covers the environmental, social and financial aspects of sustainability.

Just look at the demographics: Young people ages 10 to 24 account for about a quarter of the global population, the report says. Nearly half of all humanity is under 30.

That makes for very high stakes. An estimated 600 million children live in conflict zones or fragile environments; millions more are being displaced by war. The global unemployment rate for youths hovers just above 13 percent.

[See: How Boston gives youth control over part of the city budget]

With so much on the line, tomorrow’s leaders and innovators have an opportunity to shape their generation’s destiny today.

“The SDGs can mobilize the world’s youth to chart a new course for smart, fair and sustainable globalization,” Jeffrey Sachs, SDSN’s director, writes in a forward to the report. He notes that today’s youngest generations can be the “driving force” behind the goals.

SDSN Youth was established to empower, educate and connect young people around the world on solutions for sustainable development; learn more here. Former U. N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon launched SDSN in 2012 to assist with the design and implementation of the SDGs; see details here.

Back to top

More from Citiscope

Latest Commentary

David Hatch is a correspondent for Citiscope.  Full bio

Get Citiscope’s email newsletter on local solutions to global goals.