Advocating for Youth Leadership to Achieve the SDGs

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Mary Kate Costello addresses youth attendees of 2017 Winter Youth Assembly.

In keeping with The Hunger Project’s priority to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals through community-led development, advocacy for youth leadership and engagement has been at a forefront. The Hunger Project took a leading role in both the United Nation’s 6th Annual Youth Forum and the Winter Youth Assembly at the United Nations at the beginning of February 2017.

Follow-up: Click here to read Mary Kate’s article on young women’s cooperatives.

The Hunger Project’s Senior Policy Analyst, Mary Kate Costello, has been an active member of the United Nation’s Interagency Network on Youth Development’s Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality, and is now co-chair of its new Task Force on Young Women’s Economic Empowerment. Such engagement afforded The Hunger Project the opportunity to chair two sessions during the Youth Forum: breakout sessions on SDGs 2 and 5.

Mary Kate participated in the SDG5 session as a panelist, focusing on the importance of young women-led cooperatives, especially at the grassroots. Not only will cooperatives provide improved income generation for young women, but also offer unique social inclusion – especially for marginalized persons such as those with disabilities and indigenous women. Mary Kate stressed Coop UK’s research that cooperatives have an 80% success rate in their first five years compared to 40% for other economic initiatives and investments. Discussion during the breakout session included hindrances to gender equality in the economy as a result of both discriminatory laws and discriminatory practices that do not adhere to favorable laws for women. One such example noted was Ghana’s policies entitling women and men to have the same allowances in owning land. However, this is not reflected in the percentage of land owned by women. Approximately 15% of men own land in Ghana, whereas less than 10% women own land.[1]

The Hunger Project, as a leader in integrated community-led development, was asked to moderate one of the Youth Forum’s Media Zone Panels. Mary Kate Costello engaged with three youth leaders about their work toward SDG2, ending hunger, in their respective home countries of Trinidad and Tobago, Nepal, and Colombia. Issues covered included how to encourage youth interest in agriculturally focused employment, mobile phone technology and grassroots capacity assessments and rehabilitation of abandoned fisheries to generate exponential income. The full panel is available here.

The week rounded off with chairing and speaking in the Winter Youth Assembly

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Winter Youth Assembly attendees discuss their leadership initiatives toward SDGs 1 and 2.

interactive session on SDG1, ending poverty. The Hunger Project, alongside cohosts Campus Kitchens Project and FeelGood, looked
at existing youth-led initiatives toward ending hunger that mitigate poverty. The United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) delivered the keynote address via their Lead Technical Specialist, Mattia Prayer Galletti, challenging that youth development need not only include youth in program design and implementation, but more important youth leadership in both aspects.

The Hunger Project, out of its pillar to empower women, is an organizing partner of the upcoming CSW Youth Forum from 10 – 12 March 2017, and will be featured in a plenary panel on the topic of young women-led cooperatives again. This year’s CSW Youth Forum is the second of its kind, chaired by UN Women and YWCA, as a youth-focused “opening” to the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN. The Hunger Project will maintain its engagement in the arena of youth development and leadership as a key element of community-led programming to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

[1] http://news.trust.org/item/20160516120134-jqvsx

Building the Capacity of Youth as Leaders of Today -The Kampala Principles for Youth Led Development

Jon-Andreas Solberg and Douglas Ragan co-authored a very enlightening  post on UN-Habitat Youth covering five principles of youth-led development that are being utilized by youth programs globally and has begun to influence policy at the local, national and global level. These principles (listed below) originated from an initiative started in 2007 when representatives from  UN-Habitat´s One Stop Youth Resource Centres gathered together in Kampala, Uganda to discuss ways to promote and sustain the capacity for youth to operate as leaders today. The post leads to the key point that youthshould be recognized as key development partners and asset and rights-holders, just as anyone else, young and old, women and men.” 

Kampala Principles for Youth-led Development:

  1.        Youth define their own development goals and objectives;
  2.        Youth have a safe and generative physical space;
  3.        Adult and peer-to-peer mentorship;
  4.        Youth act as role models for other youth;
  5.        Youth are integrated into local and national development programs and     policies.

The full article, including a detailed look at each principle, can be found here.

Youth Leadership and Voice in Post 2015: UN Resolution 2250

Youth Representative of Burkina Faso and Restless Development, Cheick Faycal Traore, meetings at the United Nations with The Hunger Project, the Government of the Philippines and MCC to discuss youth in community-led development.
Youth Representative of Burkina Faso and Restless Development, Cheick Faycal Traore, at the United Nations with The Hunger Project, the Government of the Philippines and MCC.

It is not new knowledge that half of the world’s population is made up of persons under the age of 35, the majority of whom are youth older than 15. As the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals near, the world will be responsible for achieving sustainable development within only fifteen years. In the absence of the estimated two trillion dollars per year to realize the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, development initiatives must be implemented efficiently and – ideally – through community leadership to reduce loss of money from trickle-down approaches. Volunteerism, local capacity building, local and youth leadership and community mobilization will be necessary, not optional.

The United Nations has keenly prioritized youth leadership and youth mobilization to not only implement the SDGs, but to also establish youth’s rightful ownership over their communities’ and nations’ development. Without their ownership and engagement for both current and future leadership in alignment with the SDGs, the goals are at a serious risk of not being achieved by 2030 – a window of development opportunity that may very well be the last to ensure stable security and the eradication of hunger and poverty forever.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 2.32.24 PMTherefore, on December 9, 2015, The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2250 to emphasize the importance of youth leadership and inclusion to achieve peace and security worldwide. The approach? Youth (ages 18-29) representation for decision making – at all levels – must be increased.In my opinion, this is the most important Resolution adopted by the Security Council since Resolution 1325 in 2000, which similarly acknowledged the need for increased inclusion of women in peace building processes due to the unique gender roles of increasing warfare. Like women, youth account for a significant number, if not majority, of civilians affected by armed conflict and living as refugees or displaced persons. In under 10 minutes, Resolution 2250 was adopted, proving that the Security Council finds it significantly less advantageous to “marginalize” a majority population that has significant capability than leverage and include them as a priority resource for peace and security. A lack of youth leadership and representation poses the risk of losing youth to other priorities such as joining rebel groups or contentment with helplessness.

The millennial generation is uniquely positioned on the global stage amidst globalized technological communication and exposure to improved living standards or policies through available internet connections. Millennials living in extreme poverty are arguably the first from which a majority are rejecting a rural livelihood built on agriculture, instead opting for informal or illegal employment in more urban settings or internet means. They are at a higher risk than youth of any previous generation to be recruited in greater numbers by terrorists or rebels through exploitation of internet access and other forms of modern communication (i.e. texting hot lines). They are also at a significant risk of long-term unemployment and continued poverty should they not be included in the discourse of development plans, from which we risk their disagreement with approaches or priorities to achieve the SDGs. These are risks we must mitigate.

Beyond what I consider to be a moral imperative of the inclusion of a youth voice – at all levels – in peace building and dispute resolution, it is to the world’s economic advantage that UN Member States implement Resolution 2250 [promptly] into practice, establishing conducive policies if need be. Especially for those nations whose conflict has hindered youth education and employment opportunities, their inclusion in decision making will undoubtedly positively impact economic prosperity as solutions are deliberated and established together through the lens of youth and their desires for development.

What is the role for development actors such as foundations and CSOs to contribute to this process? Firstly, advocating for 1) meaningful implementation of Resolution 2250, and; 2) the establishment of relevant policies. Advocate also for the implementation of development initiatives, ideally in partnership with [local] government, that provide opportunities for youth leadership, education, employment and vocational training to motivate positive youth engagement and contribution to society. Lastly, I encourage the design and implementation of locally-led, youth-centered development initiatives that empower youth with leadership skills, dispute resolution skills, seat quotas within relevant committees, and program design input and leadership. Positive engagement and outcomes thereof will not only be an example to governments and multilateral implementers of the positive impact of youth leadership and inclusion in discourse, but will also increase the number of youth engaged in development practices in the absence of government or others’ capacity to scale-up initiatives.

Youth have experiences to share, ideas to discuss, opinions to contribute in discourse and a unique capability given their available time, especially in the absence of employment or education. They are driven to seek and enact change due to their interconnectedness and lifestyle exposures through globalized technological communication. Youth are not the leaders of the future; they are able to be leaders now. Their risks and tribulations are issues of the present, and likely to worsen without their inclusion in development and peace building leadership. Just in time for the start of the SDGs, Resolution 2250 was adopted and must be duly implemented and recognized by all actors if we need to achieve sustainable development by 2030.

Sustainable Development by 2030 Requires Community-led Development

“For us, then, to reach our twin goals, three things have to happen—inclusive economic growth, investment in human beings, and insurance against the risk that people could fall back into poverty. Grow, invest, and insure: that’s our shorthand for it…We reject “trickle-down” notions that assume that any undifferentiated growth permeates and fortifies the soil and everything starts to bloom, even for the poor.  We need to find an economic growth model that lifts up the poorest citizens rather than enriching only those at the top.”

-Jim Young Kim, President, World Bank Group address at the 2015 WB/IMF Annual Meetings

At the United Nations on September 30, over a dozen INGOs and other likeminded development stakeholders officially launched the Movement for Community-led Development during UNGA70. The motivation for this Movement stems from the need to push for an exponential increase in bottom-up development initiatives that mobilize and empower citizens as the key agents of change for their own development.

Co-hosted by the Government of the Philippines, featuring local representatives from the Kalahi-CIDSS program, the Movement launch yielded provocative discussion around the inefficiencies of prioritizing top-down development approaches and resource provisions [in the absence of humanitarian needs]. On the heels of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, there are already sobering concerns around the realistic capacity and resources to achieve all of the goals and targets by 2030. Experts from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Restless Development, Institute for State Effectiveness and Heifer International explained how the sweat equity from community-led development, notably youth and women, would undoubtedly provide crucial capacity to achieve the goals at all levels. 

The discussion included two prominent elements: 1) strengthening good, local governance for effective partnerships with communities, and; 2) integrated strategies to build the whole of communities and individuals.

Using the example of rebuilding infrastructure and effective service delivery in his community after Typhoon Haiyan, Mayor Pelagio R. Pecson Jr, of Tanauan, Leyte in the Philippines, one of Kalahi-CIDSS’ operational areas, explained how strides in community-led development built significant resilience to trauma and devastation in the wake of disaster. The accountability and leadership skills of citizens and their responsive local government meant shorter crisis and less costly crisis management to rebuild.

Heifer International’s Partnerships and Business Development Manager, Kamil Madanat, spoke specifically about the crucial need for integrated programming at the community level in order to break the cycle of poverty. Strategic interlinkages between sectors such as health, education, sanitation, improved agricultural techniques and food storage results in increased income due to healthier living standards and overall improvement in livelihoods. This includes decreasing time poverty, and expanding local economies through better market access and new value chain entry points. Kamil explained that the key implementers of these interventions were few others than trained community leaders and grassroots volunteers. He stated that “empowered communities will make better decisions,” defending that investment in human capital is greater than resource or monetary investments. John Coonrod, Executive Vice President of The Hunger Project added to this, saying that the “2030 agenda demands that people work together.”

While continuing the unveiling of the Movement for Community-led Development, Clare Lockhart, Founder and President of the Institute for State Effectiveness gave examples of how [at least] millions of crucial donor dollars are wasted as they “trickle down” from high-level and managerial positions through resources spent on program design without input or leadership from community members. Implementation and monitoring is then not only carried out in shorter time frames than from which significant impact can occur, but it often fails to fulfill intended goals due to poor applicability to the community and a lack of community ownership to ensure sustainability. One such example was the distribution of logs to repair and strengthen clay homes in rural Africa. The logs did not fit the existing home structures and time did not allow for complete reconstruction of the homes. The time and money intended to repair homes became fuel for local stoves; the people were still essentially homeless and the project did not yield a sustainable outcome.

Civil society and its most important partners – the local citizens for whom our work is intended – are increasingly demanding community-led prioritization from donors, bi-laterals and government funding agencies. This includes multi-sectoral funding streams, longer funding windows and flexible funding to ensure community ownership and leadership. This global call for action begins with the Movement for Community-led Development.

If your foundation, organization or company wants to join the Movement, please visit the site and submit your inquiry: www.communitydev.net