Youth updates from the 2016 ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York

Youth Policy Committee members Pule Nkopane and Franci van Rhyn are currently at the 2016 United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC) Youth Forum at the UN headquarters in New York. This year’s forum focuses on ‘Youth Taking Action to Implement the 2030 Agenda’, and Franci and Pule will be sharing daily updates here as young South Africans.


From New York: update by Franci van Rhyn, Youth Delegate for South Africa

When I reflect back on the second, and last, day of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, I think of the key players in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that Pule and I met, particularly in the breakout session on sub-Saharan Africa that was moderated by Ms Francine Muyumba, the Pan Africa Youth Union President. I felt motivated when she mentioned that the suggestions put forward during the breakout would be brought up by her to the Pan African Union and hopefully implemented.

Some of the proposals brought up are: the creation of intergenerational dialogue, established formal functions for youth as well as youth development institutions. It was interesting to listen to various ministers, such as the Minister of Youth and Sport of Zambia and his plea to the youth to hold the government accountable for the SDG implementation. Queen Mother emphasised the importance of resource education for youth, as well as agriculture.

One aspect that contributed significantly to Pule’s and my positive experiences is the welcoming from members of the South African Mission at the United Nations. We were fortunate enough to meet with the Deputy Permanent Representative, Mr. Mahlatse Mminele, and he gave us further insight into the United Nations and the important role that South Africa and its representatives play in the New York Office.

The panel during both plenary sessions also offered valuable insights and sparked interesting conversations amongst the delegates. Ms Dorina Lluka, CEO of YMCA Pristina, informed the forum about the various ways in which the YMCA is furthering the SDGs as well as the importance of creating a safe environment in which young people can grow. She also emphasised the underestimated potential of youth organisations. The Secretary General of the Ibero-American Youth Organisations reminded us that the talks of future youth inclusion should not overshadow the fact that, thus far, the youth have done little. He also noted that current efforts should be supported, not duplicated. I found it inspiring when the General Director of the Spanish Youth Institute, Mr Rubén Urosa, stated that ‘we have to address gender as half the world’s talent should not be excluded’.

Youth representatives were also able to raise concerns or report back on their country’s progress. For example, the Sri Lankan Youth Representatives talked about youth civic engagement in the form of service. Mr Dan Price, Founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, gave us insight into his success story and spoke about the value that youth adds to the private sector through diverse ideas.

The opinions of a diverse group of NGOs, Country Representatives and Ministers as well as Entrepreneurs contributed to a rich discussion and multiple suggestions for the importance of youth and their inclusion in the implementation of SDGs. I end off with a quote from the first day of the Forum by the UN Deputy Secretary General that I now find particularly inspiring:

‘Remember that spelling the word ‘youth’ includes the word ‘you’.  And also, spelling ‘young’ includes the word ‘UN’ — perhaps not a coincidence.’


From New York: update by Pule Nkopane, Youth Delegate for South Africa

Today is the second and final day of the United Nations ECOSOC Youth Forum. Without the stress of searching for UN access passes and sprinting across Manhattan to do so, Franci and I arrived in good time and good spirits, ready to represent the perspectives of young people. While much of yesterday took pride in the monumental Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Young People, today turned to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – for African states, for women, and for youth at large. We had the fortune of having the South African Mission step in and guide us along the way.

The morning started off with an impassioned discussion on what challenges youth from sub-Saharan Africa face and how that affects the implementations of the SDGs. The Pan-African Youth Union Chair moderated the discussion and shared some of the many insightful observations her positions affords her. The general consensus seemed that tackling youth unemployment was perhaps the most daunting task at hand. Delegates emphasised the need for government agencies, civil society, and concerned individuals to play a role in advancing the technical capabilities of youth, engendering entrepreneurship skills from secondary education onwards, and addressing the disillusionment of youth. The cultural implications of the SDGs (particularly for gender policy), and the avenues to hold leaders accountable to them were also highlighted as a primary concern from the youth standpoint, and these contributions were factored into the implementation recommendations.

Not too long after, we rushed over to the UN Women-focused event that looked more at what implementation can mean for youth-led and youth-focused organisations. The key distinction made here was that by handing over the responsibility of implementation to so many different stakeholders, we must in turn acknowledge that implementation can in fact look different to the traditional ‘hands-dirty’ model we often assume. Additionally, although we might confer responsibilities upon these organisations, it is worthwhile to suggest states partner with these local organisations to improve both scope and sustainability.

South African mission delegates and Deputy Permanent Representative Mahlatse Mminele kindly took time out their busy schedules to share their reflections on youth inclusion throughout the policymaking effort. African youth do not have a big enough say in these matters and we must work to guarantee that the policy created reflects the diversity of experiences African youth bring forward.

So where to now? If these transformative past two days are any indication, the answer lies in us holding our governments accountable, us harnessing the power of youth innovation for the appropriate SDGs, and recognising the plurality of viable forms of recognition. All this cannot be done with African youth left on the sidelines. Change comes in letting muted voices sing the truth. To put it in the words of today’s panellist, Dan Price of Gravity Payments, ‘Representative leadership and representative participation helps any organisation.’

2016 ECOSOC YOUTH FORUM DAY 1: Work for young people

From New York: update by Pule Nkopane, Youth Delegate for South Africa

There was something electric in the air this morning – the trouble was that no-one knew quite what it was. Experienced United Nations (UN) delegates confused it with the Iowa Caucuses happening on the same day. “Maybe Bernie is finally pulling ahead. That might be why everyone is so excited,” they’d jest, making reference to the American election. Throughout the day, however, the mystery that had everyone murmuring revealed itself to be the new Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Young People, a policy that promises to recharge employment prospects for youth across the world.

This year’s United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN ECOSOC) Youth Forum is focusing on #Youth2030 and is exploring how young people can be involved in the implementing of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. What made this different to many other UN discussions was that it was clear from the onset that this Forum will be by young people to galvanise young people. The attitude this Forum took was that far too often youth have their efforts stifled in policymaking and this is something that needs to change.

After rousing opening speeches by ECOSOC President Oh Joon and his colleagues, Mr Guy Ryder (Director of the International Labour Organisation) bolted to the stage eager to discuss the new global initiative. Never before has there been a UN approved initiative to tackle unemployment from a youth perspective. The policy emphasises building strategic alliances, acting on local, regional, and national levels, growing global knowledge capacities, and innovating funding practices and resource opportunities.

Soon after the announcement, young people were given the chance to attend breakaway sessions where we discussed the matter further. My session was filled with dynamic conversations and intuitive responses to youth unemployment. Delegates grounded their ideas in lived experiences, and we also discussed what forthcoming issues our generation might need to tackle in a rapidly-changing world. Yes, education should probably be aligned to industry needs, but what does this mean for migrant workers, the brain drain, and more?

Many are still reeling from the possibilities of today’s announcement. In an unprecedented move, policymakers have displayed how committed they are to addressing youth issues. The coming day will dig deeper into the SDGs and let the impact of the global initiative sink in. (On a side note, it looks like Bernie’s popularity is picking up in Iowa. It’s been a good day.)

From New York: update by Franci van Rhyn, Youth Delegate for South Africa

This afternoon there were seven breakout sessions: Education; Youth employment and Entrepreneurship; Climate Change; Poverty; Inequalities and youth empowerment in urban areas; Peaceful and Inclusive Societies; Health; and the one that I attended: Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. My breakout session was co-organised by UN Women, UNFPA and WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) and moderated by Mr Ravi Karkara, a Senior Advisor at UN Women.

Although it was discouraging to hear that UN Women is one of the least funded sectors of the UN, the panellists offered insights into inspiring current efforts, such as ‘Voices Against Violence’, a co-educational curriculum developed by WAGGS and UN Women, along with contributions from young people. Its main goal is to educate the youth on the roots of violence and how to involve their communities in the fight against gender inequality. The result of this project is a number of girl-led projects. The Adobe Foundation’s current project, Project 1324, was also mentioned. This is a digital platform to share and make art on social issues, for example #withMalala. LEAPPPS framework by UN Women was introduced, as well as the Geena Davis Institute.

A lot of focus was placed on the importance of distinguishing between the needs of the different genders and including girl-led implementation that reflects the needs of girls, as well as the importance of involving boys and men in the fight for equality. A representative from the WAGGGS spoke about the use of a dual action plan: an informal educational approach, in tandem with an approach that targets formal structures that present a barrier to achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5. It was interesting to hear about the need to strengthen the indicators for the goals in order to capture the complexity. One aspect that I had never considered before, but that was highlighted extensively, is the importance of not just achieving SDG5, but also of making the changes irreversible. The importance of uniting women, but not homogenising them and not only representing girls in the position of privilege was also a main point raised.

The attendees were divided into various groups and asked to formulate recommendations on a specific part of the future course of action regarding SDG5. I was fortunate enough to be in the same group as one of the panellists, Monica Singh. We were asked to discuss gender violence and it was inspiring to hear her story as an acid-attack survivor and activist. In our group, a lot of focus was placed on the importance of education and supporting local organisations that are already present and fighting against gender-based violence.

Overall, it was an informative discussion and attended by many, although, unfortunately mostly by women (which demonstrates the need to encourage men to participate in future fights against gender inequality).

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The UN headquarters in a snowy New York, where the 2016 ECOSOC Forum is taking place.
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Pule Nkopane at the 2016 ECOSOC Youth Forum.