While young people across the world are a diverse group, we’re all bound by the common understanding that we’re an underrepresented group in decision and policy making processes.
Honestly, I could not hide my excitement when I received an email from UNICEF Zimbabwe, asking if I would be interested in participating and representing young Zimbabweans at ECOSOC Global Youth Forum in New York. The excitement stemmed from the fact that for the first time in my life, I would carry the hopes and aspirations of millions of young Zimbabweans. The forum would present an opportunity to talk about pertinent and real time issues affecting young people in my country. Running under the theme, ‘The role of youth in poverty eradication and promoting prosperity in a changing world”, the conference sought to promote innovative approaches and initiatives for advancing the youth development agenda at national, regional and global level with a view to promoting global (multilateral) solutions to the global challenge of “shared prosperity”.
The energy that filled the Trustee Chambers on the first day of the conference was a clear indication that world leaders and development partners are sincere about the need to involve youths in efforts to end global poverty and give young people space to chart their own development path. Young people passionately expressed the need to be involved in decision making and appealed to governments and the private sector to support innovations by young people aimed at addressing global challenges such as climate change and poverty.
As representatives of our respective organisations, we were all bound by the common understanding that young people are seldom recognised as a resource and are systematically excluded from important arenas of decision making and development processes. The message was clear; we wanted full involvement and participation of young people in all facets of life. Youth exclusion from development processes usually means that their perspectives are often absent in policy making. Even more worrisome is that many youth organisations remain drastically under-resourced and ill equipped to participate in development processes which ultimately affects their full participation. If there are hopes of achieving global development goals there is need for a youth perspective which places young people at the centre of all development processes for the full realisation of the SDGs under 2030 Agenda.
Statistics show that more than 500 million young people lived in poverty as of 2009 – this number has probably increased as a result of global financial challenges and globalisation. It is common knowledge that development objectives will not be met if young people are not involved in decision making and governance processes2. Involving young people is a matter of urgency, since over 60 percent of Africa’s population is 35 years and below. The number of people worldwide aged 12-24 has reached 1.6 billion- the largest in history. I am convinced that young people across the world today are also the healthiest and best educated – a strong base to build on in a world that demands more than basic skills. The ‘Youth Perspective’ in poverty reduction is premised on the belief that young people are not merely a target group but initiators, innovators, participants, decision-makers and leaders. Eliminating poverty requires that young people are recognised as a resource for change in society. A ‘youth perspective’ in development efforts imply that young people and emerging leaders need to be strengthened and given more space for participation, involvement, influence and power. In that regard, organisations and forums that give young people influence must originate from the perspectives and real needs of young people.
In conclusion, having highlighted the issues above, I wish to commend the United Nations through ECOSOC for providing opportunities for young people to talk about issues affecting their communities. Going forward, there is need to build on these efforts to accelerate and intensify youth involvement in decision making and governance processes in line with the UN declaration of Leaving No One Behind.