The Youth Summit: DFID assert youths will “make or break” the success of the SDGs

On September 12, London saw thousands of protestors marching towards Parliament over the refugee crisis, demanding Mr. Cameron to open UK borders on the grounds of humanity. Anahita Hossein-Pour heard the protestors that day from the other side of the fence, attending the UK’s Department of International Development’s (DFID) Youth Summit in Whitehall. Here she investiagtes the importance of young people in the formation and success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The development summit’s agenda seemed all the more important in the context of the tragedies that had been occurring the last few months, as the impact of the Syrian Civil War has caught attention from all eyes across the globe. The SDGs assertion to leave no-one behind will be heavily tested when war and conflict continues to set back societies for decades- and that’s where the calibre of youths come in.

Asian Development Bank /Creative Commons License

Asian Development Bank /Creative Commons License


For the International Citizen Service (ICS) alumni attending the Youth Summit that day, amongst the entertainment of the Pandemonium Drummers, the various speakers and NGO led workshops, DFID’s message was loud and clear: young people are an intrinsic part to successful development. Secretary of State Justine Greening said in the summit’s opening plenary, young people will “make or break” the successful delivery of the SDGs. Ms. Greening promised to carry the views expressed at the Youth Summit to the United Nations, and earmarked this statement with the announcement that two young people will be joining the UK delegation to the United Nations post-2015 Development Summit.

Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon delivered a personal video message, calling upon delegates for their “energy, ideas and initiatives” to push governments to fulfil their commitments and be the “torch bearers of the future we want.”

In the creation of the 17 targets, youths across the world voiced their priorities and concerns, explaining the formal up take of certain targets such as goal 16- to promote peaceful and inclusive societies. At the Youth Summit, goal 16 for peace and goal five for gender equality were the two favourites when I asked various ICS delegates which SDG was the most important in their eyes. For one delegate who favoured gender equality, she made an interesting point that climate change cannot be stopped, but you can mobilise the whole world who can make a difference. The Secretary of State also described gender inequality as the “greatest unmet human challenge”.

So whilst youths are perceived as being agents for change, they are also amongst the most affected groups when faced with shortfalls in education, nutrition, environment and all other aspects the SDGs are trying to improve. According to the UN Population Fund, 1.8 billion people are aged between 10 and 24, and 90% of them live in least developed countries. 50% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is under 30. Youths are the future for all societies and so DFID is right to place them at the heart of their agenda in all aspects of the development process.

The question is, how will DFID follow up on their Youth Summit statement? Will they really “pull young people into the department” as Ms Greening said? What struck me throughout the conference was the emphasis on getting involved in the “conversation”- how, where and what that means appears yet to be explained.

Jessica Lea/DFID/Creative Commons License

Jessica Lea/DFID/Creative Commons License


Certainly the summit was alive with enthusiasm and energy from all participants, the #Youth4Change movement, as well as ONE, Restless Development, World Vision, and other NGOs and activists all brought their experiences and ideas to the near 300 crowd to inspire them to make change happen. Many of the ICS delegates were highly motivated, dedicated individuals to the causes they themselves experienced on their projects abroad in developing countries.

One delegate, Pippa told me how her ICS project in South Africa has driven her to make a career change from accountancy, to working in an NGO- maybe even Skillshare International who co-ordinated her project. With that however, was the understanding of the competitive, long drawn out process and low pay that the International Development career route currently has to offer newcomers to the industry. Although that view was not shared by all. A member of the Youth Summit’s Youth Panel told me how being an ICS alumni member has opened doors for her to get further involved in International Development, with increasing opportunities with ICS, NCS and NGOs.

It was a shame Whitehall’s logistics meant only a small number of young people were able to attend the summit, and that the event only reached out to the government funded programme’s alumni. For certain many more youths outside government networks would relish the opportunity to take part in helping create our post-2015 world. The summit asserted such a strong sentiment that DFID is undergoing fundamental change to include youths, and valuing their role they have to play in our futures. The next step will be to witness actions speaking louder than words, and with the Secretary of State ending the summit on a note to “watch this space,” we should all intend to do exactly that and follow up if this ‘space’ is not filled with action.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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