Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Opening Remarks at the First Global Forum on Youth Policies

Oct 28, 2014

Baku, Azerbaijan

Opening Remarks by Magdy Martínez-Solimán, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to be with all of you, today, in Baku, to represent the United Nations Development Programme, one of the co-conveners of this first Global Forum on Youth Policies. Let me first thank our generous host, His Excellency President Ilham Aliyev, his Minister of Youth and Sports, His Excellency Azad Rahimov, and the other co-conveners, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe, for co-organizing this event which will provide a great opportunity for an ambitious engagement around the Baku Commitment on Youth.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is no time for business as usual. Our world has short of 2 billion young people. More than one third of them live in fragile and conflict-affected countries and territories, and 75 million are unemployed. Working with and for young people, particularly those who are vulnerable and in need, is indispensable if we are to achieve human development.

In 1995, the United Nations adopted an international strategy—the World Programme of Action for Youth to the Year 2000 and Beyond. It urged governments that had not yet done so to formulate and adopt integrated national youth policies. Well-designed national youth policies indeed play a crucial role in responding to youth needs and demands. They set objectives, provide frameworks, resources and mechanisms, outline actions to enhance youth participation, and define responsibilities, including within public institutions. They determine accountability and need to steer away from rhetorical declarations. They need to be visible in the national budgets and in the UN budgets as well. 

The good news: Some important progress has been made. In 2014, more than 60% of countries already have a national youth policy.

The less good news: these national policies are not always implemented fully, and sometimes lack teeth. A number of challenges affect both the efficiency and inclusiveness of these policies, from fragmented responsibilities and dysfunctional structures to the lack of reliable data and the absence or insufficient tracking of adequate resources.

Having been, as Ahmad has just said, in charge of youth policy in my government in Spain -and allow me to recognize with pride my successor who is here in Baku today- I can only agree that implementing good policies on youth is not an easy task. It’s not easy to demand and not easy to deliver. Such policies require long-term political will, stakeholder engagement, effective coordination, participation and acceptance of criticism.

But a national youth policy is essential as a social investment that provides opportunity, protects the most vulnerable of our young citizens, and strengthens the community. It makes societies more equal.

As you know, over the past years, we have organized, in the UNDG, large-scale consultations on the post-2015 development agenda. We are pleased that Azerbaijan has also joined the SDG consultation movement. In these dialogues, youth have made their voices heard: you do not solely want to be listened to, you also are eager and ready to be involved in driving the next development agenda, and in shaping and monitoring targets in their communities and countries. You want education, jobs and a decent government. You want a green and blue economy. You want freedom and rights. You want peace. This is a debate about the future we all want. And for sure, the young generations will inherit our achievements, our prosperity, our science and our progress. I read in one of the Conference documents one young leader say: “we will also have to clean up your mess”. Both things are true. The challenge is tough – and that’s why we need to have not only the most educated and connected youth of history, but also a young generation that is ready to rise to the challenges of a complex world.   

I spoke a minute ago of the generosity of our hosts in Azerbaijan. Allow me to say a few words about our impression about the country. Azerbaijan has been endowed with large reserves of valuable natural resources. History tells us however that, with the extraction of these resources you significantly raise the GDP, but you do not necessarily lift either Government revenues or human development. Translating oil into shared prosperity requires deliberate public policy decisions towards those ends. Azerbaijan has made significant decisions in this respect that have benefited their youth. Over the years, this nation has seen a drastic reduction in its levels of poverty, new investment in social services and raising salaries. Job opportunities have been opened for young people. Migrants have returned. Countries need economies that generate such opportunities, but they don’t come by coincidence or by luck.

We are not in the business of luck. In UNDP, we are in the business of hope. Our global network in 170 countries and territories supports the empowerment of youth, the hopes of young people in a better present across the planet. Our Youth Strategy supports change. It promotes participation in effective and democratic governance, greater economic empowerment of youth and their engagement in building resilience in their communities. In our experience, when young people influence decision making, transparency and accountability improve, politics turn more legitimate and development is faster. If young people don’t decide, others decide in their stead.  

We work under the leadership of the Secretary-General’s Youth Envoy and with UN Agencies, UNESCO, UNFPA and others, as well as with governments, civil society, youth-led organisations, young women and men themselves, academia, foundations, and the private sector, everyone! Regional youth organizations, such as the Organization for Ibero-American Youth (OIJ), which I had the privilege of helping create, are key to compare and push, debate and unite.

Let me finally highlight today the crucial role of youth in emergency situations, for example those fighting against Ebola in West Africa: from UNVs who engage with slum communities in Conakry with UNDP, to the Okada riders in Freetown, young ex-combatants who make a living of their moto-taxis, who have constituted an early warning system to provide medical attention to those in need, to the young health workers who are the team on the ground helping Medecins sans frontieres (MSF) and other first responders who treat the sick and stop the spread. I don’t want to forget the young men and women in uniform, who also contribute to stop Ebola. The emergency response has a young face, side-by-side to the many other veteran crisis responders. We actively engage with youth as key positive agents of change in their communities, in time of peace or in crisis and post-disaster contexts.

Let me say, as a concluding remark, how pleased we are to collaborate with all of you: young leaders, student leaders, experts, researchers, government representatives, and co-conveners. This is the most important youth forum of the decade. We need to seize the opportunity and make it happen.   

Thank you.

UNDP Around the world