Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, Speech at UNLEASH Awards Ceremony

Aug 21, 2017

The meaningful involvement of youth in SDG implementation and monitoring at all levels is essential for successful implementation of the agenda. Photo: Aude Rossignol/UNDP

As prepared for delivery.

“Young people powering innovations for sustainable development”

It is my pleasure to join you today at the UNLEASH Awards Show - the culmination of a fascinating Global Innovation Lab that has gathered more than 1,000 talented young people from around the world in Aarhus here today. 

Let me begin by thanking all co-conveners and partners, particularly our Danish partners, for their strong commitment over many years to sustainable development, youth and innovation. 

Key development and innovation challenges

More than 1.4 billion people – many of them poor – live in fragile and conflict-affected settings, 244 million people are on the move , and income inequality is increasing within rich and poor countries alike  while the stressors on our environment, including on the climate, are growing. These challenges are important to all of us, but especially to the young people who make up more than half of the world’s population today. You are part of this important age group, and you will grapple with these and other challenges over your lifetimes. 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets out an ambitious vision for people, planet and prosperity over the next fifteen years. It was agreed to by world leaders in New York two years ago, and young people played a vital role in shaping its priorities through advocacy and participation in online and local consultations. The agenda aims to address the key development challenges of our time, from poverty and inequalities to hunger and disease to violence and conflict to climate change and disaster risks. It also aims to leave no one behind and to transform the way we live, work, and do business, so that we can build sustainable, inclusive, and peaceful societies. 

Over the past two years, SDG implementation has taken off. With UN support, countries from Colombia to Bangladesh have been aligning their development plans and programmes with the SDGs, involving a broad range of stakeholders in consultation and coordination, building up capacities to collect and analyze data, exploring new ideas and identifying innovative ways of financing this bold and ambitious agenda. 

For UNDP, supporting innovation is critical to achieving the SDGs. Some of our key priorities in doing so include: 

-    fostering development practices and business models that include and empower the most marginalized and vulnerable;
-    building more inclusive, responsive, agile and trusted public and political institutions; 
-    adopting behavior changes that encourage sustainable consumption and production, mitigate climate change, prevent violence and achieve gender equality, taking into account new insights from behavioral science and experimental approaches; 
-    rethinking the future of work and welfare and developing global standards for ethical practice and related safeguards; and
-    leveraging new and emerging data sources to improve SDG monitoring and accountability.

Young people as key agents of change and innovators

The agenda specifically recognizes youth as “critical agents of change”.  To ensure the success of the 2030 Agenda, we need all young people on board - all of you, young activists, innovators, disruptors and trailblazers.   

Young women and men are an important and influential demographic. Your generation is also far better connected than previous ones. Young innovators like you here today have been instrumental in overcoming divisions of geography, religion and culture by combining a keen social consciousness with art, technology, science and new ways of communicating to promote sustainable development. 

The meaningful involvement of youth in SDG implementation and monitoring at all levels is essential for successful implementation of the agenda. Yet, many young people still experience various forms of discrimination and marginalization, barriers in accessing their rights, limited civic and political participation, high levels of poverty, and limited access to health and education services, as well as decent jobs. We must urgently and collectively address these challenges and ensure that young people’s voices and ideas, as well as their willingness to influence decision-making, are better valued and supported. 

How UNDP can be a partner in innovation, especially with youth

UNDP is a leader in supporting youth and innovation, particularly in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Let me highlight how: 

-    At global and regional levels, UNDP has set up programs and platforms to boost youth participation in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. In July last year, with the support of Denmark and other partners, we launched our first Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace, which aims to empower youth across all development contexts through greater economic and political participation and greater engagement in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Over 40 countries, from Sri Lanka to Somalia, have already been directly supported by this program. 

-    As there can be no development without peace, we are now also supporting consultations with young peacebuilders worldwide on the role of youth in peace and security. UNDP and Denmark are working together to prepare a global study on Young People, Violent Conflict and Peacebuilding. This study will, for the first time, document the contributions and challenges of young peacebuilders from around the world.

-    For the 2030 Agenda to be transformative, it must be adapted to local realities. In the Asia Pacific and Arab States regions, with partners like UN Women and UNV, we supported the establishment of regional networks of young influencers, activists and leaders to implement Agenda 2030 creatively in their local communities and to advocate for a stronger role for young people in formulating national policies. In the Arab States region, over the course of last year, more than 200 youth participated in national events, such as social innovation camps, meet-ups, and workshops. One of these young leaders launched a project that maps unused spaces in Jerusalem and organizes collaborative art gatherings and cultural exchanges, turning these spaces into clean, welcoming places for dialogue, conflict resolution, alternative tourism, and inspiration.  

-    We are also promoting new partnerships to tap into the catalytic power of technology for development. In July, we supported the “YouthConnekt” conference in Kigali with the Government of Rwanda, which brought together young African leaders, entrepreneurs and governments to identify new solutions to the region’s technology and development challenges. The YouthConnekt initiative is now working towards the establishment of a regional youth and innovation hub for Africa.

-    We have also stepped up our ongoing support to social entrepreneurs at the local level. For example, in Armenia, the European Union and UNDP have been supporting a social entrepreneurship project called Kolba Lab. The Lab provides support to social entrepreneurs with mentoring, training, seed funding and workspace, in the start-up phase of their businesses, enabling them to turn innovative ideas into solutions for real-world problems. Kolba Lab recently helped a social entrepreneur in the city of Gyumri design, build and install solar-powered streetlights that reduce energy consumption and make public spaces safer and more welcoming. 

-    Finally, since 2014, the UNDP Innovation Facility, with the support from Denmark as well, has provided seed funding for projects in 85 countries, which contributed to our work with young people on innovation for development. One project we are currently supporting through the Facility is in Myanmar, where a group of young women has created the app iWomen. The app shares educational content on entrepreneurship, markets, laws, rights and technology to inspire and mentor rural women to participate in public and political life. Since 2015, active users of the iWomen app increased from 1,050 to over 8,000, and women have shared more than 7,000 posts and 500 inspiring stories.   

These are a few examples of how we are trying to tap the potential of youth and innovation to make the 2030 Agenda a reality. Together, they give a sense of the enormous contributions that young people can make to development progress around the world.

Over the course of only 10 days here in Aarhus, you have co-created solutions that address some of the roadblocks we are facing in reaching the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda. I congratulate you on your work, and encourage you to take your initiatives forward from here. Rest assured that we will continue working with you and with other young people around the world to develop innovative solutions to our shared global challenges and to put those ideas into practice. 

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