Mobilizing young people to make the world meet the Sustainable Development Goals

How can we mobilize young people at scale to make the world meet the SDGs?

It’s a big question, and there are many answers. And there are many youth organizations working every day in every corner of the world to find some of those many answers.

I’m Ana Clara Marti from YMCA Uruguay. My passion is education, and I’m a proud member of the World YMCA UN Advocacy Group.  So I was thrilled to be selected to take part in the SDG Action Zone, feeding into the High-Level General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, 21-25 September 2020.


The youth voice. It’s real.

The world is marking the 75th anniversary of the UN, the start of the ‘Decade of Action’ to meet the SDGs by 2030 – and more to the point, perhaps – it’s in a period of profound crisis. The health crisis of the Coronavirus has led to a social and economic crisis like no other in our memory.

The SDG Action Zone brought together young people from the ‘Big 6’ youth organizations: the World Alliance of YMCAs, the World YWCA, the Scout Movement, the Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation.

It was another opportunity to connect through our experiences of youth empowerment.  We felt somehow mirrored and mutually supported in the daily situations we encounter.

Meti Gemechu, the Youth Leadership Development Programme Coordinator at YWCA Ethiopia, told us that one of the biggest misconceptions that irritates her the most is when people think that young people are lazy and don’t care as much as adults.  That rang true to all of us.

It’s also a problem at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), where Chamathya Fernando, a World Board Member from Sri Lanka, said: “There is a misconception about young people not being experienced enough, educated enough or skilled enough.  And there’s sometimes the feeling that they could be trouble makers if they get a seat at the decision making table”.

We see the same in the YMCA. I shared with the group that I’ve experienced adults being surprised when I do a good job or present a good project. And they are not surprised if that project is proposed by someone over 40, for example. This shows many of the misconceptions that adults have when they want to work with young people.

However, the point of the discussion was to go further: what can we do with all this? Melanie Tran, representative of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, suggested something essential: “Young people have the desire, the ability and the opportunity to create such a change, and it really is dependent on that collaborative relationship.”

Here, motivation is a key aspect. We can’t work with young people who are not motivated, and who do not know why they do what they do. As Willy Xiao, the representative of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, said, “Adults can help with the question of how to get started, and where to jump in”. Also, another idea to help with the motivation of young people, is engaging with peers and having peers be mentors to youth.

One lesson I can take away from this session is that we really need to work collaboratively – with other organizations, within our organizations, and in our local YMCAs. There is no way to transform our communities if we don’t do it this way.

To end the discussion I shared some conclusions that I think we should not forget, even though there is still a lot of work to be done: “All of our organizations have been working with young people for over 100 years, and one thing has become clear in all this time: we need young people to make a difference”.

Ana Clara Martí

Some of the other things I said in the SDG Action Zone debate

“One of the major misconceptions adults have when working with young people is that they think we are here to ‘fill in the space’. We are here because we have the capacity to be here.”

 “The main problem is they look at who is saying it, and not the impact it may have. It is fundamental that we are aware of this.”

 “We need to raise awareness about the SDGs in our community, but also among our family and friends.”

 “We should promote the SDGs with our staff and volunteers, and also out families and friends. Why? Because every time someone new becomes aware of the issues, there is a chance that they may start taking action.”

 “It is very important to measure the impact of our actions.  The SDGs provide us with indicators: without knowing what needs to be done, it is difficult to take action. The indicators tell us.”

 “There is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but we need young people to make a difference.”

 Follow the recording of the SDG Action Zone debate on Mobilising the masses for the SDGs below,
YMCA’s Ana Clara Marti speaks at 05:44, 16:11 and 37:11.