YMCA at the forefront: Shaping the future at ECOSOC Youth Forum

Date: 01 May 2024

By Lauren Pollock, The Y Australia

Mid-April 2024 saw young leaders from across the globe convene in New York City at the  ECOSOC Youth Forum to collaborate with government representatives, policymakers, organisations, and individuals on innovative solutions for implementing the UN’s 2030 Agenda. I was lucky enough to represent the global YMCA Movement at the forum.  It was a true privilege – an opportunity I will be forever grateful for.

This forum is a vital platform for exchanging views and ideas crucial to the world’s issues – and I like so many others at the Y, know that young people are key component of how we solve these issues. Including youth voice is vital in shaping global strategies for sustainable development and for a more just, equitable and inclusive world.

The Y’s Vision 2030 is deeply aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), emphasising youth empowerment, voice and meaningful engagement.

Having an opportunity to attend not only gave me a chance to listen and hear the diverse perspectives and learnings from other incredible humans, but I also had the chance to speak during a panel on behalf of the YMCA and the incredible work we do across the globe. Here’s what I had to say on the importance of working together to tackle some of toughest issues facing our society, inclusive of our young people, today.

Today, as we confront the challenges laid bare by our interconnected, globalised world, we stand at a critical juncture. Where the future of sustainable development hinges on our ability to harness the collective power of partnerships.

We are called upon not just by moral imperative, but by economic necessity, to unlock the energy, creativity, and innovative prowess of our young people. As we strive towards 2030 and home in on the SDGs, in particular SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals, it is clear that none of us can succeed alone. We must foster collaborative advantage over competitive.

What is this collaborative advantage, you ask? It is the understanding that the challenges we face—whether they be in education and employment, wellbeing, environmental sustainability or inclusivity —are not isolated to one nation, one organisation, or one generation. Rather, they demand a shared commitment to knowledge swapping, cooperation, and effective partnerships on a global scale to drive real tangible change.

As World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee often says, ‘if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to far go together’.

Consider the International Labour Organization’s initiative, Decent Jobs for Youth, which exemplifies the power of collective action.

By harnessing the expertise of diverse partners, this initiative connects, captures, and shares best practices, enhancing the entire ecosystem of global youth empowerment, all while providing solution for local employment issue.

As we reflect on the necessity of empowering young people, I can’t go past the various opportunities I’ve had within the YMCA worldwide to engage directly with young people across diverse, local communities.

Over the past 12 months, I have had the absolute pleasure and privilege of working with over 700 young individuals from across the globe, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This experience has allowed me to witness a profound immersion into cultural identity and diversity, as well as the challenges posed by language barriers, access to technology and equitable education.

Yet, what struck me most were the resounding voices echoing – across the region – a common plea: “We want to be trusted, and we want to take ownership of our own future.”

It is a powerful thing to have a voice, but it means significantly more to be truly heard.

This is where we often fall short. Young leaders must not be seen merely as an exercise in potential leaders for tomorrow, but as indispensable leaders of today. This recognition hinges fundamentally on trust.

Trust is not just a buzzword; it is the cornerstone of effective partnerships and intergenerational collaboration. When we trust our young leaders, we acknowledge their agency, honour their perspectives, and entrust them with meaningful responsibilities. It empowers us to innovate, take risks, and contribute authentically to shaping our collective future.

However, building trust is a shared process. It requires a willingness for all involved, regardless of age, to listen actively, value diverse viewpoints, and relinquish some control to enable true intergenerational leadership.

We know meaningful engagement with young people requires us to move beyond tokenism.

It’s important to emphasize that intergenerational leadership, too, must be more than a concept – or a trend – it must be a reality. It is not about excluding or cutting out any generations from the process. Instead, it is about fostering collaboration and unity across different age groups. By working together, each generation can contribute valuable perspectives, experiences, and ideas to create a more inclusive and effective approach.

This means acknowledging that trusting young leaders involves more than mere symbolic gestures but instead committing to empowering young people with genuine opportunities and support to lead.

Not only do we need to amplify their voices but also provide them with the necessary skills, platforms, and resources to translate their aspirations into tangible actions.

This shift from tokenism to genuine trust ensures that young leaders are equipped and enabled to drive real change and make a lasting impact in their communities and beyond.

We grant them real power—the POWER of Presence at the table, Ownership over their voice, Wisdom from lived experience, Equality in decision-making, and Responsibility of collective outcomes. Let us stop defining young people by their age and start recognising them as indispensable, equal partners in our shared journey towards sustainable development.

As we navigate the complexities of our world, let us commit ourselves to fostering a culture of trust, true intergenerational leadership and collaborate advantage—recognising the inherent leadership potential of our young people and that affords them the respect they rightfully deserve.

To our young leaders here today at ECOSOC in New York and across the globe, I urge you: stay curious, keep raising your voices, and demand not just a seat at the table, but the power to shape your world. The future is indeed yours, but so is the now. Your ideas, your innovations, and your passion are essential to achieving our collective aspirations.

In closing, let us recommit ourselves to the spirit of SDG 17. Let us embrace the ethos of collaboration and partnership, recognising that our fates are intertwined, and our solutions must be too. Together, let us build a world where waste is minimized not only in our resources but also in our efforts—a world where partnerships thrive, and the promise of the 2030 Agenda is fulfilled.”