by Yoctan Vilchez*
Around seven hundred people attended the ECOSOC youth forum at the United Nations headquarters this 30-31st January 2017. The subject: The role of youth in poverty eradication and promoting prosperity in a changing world; this pressing issue was discussed in the light of the 17 sustainable development goals from the 2030 sustainable development agenda.
The massive event brought together young delegates from 129 member states of the United Nations, ministers, civil society and youth advocates from all corners of the globe. The plenary session was introduced by the President of ECOSOC, the President of the General Assembly and a message from the Secretary General of the United Nations. Plenary sessions, that included interventions from high-level officials from the UN such the above mentioned and the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, later gave way to interactive round-tables that allowed open exchanges between young delegates from member states, heads of ministries related to youth and education, and representatives of international nonprofit organizations.
The interventions in the above described instances were enriching in terms of the inputs from the diverse experiences of states’ policies presented by ministers representing their governments, young delegates and representatives from international non-profits that were invited to participate in the plenary. It offered a clearer view of the complex, uneven and multifaceted landscape where the initiatives dedicated to generate inclusive processes of youth development are taking place; as well as the issue of how governments and civil society are approaching it. The statements and presentations during this instance allowed a glimpse into the greater challenges pertaining public policy in the wide range of components involving youth development: gender, education, job creation, health (particularly the issues of reproductive health and the difficulties of addressing mental health related topics across the sustainable development agenda), etc.
The breakout sessions that followed allowed for a much more diverse group of stake holders coming from the nonprofit sector to organize the discussions in smaller sets: Poverty reduction, food security, Health, Gender equality, Infrastructure and environment. In this second instance the implementation of initiatives on the ground was discussed though diverse panels that included state and nonprofit representatives. The first day these sessions were divided through a thematic scope and the second day through regional focus. This second instance of the forum created the space for relevant exchanges related to the nature of the challenges, for instance: young population that is currently unemployed and outside of the formal education system (ninis, in Spanish parlance), the multi-layered obstacles to promote youth development such as gender inequality, lack of comprehensive policies for LGBT communities, people with disability or ethnic minorities across the hemisphere suffering differentiated exclusion. These are the fields which, according to the attendees, the 17 sustainable development goals of the sustainable development agenda should be pushed though.
Our modest contributions to the discussions of the forum gravitated around the issue of avoiding the portrayal of young people as only labour force for the job market or as subjects to be related to crime prevention initiatives, but instead to put the loci of enunciation in their own voice to give them the tools and space to develop their creative and innovative energies of change making. Alongside, we were able to briefly share the experience of the CONCAUSA initiative that America Solidaria leads, together with CEPAL, UNICEF, and in effective synergy with the private sector, where more than 56 young people from 11 different countries were given the opportunity to meet in Santiago de Chile to present their development projects in the light of the SDG’s and to participate in a holistic immersion of skill building that included leadership and art workshops and a music festival.
On a more personal note, we also highlighted during the discussions the need to consider another category/layer of exclusion that young people across the globe face that also hinders the progress towards the 2030 sustainable development agenda. Aside from race, gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation etc. also migration status should be a pressing concern. As an America Solidaria fellow working with young immigrants in New York, I felt the need to include into the discussion the multifaceted discrimination that stems out of an irregular migratory status and exponentially increases other types of discrimination suffered by young people that coming from states that are unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations to provide security, opportunities for development and/or plentiful participatory citizenship, arrive to national states that are increasingly criminalizing their pursuit of basic subsistence, targeting them as security threats with dehumanizing narratives and pushing them towards ever-increasing dangers by forcing them to the fringes of social and economic life.
At America Solidaria we believe that youth, as a vulnerable period of transition in personal development, is a crucial time for social intervention; especially in situations of exclusion and discrimination. This logic guides our projects throughout the Americas in different fronts and is absolutely consistent with the struggle for making the SDG’s a palpable reality in our continent. I am immensely proud of having represented America Solidaria’s CONCAUSA initiative at the 2017 ECOSOC Youth forum.
*Yoctan Vilchez is an America Solidaria US fellow serving in Atlas DIY in Brooklyn, NY.