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"A Year of Opportunity for Youth"

UNDP, 03 February 2015 - Helen Clark: Special Address at the Closing Session of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, "A Year of Opportunity for Youth"

I am delighted to join you at the closing session of this year’s ECOSOC Youth Forum. I thank Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, and H.E. Mr. Martin Sajdik, President of ECOSOC, for extending the invitation to me.

UNDP is pleased to have supported the ECOSOC Youth Forum again this year. We see it as a very important space for young people from around the world to engage with the United Nations, and to discuss, influence – and surely tweet about – the development issues which affect their lives, their communities, and their countries.

This year’s forum has special significance as we look beyond the Millennium Development Goals, which run their course this year, to a new sustainable development agenda which will guide global priorities for the next fifteen years. This agenda – and the pace at which it is implemented – matters immensely to today’s young people, as it will shape the world in which they will make their contribution. It’s in the interests of us all that the world we build is a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable one than what we have today.

There’s an old saying – no decisions about us without us. That’s what makes this ECOSOC Forum engaging youth and other such forums discussing the post-2015 agenda, including at national and regional levels, so important.

Meeting the needs of youth as a global development priority

Today’s generation of young people is the largest the world has ever known.  It’s estimated that close to ninety per cent of the world’s youth live in developing countries, and in many of those countries they constitute the largest share of the population.  

Young people the world over face many challenges. For a start, they are disproportionately unemployed – with the total numbers estimated at 75 million. High youth unemployment is found in many developed and developing countries.  
As well:
•    A significant number of youth live in fragile and conflict-affected countries and territories.
•    Young people often face barriers to exercising their sexual and reproductive health choices.
•    Young LGBTI people are often more vulnerable to exclusion, and in some places criminalization.
•    Access to quality and affordable education and services in general is often highly problematic for youth.

Put simply, young people deserve a better deal.

Compounding these challenges are the relatively low levels of participation by young people in decision-making. Voter turnout among youth is often low, and few young people are members of formal decision-making bodies, such as national parliaments.

Yet young people are among the greatest assets countries have. The energy, enthusiasm, and innovation which comes with youth offers a huge demographic dividend to countries and to our world as a whole. It’s essential to unlock that potential through investments in education, skills training, sexual and reproductive health services, and youth services and opportunities in general.  And it’s essential to include and empower youth so that they can play their full part in building stronger and more inclusive and sustainable communities.

UNDP’s support to youth

UNDP promotes empowerment of youth through programmes across its global network, which spans more than 170 countries and territories around the world.

Our Youth Strategy for 2014-2017 sets out our vision for engaging and empowering youth in governance, in jobs and livelihoods, and in strengthening their communities and societies.

Our work with and for youth ranges from supporting entry to the labour market and acquisition of skills, including for micro-enterprises and small and medium-sized enterprises, to supporting youth to run for public office, backing youth organizations and networks of young innovators, and engaging youth as volunteers and social mobilizers.

Allow me to share some examples:

In Liberia last year as part of the Ebola response, we supported the recruitment of 1,300 young volunteers to go door-to-door every day in their communities to raise awareness of the disease and basic public health measures which can stop it. Community mobilization like this across the three Ebola epicenter countries has played a huge part in turning the tide on the disease.

In Fiji, UNDP supported the establishment of the Fiji National Youth Council which promotes the empowerment of youth through income-generating projects, capacity-building, and educational programmes. Hundreds of youth from fourteen provinces contributed to the preparation of the Council’s Constitution and Strategic Plan, and to national policy discussions.

In the Caribbean, we have supported the establishment of a sub-regional youth network called Youth-IN. This network promotes youth engagement in community activities and youth entrepreneurship in a number of sectors. Among the achievements of Youth-IN is the establishment of a think tank for the Caribbean led by youth who want to contribute to policy debates on national and regional issues.

UNDP has many UN partners on youth issues, including the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. We work closely with UNICEF, UNFPA, UNESCO, UNV, ILO, UNWomen, and others to implement the first-ever UN System-Wide Action Plan on Youth developed through the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development. UNDP is proud to be co-leading this Network from March this year. The support the UN gives to national youth policies will also be strengthened by the upcoming launch of the first UN Global Initiative on Youth Policies, one of the outcomes of The First Global Forum on Youth Policies in Baku.

We also value the many partners we work with on youth issues beyond the UN system. We recently launched an innovative partnership with Restless Development, a youth-led development organization, to support the implementation of their “Big Idea”. We see this as a groundbreaking programme in involving youth in monitoring development policies and programmes.  

Since late 2012, UNDP and the broader UN development system have been reaching out to the world’s citizens for input into the post-2015 agenda. Together, we supported 88 national dialogues, eleven major thematic consultations, and an ambitious social media platform.

Our worldwide survey, MY World, had especially wide reach – so far more than seven million people, the vast majority of them young, have voted on their priorities for post-2015 through MY World. The UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the SDGs drew on these consultations in making their recommendations for the new sustainable development agenda, and much of what people said they wanted is reflected in their proposal.

2015 is a year of opportunity for youth

I see 2015 as a “once-in-a-generation year” for development. There are major global processes and anniversaries related to development – including the twentieth anniversary of the World Programme of Action for Youth; the twentieth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction; the Third International Conference on Financing for Development; the Special Summit on Sustainable Development in New York, where a new sustainable development agenda is expected to be adopted; and the annual UN climate change Conference of Parties in December where a new global treaty is due to be agreed.

It is vital that youth are engaged in all these processes. UNDP calls on all relevant partners to support youth engagement in the global dialogues and in national development priorities. I commend our UN Resident Co-ordinators and UN Country Teams for championing the youth agenda, and for supporting the participation of youth representatives in this ECOSOC forum.  

Please count on UNDP as an advocate for investments in opportunity for youth, and for full youth engagement in national and global processes. Social media are important vehicles for connecting youth, and we are pleased to partner with the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth and other UN entities on the #youthnow global advocacy campaign. It aims to accelerate implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth and the inclusion of youth in the SDGs.

Working together, I am confident that the UN system can help ensure that 2015 is a big opportunity for the world’s young people to play their full part in shaping a more peaceful, equitable, and sustainable future for us all.


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