Youth for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Youth and the 2030 Agenda

"Us youth, we can. We are not only the future, as is normally said, but also the main drivers of change - strategic actors who need to be taken into account today." - Luis Alvarado, from the Kichchwa community. At the age of 27, he serves as a UN Community Volunteer in teen pregnancy prevention and sexual and reproductive rights at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Ecuador.

We are at a time of crisis, which means that every decision we take today will have an impact on the living conditions of the next generations. This is the moment where we can decide what will happen with the Sustainable Development Goals and how we reach the year 2030. Today, more than ever, we must act, guided by the premise to “leave no one behind”, and build a sustainable, inclusive and equitable future. On International Youth Day, we must rethink the role of youth in the building of solutions and include them as active decision-makers for the future ahead of them. 

Young people are key actors on the global stage. The report "Latin American and Caribbean youth and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: an examination from within the United Nations system" establishes that only when youth become the protagonists of the Agenda, we can move towards achieving the SDGs. How can we promote their participation? By including them in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the measures and actions of the Agenda. 

Youth represent almost 30% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean [1], 48.7% of the workforce [2], and 35% of the people involved in the COVID-19 crisis response [3]. However, 39% of them live in poverty [4], and only a low percentage of young people participate in decision-making processes, generally as consultants rather than as decision-makers.

According to figures from 2015 [5], only 4% of parliamentarians in the region were under 30 years old. This participation rate decreases even further if we combine other variables, such as being a member of an indigenous community, being a member of the LGBTQI+ community, living with disabilities, or being a refugee. 

Ana Paula Ré Giamé, a former UN Volunteer who served as a Bilingual Technical Assistant for the Accelerator Lab with UNDP Argentina in 2020, explains that:

Young people grow up in a constantly changing environment; therefore, their capacity to adapt and their versatility are catalysts for the improvement of many policies."

According to Ana Paula, the inclusion of youth was a key factor for the success of the initiative she was part of, which proposed financial inclusion as a recovery method post-COVID-19. As youth are more familiar with technology and innovation methods, young people can propose more feasible alternatives for achieving the SDGs. 

We saw many advantages in working with youth in a virtual environment. We did not have to explain the functionality of every single digital tool that we worked with - it was a shortcut,” Ana Paula explains. 

Furthermore, as the report states: given their education and their capacity to process information, young people are the ones who know what problems they face and what means can be used to solve them.  

Integrating young people must be a joint venture. How can we create participatory spaces for youth? At the UNV programme, we believe that volunteerism can be a key step in this direction. 

Volunteerism catalyses action into inspiration and a can-do attitude.

Volunteer work is super interesting and important. I believe it's something that not everybody can do. You fall in love with voluntary work - you love your job and what you do.” - Luis Alvarado, Kichchwa UN Community Volunteer serving with UNFPA in Ecuador. 

Volunteering is also a means to mobilize civil society, generating awareness and summoning spontaneous goodwill. In the framework of the UNV COVID-19 crisis response [6], one in every three young people participated through online volunteering platforms, and 86% of them were volunteers with disabilities or refugees [7], which demonstrates that volunteerism is not only a mechanism that adapts to the technological context in which we live today, but also allows the inclusion of historically marginalized social groups. 

Let us follow the examples of UNDP Argentina, UNFPA Ecuador and another 17 agencies, funds and programmes in the region that stand by the premise to “leave no one behind”, and advance their efforts towards the 2030 Agenda by including youth in decisions to shape the future we want. 

[1] Report "Latin American and Caribbean youth and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: an examination from within the United Nations system".
[2] World Report on Youth Labour 2020, International Labour Organization. 
[3] United Nations Survey on Latin America and the Caribbean Youth in the COVID-19 Pandemic Context
[4] United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), 2020.
[5] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 
[6] For more information please visit:
[7] Report "Latin American and Caribbean youth and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: an examination from within the United Nations system".