Sarah Haynes, Restless Development’s Policy and Research Coordinator, blogs on why the UN’s High Level Political Forum is a chance to listen to young people to help make sure the Global Goals become reality.

I’m not in Ghana, I’m in New York. But Ghana is where part of this story begins.

Richard Dzikunu is a young activist using data to tackle maternal mortality rates in Ghana. Richard’s work is highlighting the big gap in the quality and access of health services that could keep expectant mothers and their newborns alive. He is one of hundreds of young people holding his leaders to account on the promises they made with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It’s been nine months since the Pope got back into his pope-mobile, and Shakira’s hips left New York following the fanfare and ceremony surrounding the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015. But it’s experiences and perspectives like Richards that can’t be left behind in the fanfare.

This week I’m at the UN with Richard for the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). This is an annual moment, where governments report on how the SDGs are going, and whether or not they are on track. It should also be a chance to listen to young people and include their perspectives in making sure the SDGs become reality.

Young People at the Heart of Monitoring and Accountability of the SDGs

For many young people around the world – young people like Richard – the work to achieve the SDGs began months ago. And this is why I’m joined here at the Forum by – Richard and Nazzy – two young Accountability Advocates from Ghana and the UK, respectively. As Accountability Advocates – they are trained technical experts delivering youth-led, data-driven monitoring of the SDGs at the local and national level. They harness data to monitor progress and hold decision-makers to account for achieving SDG targets. 
Whilst Richard has focused on data around maternal health, Nazzy has collected data on forced marriage and experiences of sexual and reproductive education in the UK. If we don’t listen to young people like Richard and Nazzy now, learning from the picture they’re already drawing and involve them in making sure the SDGs are delivered, we’ll fail before the Goals have even got off the ground.

This is the message we’re taking to the HLPF: the message of youth power and youth-led accountability, to government, civil society and UN leaders gathered here. This high-level advocacy is number two of our five point plan to ensure youth-led accountability is central to getting the SDGs job done.

Our plan brings together data-driven accountability; high-level advocacy; global mobilisation; national and local campaigns; and generating evidence of what works and why. Richard’s story is one part of that, and there are countless more out there.

Read more about the five point plan and what we’re calling for.

We have 15 years to transform the promise of the SDGs, into reality. 15 years to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and tackle climate change. That’s not long. To even stand a chance of success, we need to do things differently. Achieving the SDGs is only possible if we harness the power of the largest global youth population in history. There are 1.8 billion people on the planet aged 10-24 years old. It’s time for the world to wake up to the power of youth.

This is hopefully the dawning of a new era in development – we’ve talked the talk and negotiated a set of ambitious Global Goals. But achieving them requires walking a different walk – one led by citizens themselves – including young people.

Only then can we ensure the implementation of a new roadmap to achieving sustainable development, that truly ‘Leaves No One Behind’.

Follow us at the High Level Political Forum #YouthPower

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