Will the UN be ‘left behind’ by young people in 2030?

A response to the UN Youth2030 Strategy

Our favourite tweet from this year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) came from the Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed – ‘We talk about leaving no one behind but if we don’t keep up with that phrase, young people will leave the UN behind.’

At Restless Development, we work with young people to lead solutions for addressing very complex global challenges. We work together to overcome barriers and identify solutions to achieving sustainable development. And we call out the mistake that’s often made when  young people are seen simply as ‘stakeholders’, ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘victims’. It hugely underestimates the power and agency that they have.

Amina Mohammed’s view is encouraging, especially when voiced during UNGA, an event at UN headquarters that brings together leaders from around the world. Because she’s right: if the UN doesn’t do something to really tackle this issue of leaving people behind- and particularly young people- the UN itself will be left out, and everyone needs to hear that message loud and clear.

Now the UN Secretary General has launched his much anticipated Youth2030 Strategy at this year’s UNGA it demonstrates a real ambition to step up the UN’s work with young people towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

When it was launched I was eager to see if the Secretary General would go one step further.

Would this new strategy demonstrate real intent to challenge and change the UN system’s approach to working with and supporting young people at all levels from around the world? Would it leave no youth behind, especially those who experience the most exclusion, like girls and young women?

So, does Youth2030 really step up to the mark?

In our view- if this Strategy is fully implemented- Youth2030 has the power to change the way the UN works for and with young people far beyond the next 12 years. Here are two reasons why we view the Youth2030 strategy as a critical leap forward for the UN in achieving the SDGs:

ONE: Finally a youth strategy for the whole UN

This is the first time that the UN has developed an agency wide youth strategy, to try and ensure coherence and increased ambition across the whole of the UN system in how it works with and for youth. This more streamlined approach can help to ensure greater impact and efficiency in the youth initiatives that are being funded and implemented, by helping to avoid duplication or competition between the different UN agencies. It also sets the bar high in terms of the actions that different agencies should be taking, it will no longer be acceptable for programmes or funds to forget about the role and contribution of young people.

TWO: Young people are partners, leaders and innovators

There is strong emphasis on young people now being respected as ‘partners’ to the UN, not just the subjects or stakeholders of different UN policies or programmes. The strategy further recognises the value of youth-led innovations, demonstrating an understanding that young people have the power and agency to develop much needed sustainable development solutions.

‘Young people’s empowerment, development and engagement is an end in itself, as well as a means to build a better world. The UN recognises it cannot achieve its mission without partnering with young people and ensuring they are not only heard but understood, not only engaged but empowered, and not only supporting but leading global efforts and processes.’ Youth2030, UN Youth Strategy (pg. 6)

Despite this important shift in language to both work for and with young people- and the heightened level of ambition to scale up and improve the UN’s work with youth across the agency- here are two reasons why we believe the Strategy could go further to truly place youth leadership at the heart of achieving the SDGs:

ONE: Money, money, money

The level of ambition is really exciting, but with high ambition often comes a high price tag. Some of these initiatives in the Youth2030 Strategy will require substantial resourcing to get them off the ground and then, more critically, to sustain them. Whilst some Member States have already stepped up to commit funds, the required financing still falls far short of what will be needed to bring these ambitious to full fruition. As an agency that works with young people and youth-led organisations, we know that they are critically underfunded, and this can be a real barrier to delivering their work.

TWO: Unifying the UN will not be easy

To deliver a coherent, agency wide strategy, this will require a shift in working culture at the UN level. Currently, a number of different UN agencies have their own youth strategies, some better than others, and some don’t have a strategy at all. The practical steps needed to bring all of these parts of the UN together to support the implementation of the Youth2030 Strategy will require strong, high-level leadership across the UN programmes and funds.

It is also exciting to see that the UN has clearly illustrated that they will commit to a gender-transformative, sensitive and responsive approach to the Youth2030 strategy.

However, there are no direct indications to where gender was taken into account or how the strategy will be truly gender-transformative. It is essential that implementation of this strategy has a strong gender focus that works for all.

Despite these concerns, here at Restless Development we remain optimistic. Each time we re-read the Youth2030 Strategy we get more excited by the stated priorities and plans for implementing them. We also remain committed to supporting the UN to utilise its ambition and to continue working with young people, to ensure the UN will not be left behind by the world’s youth come 2030.

By Freya Seath, Global Advocacy Manager at Restless Development

Follow Freya on Twitter


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Will the UN be ‘left behind’ by young people in 2030?

by wearerestless Reading time: 4 min