It was an exciting opportunity to be nominated by Restless Development, and selected by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to attend the Goalkeepers 2019. I was presented with multiple speaking opportunities at different UN General Assembly (UNGA) side events. Most of these opportunities were around the potential of youth-led review, monitoring and follow up of the Sustainable Development Goals, which was aligned to my area of work. Speaking at these high level platforms felt like an opportunity as well as a responsibility. A responsibility to ensure that I do justice to those hundreds and thousands of young people who have been driving inspirational work at community and state levels in India. Strategy meetings and panel discussions I was a part of, were not just about my work at Restless Development or my work prior to that, but also about the work of young leaders who might not get the same opportunity to voice their experiences, challenges and demands, while tracking Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
My experience of the madness that is a UNGA, started with my nomination as the keynote speaker, by UN MGCY for the High Level Reception on Universal Health Coverage. This was followed by several interesting and inspiring side events on evidence generation to initiate dialogue around building capacity and increasing investment in frontline health service providers to help them realize their potential as innovators and accelerators of Sexual and Reproductive Health needs.
I was also invited to attend the Networking Social of Goalkeepers, held on 23rd September, where I met with young entrepreneurs and professionals working across the world towards various SDGs and on inspiring projects. It was a space where we all were able to share with each other our work, innovative ideas, challenges and good practices that helped overcome the compounding and cross cutting barriers at various national and local levels. Apart from providing a vibrant environment for seeking opportunities to see how the work of other organizations, institutions, agencies and individuals aligns with the work that I do, the main Goalkeepers event was lined up with talks and stories of success from across sectors and discussions on value-driven leadership to reduce global inequalities by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Pedro Sanchez, facilitated by Bill and Melinda Gates. For me, the lived experiences shared by speakers on editing our pre-coded biases related to gender, race and all that we find new or unusual in our respective surroundings, was most inspiring and moving.
It was exciting to be a part of the side event- ‘Resist, Revive, Restore – An Intergenerational Feminist Hangout’ which was hosted by Restless Development, Plan and UNFPA, where we heard development professionals speak about how feminism impacted their lives and careers. It was an event where we all were able to catch breath and unwind from our week’s schedule, through mindfulness exercise and a series of ‘pop-up’ activities such as feminist coloring, feminist tattoo application, self-care and a soapbox session.
I had the opportunity to speak on the barriers that are faced by young people in follow up, review and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals at the SDG Action Zone. I shared stories of our youth accountability advocates from communities, who are faced with lack of knowledge/proper communication of SDGs and lack of access to decision making spaces or are often not taken seriously due to ageism. It was a greater opportunity for me to speak on youth led monitoring of the SDGs at a platform where one of my co-panelist was the UN Youth Envoy. It was a fruitful discussion as, by the end of the event, experiences of youth advocates and the UN Youth Envoy was able to move the Minister of National Development Planning of Zambia, to realize the need to involve young people from diverse backgrounds in the planning, monitoring and implementation processes of policies to ensure and accelerate the follow up of SDG progress status.
Overall, this was a very different type of experience for me. It helped me become more confident about speaking and presenting in front of and alongside dignitaries and policy makers at global platforms. Along with contributing to my personal growth; I met with several young leaders from around the world who are working on cross cutting social issues at different levels, entrepreneurs with inspiring ideas and representatives from UN bodies, ActionAid, Unitaid, Jhpiego, Johns Hopkins and other global organizations, which I feel will now help me in better implementation of the programme that I am a part of in India. Moreover, upon my return from UNGA and Goalkeepers, I have been following up with most of them to explore opportunities in our implementation states, that are aligned to the work of Restless Development and are centered around youth-led development.
Soumita is a young development professional with Restless Development India and has a diverse background working to address cross cutting issues like gender, SRHR, family planning, WASH and youth livelihoods. She currently coordinates and co-manages a youth-led advocacy programme, which supports young leaders in India to collect and share evidence to hold the Government accountable for commitments made towards gender equality and family planning. Building on the success of this programme, Soumita is championing a state level youth-led movement for gender equality and SRHR through a coalition of like-minded organizations, which is engaging young people to influence policies through active citizenship.
She put her local and national advocacy experience in the space of gender equality and SRHR onto a global stage at this year’s UNGA, appealing to international agencies, organisations and governments to take tangible action that includes young people in key decision making that affects their health.