Alice Mukashyaka is the Advocacy Manager for Livelihoods and Education at Restless Development. This blog highlights her experience at The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum in New York, suggesting a few ways to improve the Forum to ensure young people have a leading voice at the United Nations.
In April 2023, the ECOSOC Youth Forum convened in New York, bringing together representatives from governments, UN Member States, entities, civil society, and young leaders. This hybrid event, with over 1,000 in-person attendees and 20,000 registered online participants, marked the largest forum in its 11 year history.
The forum focused on accelerating post-COVID-19 recovery and implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. While recognizing the significant role young people play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it became evident that there is still progress to be made in providing meaningful opportunities for youth to become equal partners within the UN structure.
Below are a few ways we can improve the forum for the benefit of young people and beyond:
Extending the Scope and Depth of the ECOSOC Youth Forum to include the intergenerational dialogues:
The recent ECOSOC forum fell short of providing enough opportunities for intergenerational discussions between young people and decision-makers. Decision makers mainly sent pre-recorded videos, which hindered intergenerational dialogue. It is vital for the ECOSOC Youth Forum to involve decision-makers.
We need to ensure that countries at the UN are adequately represented throughout the forum. Empowering young people is essential, but the absence of leaders during key discussions raised concerns about their commitment to inclusive dialogues. It is only through genuine intergenerational collaboration that we can create a forum that truly reflects the aspirations and needs of young people and for pushing the SDGs
Prioritising the Wellbeing of Young People in Global Moments.
The well-being of young people is often overlooked in large global gatherings. Many young activists travel to different countries, motivated by their passion to engage and share their valuable opinions. However, the importance of integrating well-being components in designing the forum for these young participants is often forgotten during these busy events.
For many of these young people, it may be their first time navigating such spaces, which can be unfamiliar and filled with high expectations, the pressure to contribute, network, and make a meaningful impact can be overwhelming.
Recognizing that these events present incredible opportunities but also bring various challenges to the well-being of young participants, it is important to take a holistic approach to their care by creating an environment that fosters support, providing resources and spaces for relaxation, self-care, and mental health support is vital.
Rest areas, quiet zones, and opportunities for reflection and rejuvenation should be available to young participants. When young people feel supported and cared for, they are more likely to actively engage, contribute their unique perspectives, and make a lasting impact on the issues that matter to them.
Youth Leadership for the future summits:
The ECOSOC Youth Forum has achieved a significant milestone as a feedback mechanism for the upcoming High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) in July and the SDG Summit in September. The forum had a great presence of young people with diverse perspectives, talents and backgrounds. They came together, learned from each other, and kept up with what was happening with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, It seems like the same people always show up to these events, and we’re missing out on hearing from who we call the “Missing Majority”.
Different UN entities and organisations are leading the way in making the SDGs a reality in their own areas of expertise. But we need to give a big shout-out to young people and treat them as equal partners in the whole process. Some countries and within the UN systems, have started programs where young people get to be youth delegates for a whole year. But we can do more.
We should give these youth delegates more power and responsibility. It is essential to have the voices and experiences of young people at the heart of these global convenings to share best practices and ideas for implementing Global Goals. UN institutions and Member States must enable youth participation and allow young people to lead with their solutions, ideas, and creativity. The power of youth has already energised decision-makers, and now it is time for the rest of the world to embrace and follow their lead.
Recognizing and harnessing the power of young people is essential for shaping a sustainable and prosperous future for all. The ECOSOC Youth Forum was a moment that amplified youth voices and highlighted the critical role young people play in achieving the SDGs.
To ensure meaningful youth participation, the forum must expand its size and scope, and decision-makers must be held accountable for their engagement. By Prioritising the Well-being of Young People in Global Moments and ensuring their representation throughout wider UN processes, we can create a more inclusive and effective framework for youth engagement.
Alice Mukashyaka is the Advocacy Manager for Livelihoods and Education at Restless Development, where she coordinated the biggest youth-led study on global education since the pandemic hit, the ‘By Us, For Us’ and convened the #MakeEducationWork campaign in partnership with the RewirED Summit, reaching nearly 13 million young people. Alice is also the co-founder of Starlight, a Rwandan Ed-tech social enterprise that makes STEM learning kits and introduces high school students to STEM careers, mentorship, and role models. She is the UN Foundation Next Generation Fellow and she is currently supporting the office of the African Union envoy on youth in elaborating plans of action to achieve the Africa we want.