By Jayathma Wickramanayake
United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth
In recent years, ‘youth’ has become a bit of a buzzword in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – this is great, of course, but too often the involvement of young people is limited to one-off consultations or being tasked with the responsibilities of implementation without any follow up. As the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, promoting youth-led accountability for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is at the core of my mandate, along with ensuring that young people are included in all phases of our work – from allocating budgets, designing programmes, monitoring implementation and critically reviewing progress.
Although championing the critical involvement of youth is part of my professional mission, it is also my genuine belief that the only way to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is if all partners work towards it as equal partners.
Achieving the 2030 Agenda with and for young people
Youth are recognized as torchbearers for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Currently our world is the youngest it has ever been, with over 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24. The success or failure in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will directly affect the empowerment and opportunities of this generation of young people, the majority of whom call the global south their home; close to 90 per cent.
Even though they are undoubtedly the generation most impacted by the delivery of the 2030 Agenda, young people are not passively waiting for change to happen. They are taking matters into their own hands; leading initiatives in their communities, countries and at the global level to advance, monitor and evaluate the implementation of the SDGs.
"Not only is the Eval4Action campaign aligned with Youth2030: The UN Youth Strategy and the Decade of Action, but the EvalYouth Global Network is co-founder and co-leader of the campaign. This campaign sets a good example of how the UN can be working not only for, but with young people."
With 10 years to go until 2030, accelerated action in speed and scope is needed to meet the Goals – and young people must be at the forefront. We need to strengthen youth-led accountability processes at global, regional and national levels, building capacity of young evaluators and advocating for strengthening national evaluation systems and capacities together with other stakeholders.
The launch of the “Decade of EVALUATION of Action” brings me incredible joy because of its proactive initiative to ensure the space for meaningful youth participation at all levels. Not only is the Eval4Action campaign aligned with Youth2030: The UN Youth Strategy and the Decade of Action, but the EvalYouth Global Network is co-founder and co-leader of the campaign. This campaign sets a good example of how the UN can be working not only for, but with young people.
‘Believe in Better’
In my work, I am privileged to meet young people from all over the world leading action in their local communities. One thing is clear; although young people often do not have a seat at the decision-making table and structural barriers prevent their participation, they still find creative and innovative informal ways to take the lead.
Whether this is through their own work, campaigns to improve meaningful youth participation, shadow reporting, providing citizen-generated data, designing their own youth-led monitoring and evaluation frameworks or championing awareness of the SDGs at the local and national level – they are committed to making the 2030 Agenda a success.
"Enhanced and more inclusive evaluation provides evidence, lessons and pathways to strengthen equality for all, including the most disadvantaged youth."
To capture some of these stories and good examples of youth-led accountability, my Office – in partnership with Action Aid Denmark, Restless Development and the Major Group for Children and Youth – recently launched a working paper titled ‘Believe in Better’. This paper provides concrete recommendations for governments, civil society and international organizations on how to make accountability processes more inclusive of young people in all their diversity. While I encourage you all to read it, I also want to highlight a few of its main findings:
We need to strengthen meaningful youth inclusion in the accountability processes and in the Voluntary National Review’s presented annually by Member States to the High level Political Forum;
To avoid ‘consultation fatigue’ we must focus on bringing ‘accountability back’ to young partners, monitors or reviewers who do a great job contributing with data, but who are rarely included in all steps of a process, including presentation of results and decision making;
We need to strengthen ownership of the SDG agenda at all levels by creating accountability processes that are embedded, localized and transparent, leaving no one behind.
In strengthening capacities of young evaluators, we must enable spaces and build inclusive processes where young people in all their diversity, especially young women and girls, indigenous youth, young people with disabilities, young people who identify as LGBTIQ and other marginalized groups can participate in a meaningful and safe way. Enhanced and more inclusive evaluation provides evidence, lessons and pathways to strengthen equality for all, including the most disadvantaged youth.
We cannot afford to leave young people behind
If young people are not part of measuring the progress of the SDGs and adjusting our policies and strategies accordingly, we will be leaving the most vulnerable groups behind. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has affected all our lives – this conversation is more important than ever.
"Still around the world, youth are at the forefront demanding accountability from decision makers. Now is the time to even further strengthen their meaningful and inclusive participation in the formal processes that lead to actual change."
The global crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has widened social and economic inequalities, and its socioeconomic consequences disproportionately affects the future and present of young people. Still around the world, youth are at the forefront demanding accountability from decision makers. Now is the time to even further strengthen their meaningful and inclusive participation in the formal processes that lead to actual change.
I want to welcome the launch of the Eval4Action campaign and congratulate all partners. I am convinced that this will be an important platform to enhance our common advocacy to put youth-led accountability front and center of the Decade of Action and the 10 years left to deliver on the SDGs.
The author was appointed as the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth in June 2017 at the age of 26. In this role, Jayathma Wickramanayake works to expand the UN’s work with and for young people and advocacy efforts across all four pillars of work – sustainable development, human rights, peace and security and humanitarian action – and serves as a representative of and advisor to the Secretary-General. Follow Jayathma on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook via @UNYouthEnvoy. For more information, visit un.org/youthenvoy.