Magdy Martínez-Solimán: Statement at "Youth, Innovation and SDG Achievement" event

Feb 2, 2017

With Youth Leaders from Palestine, Lebanon, Tunisia and Egypt (Photo: UNDP)

It is my pleasure to be here today as we reflect on the powerful nexus of youth, innovation and sustainable development, and to welcome five extraordinary young people from the Arab region who are making positive change in their communities and the region.

I would like to thank the Danish Mission for hosting us, and above all for its continued commitment to supporting UNDP’s work on youth, innovation and sustainable development, particularly the work of our Innovation Facility and the Youth Global Programme.

At 1.8 billion, there are now more adolescents and young people (aged 10-24) in the world than at any other time in history.  Approximately 9 out of 10 people between the ages of 10 and 24 live in less developed countries.  In some of these countries, young people represent upwards of 80% of the population.

As their numbers continue to grow, proportionately and in absolute terms, young people will represent the largest new cohort of adults the world has seen. This generation is the first which could actually eradicate extreme poverty, and the last to be able to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Investments made now in young people and changes made to the way they are engaged will dramatically shape the future of societies.

Against this backdrop, this week the ECOSOC Youth Forum sent a clear message: we must actively partner with young people today and empower them to drive the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, particularly at national and local levels.  

And to promote youth empowerment we must foster an enabling environment for their participation in development — to address discrimination against youth, meet their multi-sectoral needs; promote and support youth-inclusive legislative and policy frameworks; enable the opening of new spaces for their engagement and leadership; mainstream them in all relevant aspects of development and peace; and work with them as advocates and equal partners for change.   

To this end, in July 2016 UNDP launched our first Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace (“Youth-GPS,”). The programme represents our systematic response to the challenges young people face by providing cutting-edge support to youth empowerment in all development contexts where we have a presence.

Through the Youth-GPS programme we are proud to contribute to a powerful global movement of young people’s organizations, civil society and UN partners ensuring that young people are involved at every stage of SDG implementation—from advocacy and localization to monitoring and accountability – and are connected to decision-makers.

We are also supporting new lines of research on key issues such as modalities of youth engagement, youth-focused SDG indicators and young people’s role in reaching the most marginalized--ensuring that “no one is left behind.”

One exciting UNDP youth programme is the Youth Leadership Programme (YLP), an initiative, now entering its third year, that supports young people in the Arab Region to become engaged citizens, innovative problem-solvers, effective leaders and successful agents of change. 

In 2016 UNDP, together with UN Women and the Office of the UN Secretary General's Envoy on Youth, supported over 1,000 young women and men to explore and pioneer new solutions for sustainable development in their communities. A regional workshop followed where 12 young people with the strongest initiatives were selected as YLP Change Makers.  Five of them are with us now and you will hear from them shortly.

Why do programmes like this matter? It always bears repeating that young women and men represent a huge and influential demographic. In the Arab States, two-thirds of the population is below the age of thirty. This generation of young people is more educated, active and connected to the outside world, and have a greater awareness of their realities and higher aspirations for a better future.

Yet, in the region, increasing educational attainment has not been matched by employment prospects. The unemployment rate among young women in the Arab region is 47%, more than the double of the global average.

At the same time, young innovators like the ones with us here are bursting old divisions by joining a keen social consciousness with art, technology, science and new mobilization techniques. It is our charge to invest in their creativity and skills, and to link them to decision-making arenas to help them help us meet our common challenges.

Today together with the Ambassador, I am honored to introduce five YLP Change Makers from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Tunisia.  They are exemplary individuals, and represent the very best of what happens when we partner and invest in young people.
Young people are essential to the success of the 2030 Agenda. But at the same time, this success is contingent on how we engage them today.  

Empowerment will require expanding the opportunities available to young people – through economies which generate decent work and encourage entrepreneurship, political environments which encourage freedom of expression and active participation, and social systems which promote equality and act against all forms of discrimination.

It also means supporting them in acquiring social innovation skills and establishing an enabling environment to lay the foundation for a peaceful and sustainable tomorrow.

Once more, let me thank all of you for joining us and the Permanent Representative of Denmark for hosting us today. I am very grateful to the YLP Change Makers for sharing with us their innovative spirit, their passion, and their commitment to change.

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