17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted on the 25th of September, 2015 with the aim of transforming our world by 2030 by ending poverty, protecting the environment, and ensuring prosperity for all. However, for this to be possible, everyone needs to do their part; the governments, private sectors, civil society and, most importantly, ordinary citizens of the world. Realizing their roles in helping shape a better community, more than 50 youth leaders decided to start implementing the goals by presenting innovative and sustainable projects targeting gender equality, economic empowerment, social cohesion, and good governance in a regional workshop held in Kuwait.
According to the United Nations Development Program, the goals represent the international community’s response on today´s global development challenges and were adopted to guide our development priorities for an entire generation. Focusing on the Arab region, there are several problems and challenges which require immediate attention such as the population growth and its impact on economic development resulting in unemployment. Other problems in the region are also associated with social cohesion, good governance, and gender equality where social indicators and gender statistics reveal that women in the Arab region are on average more disadvantaged economically, politically, and socially than are women in other regions meaning that they suffer from social exclusion and having limited access to natural resources, economic and political opportunities.
From the UNDP fast facts sheet, today’s generation of adolescents and young people (between 10 and 24 years old) is close to 1.8 billion – more than at any other time in history – approximately 90% of whom live in less developed countries. As this is the case, the UNDP partnered with several youths for the implementation of the SDGs; lucky I was one of them . Thus, recognizing the need for youth to shape the future and their knowledge and creativity to essentially realizing the development goals, the Ministry of Youth in Kuwait in partnership with UNDP Kuwait and UNDP Regional Bureau for Arab States (RBAS) convened a regional workshop on “Youth Action for the 2030 Agenda” in the Arab region that was held from December 14 till December 19, 2016. More than 50 youth from across the Arab region came together to discuss and share innovative ideas in developing their countries, targeting four pillars; social cohesion, gender equality, global governance, and economic empowerment.
Fortunately, I was chosen to be one of the youth leaders representing my country Lebanon. The four pillars discussed in the workshop mainly focused on the importance of diversity along with the elements that bring and hold people together in society such as respect, a sense of belonging, participation, inclusion, recognition and legitimacy under social cohesion. The framework of gender equality was referred to through several perspectives. First, the role women play in the working place and the importance of integrating them into a coherent job in which they will have the capability to depend on themselves. Second, the importance of increasing the amount of women in the educational fields of science and technology. Third, empowering women to seek help and protect themselves when they are in danger. The workshop also discussed the importance of good governance and that it should entail processes, decisions and outcomes that sustain natural resources, alleviate poverty and improve the quality-of-life. It also focused on integrating the youth and newly graduates into the working place in order to decrease unemployment and brain drain which is the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for better living pay and living conditions. This workshop brought together a diversity of thoughts and cultures to share the difficulties of living in a society where change is needed.
As a participant representing Lebanon, it was evident that not only do we share the same political and societal problems as the rest of the ten Arab countries but we also share the same desire to change and end corruption. As a generation that fights for gender equality, human rights, and justice we decided to act rather than watch. The workshop was an inspiration to contribute to a better society by improving our understanding on leadership and strengthening our initiatives and ideas by implementing, advocating and acting on the development goals.
All youth leaders that participated in this workshop now hold the ability to make a change in his/her community and in the Arab region. This is because at the end of each day, sessions were given to the participants where they had the chance to talk and discuss their projects directly with UNDP focal points, UN Women, and several NGOs and professors in the field of development. The importance of those sessions was that each person had the chance to receive specific advice on his or her project directly which made it more interesting and useful for the participants to further develop their ideas and innovations. The projects involved art such as artistic educational training centers, technology such as apps or devices, awareness campaigns, and agricultural perspectives in solving problems of social cohesion, gender equality, good governance, and economic empowerment.
As a participant of this program, my project mainly focused on empowering women to seek help when she feels that she is in danger by connecting professional NGOs and the Lebanese Security Forces to the victim through a device. This project still has a long way to go and is now being researched and will hopefully soon be prototyped. Over the course of working on my project I experienced the importance of taking into consideration the opinion of others and accepting them with an open mind. This project also strengthen me as an individual to contact companies and NGOs for help and knowledge because you always think that people do not have time or do not want to help you. However, it is truly amazing what one can receive when it comes to further knowledge in a particular field. As this workshop gave us the trust and the ability to improve our leadership skills, several projects are now being prototyped, planed, and even implemented in the region with the goal of ending unemployment, discrimination, and bad governance.
This workshop taught me that we as youth should work hand in hand to achieve a world that we dream of because we are not alone, many developing countries are experiencing the same problems and difficulties and thus it is important to share our ideas. The Youth Leadership Program is an experience that truly strengthen you as an individual with a vision of change by giving you all you need as a youth leader and as an asset for development. From this experience I have taken with me many memories and friends for life in different parts of the Arab world. It has also given me the opportunity and enthusiasm to start working for my beautiful country Lebanon which requires a new vision of hope from youth like me.
The goal now is to start fostering an environment that is conducive to tolerance and mutual understanding and where there is mutual trust, diversity is acknowledged and respected, and minorities are included, leading to more stable and resilient societies.
Remember, we are the largest number of adolescents and youth in history. For this reason it is time to make a change and to protect our planet and the next generation to come. At the end, I would like to quote Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, Secretary-General´s Envoy on Youth who also had a big part in the Youth Leadership Program; “We believe young people are an opportunity, and they are an asset for development, peace and prosperity to their countries.”
By Pamela Tannous
Picture 2: Cezar Mahmoud, used with permission. (Featured Image)
Picture 1: Cezar Mahmoud, used with permission.
Picture 3: United Nations Development Programme- Arab States Photo stream , licensed under CC BY 2.0