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SDSN Youth at the UN Sustainable Development Summit 2015

SDSN Youth at UN Sustainable Development Summit
L-R Michelle Huang, Sam Loni and John Farrugia

By John Farrugia, SDSN Youth

Monash University is known for going beyond good intentions, endeavouring to make an impact, both locally and internationally. This September, I along with Monash University students Siamak Loni and Michelle Huang travelled to New York City as members of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth Division (SDSN-Y), to attend the Sustainable Development Summit, and witness the adoption of the post-2015 agenda. Working alongside students from several universities around the world, we actively engaged and collaborated with a series of innovative organisations, with the intention of achieving practical solutions to issues ranging from the eradication of poverty, the promotion of human rights, the harsh effects of climate change and the promotion of a sustainable economy.

For quite some time, young people have felt a strong sense of detachment. This stems from the fact that they are constantly excluded from discussions that have real impact on certain issues. Essentially, their opinion is overlooked, possibly credited to a presumed inexperience or presumed idealistic opinions. However, what I witnessed in New York City, at the International Conference of Sustainable Development (ICSD 2015), was a transcendent shift in youth involvement. 

When we met Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Former Prime Minister of New Zealand at the United Nations Headquarters, she stressed the importance of youth presence and involvement, stating that 'the 2030 Agenda, is about a common future between all.' My colleagues and I felt as if; young people were speaking, and the world was beginning to listen. In fact; rather than participating in an observatory role, my colleagues and I actively participated in workshops and conferences, and actively engaged with professionals from all walks of life. By being given the opportunity to meet face to face with individuals pivotal to the success of this post-2015 agenda, it enabled us to forge and foster strong relationships, which since September have proven to be fruitful in the mission to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Across the time of the ICSD 2015, there was a real sense of a newly acquired energy and enthusiasm. Extraordinarily, speakers from every session of the conference, be they Heads of State, academics or leaders of industry, stressed the overall importance of young people, and how crucial their involvement in the implementation process of the Sustainable Development Goals really is. They discussed how young people have unique ways of processing and distributing information across the world. This acknowledgement of young people, for me, symbolised a real shift in attitudes. It inspired that there was a sense of the fact that the post-2015 agenda is actually achievable.

The International Conference of Sustainable Development provided the platform to collaborate and form a series of strong partnerships with like-minded youth organisations across the globe. I had the opportunity to sit down with individuals from leading youth organisations such as; Solar for Life, the Millennium Campus Network and the GREEN Program. A commonality amongst all of my personal discussions with leaders of these organisations, was the fact that we all believe in collaboration. As SDSN-Y's objectives and activities are designed to complement the efforts of existing organizations working towards one or more areas of sustainable development, I was incredibly interested into ways in which through our cooperation we could aim at achieving a mutually advantageous relationship, with the end goal of contributing to the post-2015 development agenda. Since September, my colleagues and I have held follow up conversations discussing a series of initiatives with these individuals. These discussions have been largely based on expanding our network across several regions, through cooperative communications campaigns, and the promotion of different initiatives launched by these respective organisations.

While there was significant student and youth attendance in New York City, there is still a long road ahead in ensuring appropriate youth representation and youth engagement. We should continue to urge young people to actively participate in forums around the world. In fact, as President of Malta, Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca stated at ISCD, 'Our planet needs you (young people). Humanity needs you (young people). Please get involved.' These words resonated with me quite deeply. Rather than highlighting that young people are merely one aspect of the challenges the world faces, it indicates that young people of today can be leaders of change. As a young Einstein once said, "[w]e cannot solve our problems with the same thinking used to create them". Our present and future innovations are guided by the knowledge gathered by our predecessors. This knowledge, combined with the creative power and passions of youth, can be harnessed to tackle imminent issues we face as a global community, both today and in the future.

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