Large organizations tend to use a wide variety of alienating lingo or acronyms and the United Nations is no different. For example, you probably already know what CEO, IRL, or BAE stand for, but very few outside of the high-tech world would know what LASER actually means. While the UN (another acronym) has the best interests for the world in mind, it hasn’t always communicated its messages very clearly to ordinary citizens, especially young people. This post intends to demystify one of the UN’s most important campaigns - the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) - for you to understand.
Vision of the United Nations: The 2030 Agenda
It can be tough to fully grasp the role of the United Nations in the world today. Founded in 1945 after the catastrophic destruction of World War II to promote peace, protect human rights, and advance development, this expansive organization represents the combined interests of 193 member countries and its peoples. You may be familiar with its iconic headquarters in New York City, but it also has field offices in many locations around the world, and partnerships with almost every business sector you can imagine. As one method of promoting collaboration and peace, the UN actively strives toward sustainable development. Informed by the successes and gaps of the Millennium Development Goals created in the year 2000, the UN launched in 2015 a universal set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to change the world for the better by 2030. These succinct goals are laid out graphically here (video format here) and represent a set of targets addressing, among other things, gender equality, the eradication of poverty, and the protection of the environment. The processes of achieving these goals offer many opportunities to elevate young people to become smart leaders of tomorrow.
What’s in it for Me?
The 17 SDGs attempt to turn the world’s attention away from the nearsighted pursuit of economic growth at all costs towards the creation of a truly sustainable world system. However, this can come off to youth as detracting from their future. Many young people around the world are struggling economically and might view these initiatives as another way institutions are taking away from their personal goals. While completely understandable, this idea couldn’t be further from the truth.
First off, the UN recognizes that to attain true long-term growth, it must be socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable. The SDGs acknowledge that the social, environmental, and economic spheres of our lives are all interlinked, so pursuing activities that increase inequality and environmental degradation today are actually putting at risk the opportunities that young people will have tomorrow.
Additionally, the SDGs acknowledge that countries are also interlinked, and therefore aren’t solely focused on bringing developing countries up to speed but instead are designed to foster ways for everyone to work together to address common goals and challenges. In fact, responsible economic growth for all (along with satisfying jobs) is a one of the key goals - #8 to be precise. This goal recognizes that fulfilling work is a basic human need no matter where in the world you happen to live, and the best way to work is by also tackling other social and environmental challenges at the same time.
Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 will grow up right alongside the SDGs. The UN recognizes that youth are the key stakeholders of the future and seeks to empower young leaders. In fact, over 75% of responses to the My World Survey came from young people under 30. This 2015 UN questionnaire asked respondents to choose 6 of the most important global issues to them. Based on input from this huge survey, the SDGs were tailored to suit the wishes of young people around the world. Since you will experience the success or failure of the 2030 Agenda, your input is crucial to progress towards a fruitful future environment. The best way to be part of this movement is to work towards achieving the SDGs yourself.
Not sure how to start? Think about your local communities and the challenges around protecting the environment, delivering healthcare, or making education accessible for all. These three topics were the themes from last year’s Urban Innovation Challenge: Citypreneurs, a competition for young people with ideas that can help their communities achieve the SDGs. The winners had solutions that enabled: (1) wind energy to be generated within buildings, (2) people to more easily prevent Alzheimer’s, and (3) develop affordable education to help children with learning disabilities. You’ll hear more about their stories on this blog soon in preparation for this year’s competition!
There are many ways to get involved with the SDGs; advocating for change in your communities is a perfect way to get started. If you have access to the internet on a phone or computer, then the world’s audience is literally at your fingertips. People who care and have the means to help are paying attention to the stories you can tell. It is our combined job to speak up and work towards the future that we want.
As a first experiment, try sharing a picture of something that can be improved in your community on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) with the hashtag #citypreneurs and/or the handle @city_preneurs. Include your ideas for how to fix the issue and we’ll respond with our feedback!
For more information on how to get involved as an innovator or start-up, check out our website.
Download the app SDGs in Action to make your voice heard on social media.