How new partnerships can help young people take the lead
For a few weeks in September New York is taken over by the UN General Assembly - bringing together an unparalleled breadth of thought leaders and decision makers to change the course of the world for the better.
We at Plan were there to play our part, contributing to discussions and advocating for greater support to the world’s most vulnerable girls and boys. I was there working on two agendas in particular; how to enable young leaders to play a key role in driving their own development forward, and ways in which public-private partnerships can contribute to improved health well-being. And to that end we hosted a discussion - Innovative partnerships for development: How young people can be the cornerstone of effective public-private collaboration.
It’s a hot topic, not only because the world’s young population is at an all high but there is also a rapidly growing recognition of the importance of engaging youth in development. We are faced by multiple concerns - from how to train and find jobs for 1.2 billion young people, to how we can prepare for the growing epidemic of chronic illness caused by our environments, and it is so often young people who provide the most innovative and creative approaches to problem solving.
At the same time we know that new models of partnership, bringing together governments, the private sector, NGOs, the UN and a range of others, will be necessary if we are going to meet the SDGs. We will need to build upon mutual expertise and capacities, not to mention resources, if we are going to see results in 2030. Everyone seems to get this in principle (‘multi-stakeholder partnership’ was a buzzword that I heard in almost every event or meeting I attended), but all too often the conversation comes up short on detail.
So we focussed on how we can pull these two strands together, looking at how different organisations can embed youth leadership in a systematic, rather than tokenistic way. We wanted to understand how we can bring different groups together to effectively collaborate and to engage meaningfully with young people. Not to mention how we can stimulate new investments in youth participation and youth-led initiatives.
There’s clearly no magic bullet and we were warned against romanticising the role young people can play – how many times have we heard overly simplistic representations of youth as villains or saviours? But as our partners at AIESEC suggested, youth engagement needs to be institutionalised at all levels. We also need to make the case for financing institutions to put their money where their mouth is - based on carefully developed evidence of course.
To that end it was great to hear how the CDC Group, the UK government’s development finance institution, is committed to supporting young people and utilising its financial leverage, to champion youth development.
Companies can also play a leading role in taking initiative. We highlighted how our Young Health Programme (YHP), a partnership with AstraZeneca, is working to promote health literacy and awareness among young people. While schools and health facilities are a key component of the programme, it is the young leaders themselves who drive advocacy in their communities and implement the health promotion strategies, to great effect.
But the question remains, how can we embed this into institutional psyche across civil society, business, the UN and government? Our YHP represents an important step, utilising philanthropic donation to advance youth leadership and development, but if we are going to take that extra transformational shift then youth leadership and development needs to go even further and be embedded in the organisational objectives and their key performance indicators.
To see this operationalised we need to show where complementarities can be found, communicating the value of investing in youth. The UN Foundation continues to play a key role in pulling together unlikely partnerships and enabling that conversation, hopefully over time this will pick up even greater momentum.
So while we by no means came to an easy conclusion last week, I was encouraged to see an unlikely group of organisations come together to express common purpose; to build new partnerships and to empower young people. From our side, we will continue looking to collaborate in new ways and cultivate debate on how we can do this best. Hopefully we can provide a springboard for further action so that in years to come we will see heads of state championing youth leadership to the General Assembly!
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