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Engaging Youth in the Sustainable Development Goals

Plan International USA is encouraging youth to track the progression of the SDGs.

As nations around the world work to create plans to meet the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals, Plan is pushing governments and communities to engage young people in the process.

In July and November 2016, Plan International USA and Plan International Nigeria piloted a new tool called the Sustainable Development Goal Youth Action Mapper (SDG YAM) with adolescent girls and boys in Washington, D.C. and Calabar, Nigeria. The Youth Action Mapper (YAM) is a digital tool, developed by Creative Associates, that supports young people’s engagement in the contribution to and tracking of the SDGs at a national level. The tool supports an effort to create a groundswell of youth volunteering to help their countries meet the SDGs by 2030.

The young people selected to participate in the two pilots hailed from Plan’s Youth Leadership Academy and Plan International Nigeria’s Better Life Options and Opportunities Model Plus (BLOOM+) program that builds critical life skills and pre-employment competencies for youth.

The Youth Action Mapper tool puts the power of tracking into the hands of young people, equipping them to map, mobilize, contribute, and measure progress towards the SDGs. The YAM uses a mobile GIS platform, accessed using smart devices that allow youth to be mappers, agents of change, and data collectors for the 17 Global Goals. The YAM engages young people to not only report on progress but to hold governments accountable to meet the SDGs by 2030. The testing of the SDG YAM tool offered an opportunity for young people to practice life skills such as public speaking, planning, and critical analysis while making positive contributions to their community in a way that engages more youth.

In the U.S. and Nigeria, more than 75 young people participated in mapping 20 organizations and initiatives in their communities. Once an opportunity is logged, other young people from the community and around the world can access the online map to learn about ways to get involved in their communities. Plan youth mapped organizations that promote girls’ rights; offer services to those living with HIV and AIDS; and engage young people in sports and creative writing; among others.

The SDG YAM launch in Calabar, Nigeria garnered the attention of multiple state-level ministries tasked with making the SDGs a reality in Cross River State. It was noted by Ministry staff that Plan is one of the first organizations in Cross River State working to promote the SDGs and is the first explicitly working to engage young people in the process. To date, Nigeria has not yet launched its national-level SDG strategy, and as a result of the YAM pilot, the Commissioners assigned their staff to work closely with Plan and integrate the learnings into the national-level SDG strategy.

One of the major criticisms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that of data collection and reporting. Many felt that the MDGs had no robust method for reaching or tracking data on the most vulnerable populations. To avoid mistakes of the past, it’s necessary to chart a new course in the SDGs by involving young people in identifying and tracking actions and initiatives in their communities. Data must be accessible to all, including young people, so progress is not only measured accurately, but so data is used to advocate for improved services and opportunities. The young people involved in the pilot overwhelmingly agreed that SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) are most important to their lives.

“This pilot is a huge step towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Social Welfare Barr Takon A. Takon. “Under the MDGs, funding for projects [came] from international donors, but with the SDGs, government is looking inwards and no one will be left behind.”

Over the next 14 years, as 193 nations work to develop policies, initiatives, and programs that contribute to the SDGs, it will be critical to deliberately and meaningfully engage young people to ensure their voices are heard and needs are met.

After the pilot, one female mapper stated that she felt empowered when interacting with adults in her community in such a professional and mature way. She felt respected and said they valued her knowledge and contributions.

“My experience during the YAM mapping helped me understand what the SDGs are, and I feel I gained more confidence in myself by interviewing management of [nongovernmental organizations],” she said. “During the mapping exercise, I felt respected and learned how to record responses carefully. I already see myself as a leader and a mentor for children. Now, when I see people in my community who have problems, I know which NGO to send them to for help, and I will encourage my community to get involved in the SDGs to address our needs.”

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