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Youth leaders “racing against time” on SDGs

Over 800 delegates from 100 countries, along with leaders from across the education, health, political and business sectors, gathered in celebration and solidarity to take action to address global challenges.

President and CEO of AFS, Daniel Obst told The PIE, “The Youth Assembly is a platform for young people from across the world to come together and advance sustainable development.”

In his opening address at the UN, Obst asserted, “We must place young people at the centre of creating positive change in the world and young people must have a seat at the table in any discussion about any of the major issues of our time.”

And five of these key global issues were the central strands of a weekend of workshops, panel discussions, plenaries and exhibitions at The Youth Assembly. They included employability, climate action, information integrity, reducing inequalities and global solidarity.

“Young people must have a seat at the table in any discussion about any of the major issues of our time”

During the opening ceremony, Csaba Kőrösi, the president of the 77th United Nations General Assembly, gave a keynote address. Kőrösi noted that when the UN developed the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, they gave themselves 15 years to accomplish the mission.

“The objective [of the SDGs] was to change the trajectory and to prevent various forms of breakdown,” Kőrösi said. However, with only seven years remaining, he warned that “we are racing against time” as the “interlocking crises” of care, jobs and the environment is near.

He urged delegates to combat misinformation and disinformation with data.

“In the General Assembly we are bringing evidence and data into our discussions so we can back up what we say and validate what we do. I plead to you as young leaders; I urge you to use all the scientific tools you can to make informed decisions that point us in the direction of sustainability and transformation.”

Kőrösi concluded by stating, “We can still curb climate change and restore much of the natural wealth of our planet. We can make our world more just more inclusive; more stable. But it can only happen upon well-designed and executed programs. You are architects of transformation. Your generation is the game changer generation, and you are the best chance for the future.”

Maher Nasser, director of the outreach division of UN department of global communications, said, “Things are done better and more effectively by working together, something we call multilateralism… but unless we work across generational lines, we will not be able to overcome the challenges that we are facing.”

Wendy Kopp CEO and cofounder for Teach for All noted that these challenges, “systemic inequities and threats we face as a society are solvable, but they are not going to be solved by single solutions.”

Rather, Kopp suggested that “solving these complex rooted problems” will require “whole transformations of systems… which entails reshaping policy, changing practice and shifting culture”.

In conclusion, Kopp asked delegates to consider “how to generate an unstoppable movement that inspires and enables [them] to tackle the world’s biggest threats and injustices with the invaluable resource of time and energy”.

Obst said, “It’s amazing to see the passion and commitment of these young leaders. The AFS Youth Assembly is like an incubation hub for developing ideas and projects in a dialogue with people with different perspectives and backgrounds.”

He said it is what the mission of AFS is all about, “developing active global citizens and expanding intercultural understanding.”

Youth Assembly delegates also have an opportunity to participate in competition for the AFS Award for Young Global Citizens for $10,000, with two runner up prizes of $2,500 each, as well as for the Outstanding Youth Delegate Award.

Yumna Khan, director of The Youth Assembly and strategic youth initiatives, told The PIE, “Many of the delegates are coming from backgrounds where they might have done amazing work but were not recognised for it. And today they’re on a global stage presenting.”

The 2020 Young Global Citizen Award winner Shah Rafayat Chowdhury, founder of Footsteps Bangladesh, spoke to The PIE about impact the Youth Assembly has on delegates. “I believe the biggest take away for a young person is, after leaving the summit, they will have more courage; more confidence; and more belief in themselves that they will be able to overcome the challenges that come their way.”

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