I4A at the 2016 UN Youth Assembly

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Engaging Youth in Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

Ideas for Action, a flagship project of the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at Wharton and the World Bank Group, participated in the 2016 United Nations Youth Assembly in New York. Ideas for Action (I4A) works with students and young professionals from more than 130 countries around the world to develop ideas for financing and implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As President of the Wharton Ideas for Action Club, I was invited to share our strategic approach and insights into promoting youth engagement in international development. I was honored to join a distinguished panel of young leaders from the Millennium Campus Network, Youth Corp, and the UN Foundation. Together, we met an inspiring audience of students and young leaders from around the world who share a profound passion for shaping the future of our world.

When asked about the biggest challenges they face, an overwhelming number of delegates named a lack of resources and opportunities. “We have to create an infrastructure that allows young people to participate and that ensures that our ideas are taken seriously. We have the energy and the passion to become agents of change, but we often lack the necessary opportunities”, a delegate from India explained. The resounding support he received from many of his peers underscored that Ideas for Action is addressing one of the key challenges that we face in engaging youth in international development.

Every year, Ideas for Action hosts a competition during which youths from around the world develop ideas for financing the SDGs. The winners present their ideas at the IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings directly to some of the most senior decision-makes in international development, public policy, and the private sector. Our teams then receive support from a dedicated incubator at the Wharton School that supports them in implementing their ideas. By providing young leaders from around the world with access to knowledge, mentorship, and networking opportunities with industry leaders in international development, we aim to help build the infrastructure that is crucial to giving youth a voice in international development and policy making.

With this approach, we aim to build on and complement other youth programs that pursue a more localized and individualized approach. Whether fundraising or volunteering initiatives, they are vital to fostering awareness, personal development, and engagement among youth, thereby building a crucial foundation for what Ideas for Action hopes to achieve. Our focus is on ideas that our expert judges consider promising to make a measurable contribution toward the achievement of the UN’s development agenda.

Sam Vaghar, co-founder of the Millennium Campus Network, encouraged participants to “Document your work. Measure your impact. Be able to tell your story, but also have the data and the metrics that prove the impact.” This transition from good will to a more rigorous, results-based approach will be critical for meeting the ambitious targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The level of participation at the UN Youth Assembly as well as quality of the proposals we have received throughout our work with Ideas for Action inspire a great sense of confidence in the future of youth involvement in financing the new development agenda. We truly believe that the energy and contributions of young people around the world are essential toward fight inequality, end poverty, and tackle climate change by 2030.