“Youth are the chorus of ideals, the youth of the world, is the music of humanity that refuses to give up on the possibility of better times ahead”- H.E. Ambassador Paula Narváez, President of Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). 

Globally, approximately 1.2 billion individuals aged 15 to 24 constitute nearly 16% of the total global population. Despite this demographic significance, knowledge, skills and enthusiasm, young people's potential remains largely untapped.  Youth from rural and marginalized communities struggle with limited access to opportunities, education, financial services, and decision-making processes. Specific groups, such as young women and girls, Indigenous youth, and youth from conflict areas, face even greater disadvantages. To address these issues and ensure meaningful youth engagement, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum held its largest annual gathering from April 16th to 18th, 2024, at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

The forum commenced with a statement from H.E. Ambassador Paula Narváez, ECOSOC President and a message by H. E Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations both emphasizing the importance of young people’s role in achieving the United Nations 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. The chamber was wobbled, however, by the keynote delivered by Ms. Sarah Baharaki, Global Youth Ambassador, Theirworld, and Representative of the Major Group on Children and Youth (MGCY). Ms. Sarah shared an awakening story about how geopolitical conflicts have affected young people, depriving them of their basic rights to food, shelter, health and education. She called on all young changemakers to write a different story of hope and shape the future with innovations, initiatives, and advocacy.

ECOSOC 2024 brought together thousands of young professionals from all over the world connecting them with the UN Member States and Stakeholders. With this year’s theme of “Youth shaping sustainable and innovative solutions: Reinforcing the 2030 Agenda and eradicating poverty in times of crises”, this summit also intends to prepare for the Summit of Future 2024. The forum featured plenary sessions, regional dialogues, and side events that majorly focused on SDG1: No Poverty, SDG2: Zero Hunger, SDG 13: Climate action, SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions and SDG 17: Revitalize the global partnerships for sustainable development. 

YPARD Shines: Feeding the Future

For the first time, YPARD partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and MGCY to organize a plenary session at ECOSOC 2024. The session was titled "Feeding the Future: Youth and Sustainable Food Systems for All". The major objective of the session was to discuss youth-led practices related to SDG2, and their meaningful engagement in decision-making processes.  

The session began with a spotlight by Nikita Bhusal, YPARD country representative for the United States, on behalf of the organizers and co-leads. The report emphasized the urgency of immediate action to achieve the SDG target of eradicating global hunger, with almost 600 million people projected to be chronically undernourished by 2030. The main respondents of this report were youth aged 15-35 from diverse regions, communities, genders, and professions. The study revealed that more young people are concerned about sustainable food systems and interested in participating in SDG 2-related activities. Additionally, the survey indicated that young people are urging their national governments, industries, international financial institutions, the private sector, stakeholders, and civil society to collaborate in implementing SDG 2 effectively. 

The session featured diverse perspectives from incredibly talented young speakers on sustainable food systems and climate action. Yazmeen Khan Wardman from the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus emphasized the crucial role of Indigenous peoples in maintaining global biodiversity and healthy diets. Wenhao Deng, founder of Zhongke Dynamics (Beijing) Technology, discussed how his innovative technology is contributing to climate and food security in China. Vanessa Garcia Polanco from the National Young Farmers Coalition highlighted the importance of young farmers and equitable food systems. Aisha Hamman, a lawyer and founder of the Lift Africa Foundation, shared her advocacy for gender equality and education in Nigeria, emphasizing women's empowerment in promoting overall sustainability. Lastly, Lana Weidgenant expressed her passion for promoting plant-based diets through ProVeg International and its impact on climate change and sustainable food systems.


My reflection 

Witnessing change is always satisfying, but being a part of that change is even more rewarding. For a girl from an underrepresented and marginalized community to speak at the United Nations was nothing short of a miracle. Actively participating in the youth forum alongside like-minded young people and experts from around the world was delightful.

However, many youth representatives were unable to participate due to various reasons. A well-known, complicated US visa process hindered hundreds of youth representatives from underdeveloped countries and conflict regions from attending the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2024. Most financially disadvantaged youth were unable to participate. Additionally, at a side event on Asia and the Pacific, when a moderator asked who was self-funded, almost 90% of the youth on-site raised their hands. This demonstrates the desperate desire of young people to be heard and their passion for bringing change to their communities.

Moreover, nearly 30 youth representatives who managed to reach the UN headquarters in New York despite numerous challenges were stranded outside the building due to an "unknown reason". Those who were able to enter were placed in an "overflow room" where no interventions were allowed. Interestingly, the plenary sessions were designed in a way that permitted little or no real-time intervention.

While intergenerational discussion forums are crucial, there must be a space where youth are heard and can participate in decision-making. Although it was heartening to see some selected youth speakers, hundreds remained unheard or ignored. The question arises: why did this neglect occur, and what can we do collectively to eliminate these issues in future global discussions?

Despite the three-day event being filled with voices advocating for the "meaningful engagement of youth," the actual engagement was limited. Nevertheless, it is commendable that the UN and ECOSOC have taken steps to create space for young people and provide a platform for high-level dialogues. National and local authorities also need to recognize the importance of youth participation in policymaking and the innovative ideas we can bring to the table. Similarly, we, as youth with our own experiences, stories, and motivations, should work together to make our voices heard and make the world a better place to live in.


ECOSOC 2024 SDG2: Feeding The Future: Youth and Sustainable Food Systems for All (UN TV recording)

FAO press release

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