Youth, Innovation and Sustainable Consumption and Production:
An Interview with Deepika Kurup
On the morning of 12 August 2016, an event took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York to mark International Youth Day 2016 on “Youth Leading Sustainability” (with a focus on sustainable consumption and production). On this occasion, Deepika Kurup, an 18-year-old sophomore at Harvard University and CEO and founder of Catalyst for World Water, highlighted that youth innovation is crucial for achieving sustainable consumption and production. She later shared her views on being a young female inventor and scientist as well as the importance of the contributions of young people to sustainable development.
Question: As a young female inventor and scientist, what spearheaded your interest in developing a new and inexpensive method to clean water using solar power?
Deepika Kurup: Every summer, my family and I travel across the world to visit relatives in India, a country infamous for its scorching summers, where the only relief from the heat is to drink plenty of water. In America, I always had the privilege of having unlimited access to potable water; however, outside my grandparents’ house in India, I caught a glimpse of a different world – a world without clean water. I saw children fill vessels with polluted water from nearby streams, and I watched them drink water that I felt was too dirty to touch. I wanted to find out why these children lacked access to safe water, a substance that is essential for life, and learned that we are facing a global water crisis. According to the World Health Organization, one-ninth of the global population lacks access to clean water. This unacceptable social injustice compelled me to find a solution to the world’s clean water problem.
Question: What challenges / barriers do you feel you have faced as a young female scientist? And what advice would you give to those that want to work in the same field?
Deepika Kurup: The biggest challenge I have faced as a young scientist usually involves people initially not taking me seriously because of my age. While I do understand their skepticism, I make sure that by the end of our conversations they know how serious and passionate I am about tackling the global water crisis. Fortunately, I have found that the majority of the time people are very enthusiastic about working with and guiding young, energetic scientists. The advice I would give to anyone who is interested in taking action to solve the global water crisis would be to continue to persevere into making the vision of clean water for all a reality. When trying to overcome problems on such a global scale it is easy to get discouraged, so it is essential to remember that it is possible to eventually achieve these goals. To other young scientists, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to connect with experts in the field and learn more from them. While initially it may be intimidating, experts are usually happy to share their knowledge with enthusiastic youth. I have found that having conversations with people is one of the best ways to learn more about issues and how you can make a difference.
Question: How does your present work related to the Sustainable Development Goals?
Deepika Kurup: Sustainable Development Goal #6 focuses on ensuring access to clean water and sanitation for all. Over the past four years I have been working on developing a safe, sustainable, cost-effective and eco-friendly water purification method. The technology I developed is based on a process called photocatalysis. The purification system uses solar energy in order to remove bacteria, organics, and many other contaminants from drinking water. I have recently founded Catalyst for World Water (CWW), a social enterprise aimed at bringing the technology that I have developed out of the lab and into the field. By harnessing solar energy, the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source, and utilizing an inexpensive catalyst that can be reused, CWW technology helps accelerate progress towards a sustainable water future.
Question: As a recent speaker at this year’s “International Youth Day 2016: Youth Leading Sustainability”, why is innovation and the contributions of young people important to sustainable consumption and production?
Deepika Kurup: There is no doubt that innovation has been critical in changing the way we live today. We have built cities that overflow with bright lights and motorized vehicles, cell phones that send messages across the planet in less than a second, and the Internet, which allows us to access a seemingly unlimited amount of information at our fingertips. Innovation is important to Sustainable Consumption and Production because in order to live more sustainably, we must find new ways to harness renewable resources, produce less waste, combat climate change, and protect our planet. We cannot continue to follow the same lifestyles we have been following over the last century; we must innovate new ways to lead sustainable lifestyles. The contributions of young people are especially significant to sustainable consumption and production because young people have fresh perspectives that allow them to solve problems in new ways. Young people are also often “naive”— they do not foresee the challenges that frequently stop older generations from acting on new ideas. While this inexperience is often seen as a disadvantage, it allows youth to follow through with their innovative ideas without getting easily discouraged.
Question: Why is youth empowerment crucial to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 12, on responsible consumption and production?
Deepika Kurup: Youth and children consist of almost 40% of the global population, with 85% of the world’s youth living in developing countries. It is nearly impossible to achieve these Sustainable Development Goals without empowering such a significant group in the world. It is essential that we empower youth to take action to shape their future because if they do not, they will be left with a planet that lacks the resources they need to survive. The actions of youth are what set the trends and standards for future generations to come, so it is crucial that they take on the responsibility of achieving sustainable consumption and production. With their fresh perspectives, youth truly have the power to revolutionize the world.
About the Author:
Deepika Kurup (@TheDeepikaKurup) is a student, scientist, and social entrepreneur. She was recognized as “America’s Top Young Scientist” in 2012 and won the grand prize in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. In 2014, she was honoured with the “United States President’s Environmental Youth Award” and was named one of the 2015 Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy”. Along with research, Deepika is passionate about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education, and feels that it has the power to revolutionize the world. In her free time she enjoys giving talks and writing articles to encourage students all around the world to pursue studies in STEM, and to increase awareness of the global water crisis.
UNDESA: International Youth Day Celebrations at United Nations Headquarters on 12 August 2016
International Youth Day 2016, on 12 August 2016, was celebrated at the United Nations headquarters with a half day event focusing on this year’s theme: "The Road to 2030: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Production and Consumption". The event featured several presentations to illustrate various elements of the cycle of sustainable consumption and production as well as stress the importance of innovation by young people. The gathering highlighted that young people play a significant role in ensuring poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development through sustainable production and consumption. The complete webcast of the event can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/IYDwebtv. More
UN Entities Highlighted News
ESCWA: Youth, Access to Decision Making, and Agenda 2030
In partnership with ESCAP and ECA, ESCWA is preparing a Regional Analysis Report to examine youth access to decision-making processes and co-developing an inter-regional interactive online toolbox on youth empowerment. ESCWA has also been promoting youth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through collaborating with the League of Arab States to initiate dialogue with youth on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most recently, ESCWA joined forces with the UNESCO Regional Office in Beirut to celebrate International Youth Day with a presentation on youth and the SDGs at an event that was attended by 100 young women and men. More
ILO: Cooking up a Brighter Future in Bangladesh
On the occasion of International Youth Day 2016, the ILO published an article about the inspiring story of 17-year-old Shanta Akhtar, a young woman in Bangladesh who benefitted from ILO skills training. It highlights the leading role of youth in poverty eradication and achieving sustainable development. More
UNAOC and IOM: PLURAL+ 2016 Youth Video Festival - Migration, Diversity and Social Inclusion
The 2016 PLURAL+ International Youth Video Festival, a partner initiative by IOM and UNAOC, is in the final stages of selecting its international jury awards. Three videos will be selected in three age categories and a further 28 videos are currently being selected by PLURAL+ partners. Created by youth and covering issues of migration, diversity and inclusion, the videos contribute to international conversations on youth issues and opportunities. The award winners, selected by an independent international jury, will be flown to New York for the 27 October festival of workshops and awards ceremony. More
ILO: Eradicating Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Consumption and Production through Decent Work for Youth
“Access to productive and decent work is the best way young people can realize their aspirations, improve their living conditions and actively participate in society,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. On the occasion of International Youth Day 2016, the ILO Director-General highlighted the role of young women and men in shaping our future and their potential to accelerate progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
UNAOC: Call for Applications for Young Peacebuilders in West Africa
On International Youth Day, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) launched “Young Peacebuilders in West Africa”, a new addition to its educational programming for young people. The programme is open to participants between 18 to 25 years old from West Africa, with a strong interest in growing their ability to act as agents of peace. The aim is to support the growth of networks of young peacebuilders equipped with the tools to address stereotypes, prejudice and polarization in order to build more inclusive and peaceful societies in their communities and globally. The application deadline is 31 August, 2016. More
ILO and GE Foundation Launch Global Youth Internship Programme
The GE Foundation, in partnership with the ILO, have committed to quality, workplace-based experience for an under-served and critical age group. To help inspire and prepare young people for a rapidly changing and highly competitive job market, the GE Foundation is launching an innovative learning programme to provide 16 to 18 year olds with practical work experiences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers for the workforce of tomorrow. More
ILO: New opportunities, New perceptions – A Wage Subsidy Programme for Young Job Seekers in Kalmykia (VIDEO)
Millions of young people around the world are facing the same problem: no job and few job prospects when they enter the labour market. This video highlights an innovative strategy built on partnerships that is changing young people’s perceptions of what kind of job is most suitable for them. On the occasion of World Youth Skills Day 2016, the ILO also co-organized a panel discussion about what works to improve youth employment through technical and vocational education and training.
UN-Habitat: Road to 2030 – The Power of Sport to Drive Social Change
Paving the road to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through intergenerational dialogue and cooperation, UN-HABITAT teamed up with the Nexus network to hold a unique event during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in order to discuss the role of sport in social development in the context of the Agenda 2030. Invited philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, athletes and civil society representatives gathered to establish a new Working Group on Sports and Philanthropy to define new strategies to advance the Sport for Development (SPD) sector. More
ILO launches What Works in Youth Employment Knowledge Platform
On International Youth Day 2016, the ILO launched the What Works in Youth Employment knowledge platform, a resource designed to improve understanding of those policies and actions that aim to improve labour market outcomes for young people. The platform is a knowledge anchor of the UN Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth and provides multiple resources on impact research, good practices, evaluation reports, and expert discussions about measures to boost youth employment.
UN-Habitat Somalia: Mogadishu One Stop Youth Centre
UN-Habitat has begun daily youth programming at the Mogadishu One Stop Youth Centre (MOYSC) since 1 June 2016. With some of the world’s highest youth unemployment rates and one of the world’s highest youth population rates, MOSYC will be a hub in Mogadishu, Somalia, for youth programming and events for years to come. Sports, health and peacebuilding programming ran throughout June and July and a recent event attracted over 500 youth to MOSYC. The second phase of the hub’s construction will begin shortly. More
UNAOC: Workshop for Young Citizen Journalists from Israel and Palestine
In July 2016, a group of 31 young citizen journalists from Israel and Palestine met at the America House of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem for an inspiring day of learning and dialogue. Supported by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations’ (UNAOC) Youth Solidarity Fund, the workshop brought together local participants of the region-wide, 4-month online training of the YaLa Academy’s Aileen Getty School of Citizen Journalism. It focused on consolidating the ties and trust built during the online program and on increasing storytelling skills, cross-cultural communication and citizen journalism capacities. More
The outcome of games and playful interventions can go far beyond learning specific content, and can help facilitate personal behaviour change and promote advocacy. Through a series of workshops, UNDP Egypt has supported youth to design games that promote Sustainable Development. The Game Changer Fellowship was created in order to formalize that initiative and was launched in 2015. Read more about the 2016 fellows here. UNDP Egypt participated in the High Level Political Forum in July 2016 to raise awareness on the use of games as an innovative tool for development.
UNDP Eritrea: Youth in Eritrea Gain Skills to Unlock Employment Opportunities
Eritrea faces large-scale youth unemployment, pushing many young people to brave their chances and migrate in search of better opportunities. Vocational training support by UNDP has helped more than 1,500 youth develop work skills and nearly 65% of training participants were able to secure permanent jobs. The project also created a platform for dialogue on youth and migration issues, and provides start-up financing for young people, including those voluntarily repatriating from the diaspora as well as those residing in the country. More
UNDP Mexico’s #JuventudActúaMX, a platform based on a skills transfer model, has trained 470 young people in 20 states throughout Mexico to become agents of change within their respective communities. The goal of #JuventudActúaMX is to build citizenship and capacity among young leaders so they can participate in policy-making. The initiative was part of a project created by the National Electoral Institute and UNDP to strengthen the skills of youth within the framework of the National Strategy for Civic Education. More in French, Spanish. (Photo Credit: UNDP Mexico/Verónica S. Espinosa)
UNDP: Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace (Youth-GPS) 2016-2020
Youth-GPS, UNDP’s Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace, is rooted in the belief that youth empowerment is both a human rights imperative and a smart investment in sustainable development and peace. It is aligned with UNDP Youth Strategy and is a response to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on youth, peace and security. This new five-year global programme applies a multi-dimensional approach, offers a multi-level response (global, regional, country) and promotes young women’s empowerment in particular. More
Within the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis, the UNFPA Lebanon Country Office is supporting a core group of 25 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian youth peer educators to create awareness on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues among their peers in Sidon, South Lebanon. The specific topics to be addressed will be identified through a youth-led needs assessment. SRH services will also be made available at the primary healthcare level to the young people identified to be in need of them. More
UNFPA Palestine: Youth Use Creative Ways to Raise Awareness about Health Issues
The Y-PEER network used bright orange balloons to raise awareness about health related issues in Palestine at a recent activity in July 2016. The activity was called “the balloon is for you and the information is for your parents” and short facts about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) , diabetes, and other diseases were written on the balloons and they were distributed to children on the street of Ramallah City. Through this creative initiative, the Y-PEER youth were able to reach a wider audience and raise awareness about essential issues that presently affect Palestinian Society. More
Adolescents exchanged their experiences of carrying out social and civic engagement activities in their communities, placing a strong emphasis on inclusion of traditionally marginalized groups, such as adolescents with disabilities, as well as their contribution to building peace and strengthening the country’s unity. This discussion resulted in a list of recommendations, which aim to guide the government and parliamentarians involved in the drafting of the national youth policy, which is a key component of the new Government’s 100 day plan. More
Youth in Action
Building Bridges Foundation: The Road to Nairobi 2016 kicked-off in South Africa on International Youth Day!
The Road to Nairobi 2016 project has hit the road! On 12 August 2016, the bus journey began with The Road to Nairobi bus covering its first kilometres to Diepsloot Township, South Africa. Hundreds of aspiring and established youth entrepreneurs came together to meet with Government officials, the Dutch Ambassador to South Africa, representatives of local and international NGOs and CEOs of businesses. Topics of discussion included South Africa’s township revitalization strategy plans for youth entrepreneurs, the challenges faced by youth entrepreneurs as well as enabling factors for innovative entrepreneurship and access to international markets. More
Green Hope UAE: Youth Initiative on Education for Sustainable Development in Nepal
Dubai-based youth organization Green Hope UAE, launched a campaign called “Gift of Education" to benefit several orphanages in Kathmandu, Nepal. Over a period of several weeks in May and June 2016, Green Hope UAE’s members collected books, pencils and assorted stationery products, collecting over 100 Kgs of educational materials. Three members of the youth group then visited Kathmandu, Nepal to distribute the supplies to several orphanages housing children of prisoners of various local jails. The group also conducted workshops on environmental awareness and planted 100 trees with students of a local school. More
People for Change Foundation: YouthMetro – Largest Repository of Youth Policy
YouthMetro, a vast repository of youth policy, has been launched by the People for Change Foundation. The platform provides a “one-stop-shop” where young people, youth organizations, policy makers and academics can find policies and best practices in youth policy. It is organized across the 10+5 WPAY areas, as well as additional topics such as disability, indigenous issues and humanitarian crises. More
UNDP Panama Presents New Statistical Analysis about Local Youth
In Panama, one quarter of the population is between 15 to 29 years old, and in the next decade, the country will possess the largest generation of young people in its history. This is one of the findings of the study “Juventud en Cifras” (“Youth in Figures”) a joint investigation recently presented by the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) of Panama and UNDP, which aimed to update and identify the conditions in which young people in Panama live. The study is based primarily on data collected during the last national population census in 2010 as well as other official sources such as registries, polls, bulletins and reports. More