Tackling social development concerns in SIDS: the importance of representative youth networks and advocacy
By Stephanie Carter
Small Island Developing States face a unique set of economic and environmental challenges for their development. During 1-4 September, heads of State, policymakers, business leaders, youth and youth-led organizations and other stakeholders gathered in Apia, Samoa, in the Third Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), organized by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), to discuss the ways to overcome these challenges.
Ahead of the conference, participants held a Youth Forum, to inform the conference plenary sessions and other events about youth related issues. The theme of the Forum was SIDS T.A.L.A.V.O.U. (Towards A Legacy of Achievement, Versatility, Opportunity through partnership and Unity) for Sustainable Development. In the pre conference TALAVOU Forum, young leaders from across the Caribbean, Pacific and African regions came together for a day of dialogue and collective action.
There was no shortage of ideas, innovation and collaboration, particularly when it came to critical issues affecting the sustainable development and livelihoods of SIDS youth. Amongst the issues discussed, which ranged from youth unemployment to oceans and climate change, social development was a key priority area. In the build up to the main SIDS conference from 1st- 4th September, social development was underscored as one of the three dimensions of sustainable development, key to ensuring results for the most vulnerable and marginalized youth. Under the broader umbrella of social development, SIDS youth find themselves facing the implications of non-communicable diseases, gender inequality, sexual and reproductive health concerns and youth unemployment and empowerment- all issues hindering their progress. Many youth highlighted gender violence and teenage pregnancy as prime causes of social exclusion, along with youth unemployment and lack of skills training.
As was highlighted at TALAVOU, in seeking solutions to social development concerns affecting youth in SIDS, youth empowerment and advocacy is key to overcome these challenges. In bridging the gap between political decision-making and the real time effects of social development policies, young people must strive to play an active and informed role. As the future leaders of SIDS, young people must take advantage of available platforms and networks that allow them to truly advocate for a change. In building youth capacity, young people should utilize their vast social media networks, hone virtual youth networks and promote collaboration and knowledge sharing. In the spirit of targeted and representative advocacy, this is essential.
Katherine Ellis from the Commonwealth Secretariat emphasized the need to create more representative youth networks as a way to take action.
‘Critical factors for youth empowerment in my opinion- firstly that youth networks and youth groups are truly representative and preferably youth led, they have direct and authentic access to decision makers, and we need to make sure the focus is on young people’s capabilities and needs. Youth leaders need to be really informed, aware and effective. Young people must be driven by values and purpose’.
Participants recognized the need for SIDS youth to practice ‘informed and structured’ youth advocacy, and for governments to support strong and active youth councils.
‘We’ve got to make sure that young people are represented properly and not just in terms of employment, but in terms of empowerment and participation’.
In reflecting on the outcomes of the youth conference, Bahamas youth delegate Crystal Alexander was very hopeful.
‘An investment in youth, is an investment in change- structural, economic or social changes. That’s the future’.
About the Author:
Stephanie Carter, age 24, is currently working for GRM International on international aid programs. She is also studying Business and Integrated Marketing Communications at Queensland University of Technology. She is a freelance writer for the Commonwealth Secretariat, UK.
Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States
The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States was held from 1 to 4 September 2014 in Apia, Samoa. It focused the world’s attention on a group of countries that remain a special case for sustainable development in view of their unique and particular vulnerabilities. The overarching theme of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States was "The sustainable development of Small Island developing States through genuine and durable partnerships". more information
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